Neuromarketing: how accessible is it really?

I recently attended a CIM talk entitled “Neuroimaging: brainwaves for marketers”.  It was hosted by Professor Gemma Calvert of Warwick University and boasted insights from other highly talented scientists and market researchers. 

Neuromarketing is all about how we can use neuroscience to research and quantify our implicit, biological human responses to stimuli, and then use this understanding to develop effective marketing campaigns that appeal to our target market.

Prof Calvert talked about how we can use FMRI scans to measure activity in the brain as it responds to marketing collateral such as advertising or packaging.  These scanners can tell us exactly which part of the brain is responding at any given time so we can see whether it is the understanding part of our brain that reacts, or the emotion part etc.  The scanner then produces a 3D image of the brain which when cross-referenced with the marketing stimuli can tell you exactly which element of your campaign is working and why.  GMTV has (conveniently for them), used this technique to prove that it is most effective to advertise on television in the morning.

Another speaker, Rob Carpenter from TNS Magasin, introduced us to eye-tracking.  A consumer is donned with a device which tracks and films the foveal vision within the eye.  This indicates where the eye is looking and whether you stop to focus on a particular point thus indicating some level of attraction (positive or negative) for you.  This technique is particularly useful for shops using point of sale material and restaurants with menu boards but it can also be used to measure which parts of a website or printed material are attracting the eye too.   

Eye-tracking really intrigued me as although I was aware it existed I had never seen it in practice or realised its potential usefulness.  The main issue with eye-tracking is that it can tell you where a person is looking but not why they are looking at that point.  This is where we can cross-reference with electroencephalography (EEG) which measures which neurons are firing in the brain and hence indicate brain activity. 

Anyway, the talk was very interesting if quite ‘over my head’ in terms of the scientific understanding required to fully engage.  What did hit home was how each speaker was indicating that these neuromarketing techniques were both accessible and affordable not just to Fortune 100 companies but to organisations across the UK. 

It is difficult to describe in language how an advert can make us feel; it is so sub-conscious that we don’t even realise what we’ve been looking at in the supermarket.  I completely respect how measurable information like brain response is useful to us as marketers when we know that traditional market research is flawed, but I don’t think for one minute that in 2010 a significant number of non-Fortune 100 organisations will be clawing to get at the neuroscientists.

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