By Dr. Kimberly Rose Clark & Matthew L. Tullman
Editor’s Note: This excellent article was originally posted in LinkedIn Pulse on January 14, 2015. I thought it was important enough to try to make it a little more available to neuromarketing readers, so I asked for permission to re-post it here. The authors kindly obliged. I think it provides a timely update to the “Can Neuromarketing Get It’s Groove Back?” articles I published in December 2013 (here and here). Not all the challenges I raised back then have been addressed — not by a long-shot — but Kimberly and Matthew make a persuasive case that progress is being made and we are much stronger as a field today than we were a year ago. I like what they have to say and how they say it. I hope you agree.
In 1990, Michael Gazzaniga, The Father of Cognitive Neuroscience, declared the Nineties “The Decade of the Brain.” Indeed, this era gave rise to technologies and “neuro” insights more rapidly and comprehensively than the prior four decades combined. Since then, the turn of the millennium has proved a proliferation of that early foundational work, and spawned not only advancements in research tools, but in the subfields and applications within neuroscience. Integrated learnings from cognitive, social and affective neurosciences, along with psychonomics, have culminated into a new field of market research: neuromarketing.
Neuromarketing research uses scientific technologies to study changes in the brain and body, once available only within the medical community, in order to study the dynamics of consumer’s unconscious responses to marketing stimuli. In the past 5 years alone, the number of providers offering neural or bio-measures has grown by an order of magnitude and the number of client companies using neuromarketing measures has seen a similar increase. Meanwhile, the investment required to implement such methods has decreased by over 70% for a typical study of a 30 second advertising spot. It’s clear that the adoption of brain science in market research isn’t going away any time soon. The question then becomes: Where is the field of neuromarketing headed?
Where Standards and Ethics Meet
The future of neuromarketing and the application of its academic sister, consumer neuroscience, in market research will continue to proliferate in applications and utility. Where once only the largest corporate conglomerates took the plunge in using tools that tap into the consumer’s unconscious, the value of neuromarketing will trickle down to smaller retailers and product manufacturers. Methodology that was once prohibitively costly with regard to timelines and budgets will become ever more attainable and on par with cost and turnaround times of traditional market research projects involving explicit measures. This speed and accessibility will continue to increase with use of automated web services and standardized I/O devices for data collection.
A means of certifying providers will prove to be a critical challenge, though the Neuroscience Marketing and Business Association (NMSBA) has already begun to take steps toward unified standards and ethics on the provider front. ‘Off the shelf’ technology will continue to improve, ever lowering the barrier to entry for collecting and processing nonconscious data. As such, quality control for companies offering neuroscience-based technologies will be measured not only for the quality of their data collection, analysis and interpretation, but also for their ethical practices and ability to relate findings across research paradigms.
The validation of non-conscious measurement techniques will continue to link lab-based findings to real-world and virtual contexts. Now, and into the future, adopters of neuromarketing must keep in mind that non-conscious measures are not free of bias or confounds; they are simply novel techniques compared to consciously derived measures traditionally relied upon in marketing research. Fortunately, the biases of conscious and nonconscious measures are complimentary and can often work in synergistic ways to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Understanding relative distances between implicit emotions derived from neuromarketing techniques and explicit feelings garnered from traditional self-report measures will work to create indices of success metrics that will become industry standards.
Technologies of the Future…Today (almost)
‘Neuro’ and ‘Bio’ Dashboards will increase in utility and function to generate insights based on a cohesive understanding gained only through the integration of data from multiple nonconscious streams, such as EEG, EMG, GSR, respiration, and others. These combined streams will allow for real time, time-series analysis that will best predict a stimulus’s ability to direct attention, arousal and engagement. Dashboards will encourage remote data analysis, allowing clients to upload prototypes of test materials such as package designs, television and web video-based content and narratives.
“Stand-off” measures, or passive methods of data capture, will rapidly be developed and utilized for covert data collection of bio-measures from a large consumer body in real world contexts. Developers of novel data capture techniques, such as thermal imaging and fNIRS or “functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy” will advance the reliability and footprint of their tools to collect emotionally derived, nonconscious measures from a large subject pool at key moments in test environments. We will quite literally be able to understand who in the crowd is “hot” for our product or message.
The Right People in the Right Place at the Right Time
Collaboration will be a key to success for clients and neuromarketing suppliers alike. There will be a growing need for intermediary firms who will serve as a conduit for understanding holistic and specific business objectives. These firms will work as translators to assist the client in asking the appropriate questions of such measures and who will be able to identify and apply suitable methodological combinations and/or research programs to address such questions. These ‘conduit firms’ will have the ability to integrate data from a variety of suppliers and will be able to meaningfully synthesize extant data from client-side with these novel neuro-driven sources.
Adopters of neuromarketing methods will increasingly require interpretation of new data types, not simply collections of indices or report cards of significant statistics. To that end, a new breed of client-side consumer insights professional will be required. These specialists will have the technical competency to access and apply nonconscious data beyond the reporting of a neuromarketing supplier in order to derive insights that are relevant in advancing company initiatives and ROI. Such trained personnel will be necessary in-house, or through access to consulting partners, who can take control of the massive amounts of data generated from such implicit techniques in order to convert the data streams into meaningful storylines and actionable insights. They will act as interpreters and integrators of bio-measures with traditional measures to uncover nuggets of insight that marketing and advertising industry executives can easily digest and apply. These individuals will be charged with creating meaningful connections between two important ROIs: ‘Regions of Interest’ as it pertains to neuroscience based research and ‘Return on Investment’ as it pertains to holistic research initiatives.
Currently, the availability of such subject matter specialists is scarce and may come at a premium for the near term. Most existing candidates are already engaged on the supplier side or entrenched in academia. However, with the continued proliferation of training and certification opportunities through accredited undergraduate degree programs, business schools and industry sponsored initiatives, the burgeoning interest of students in consumer neuroscience will translate into a healthy supply of neuro-insight specialists, though it may take a few years to catch up with the demand.
Bridging the Behavior Gap
Most critical to the success of the field of neuromarketing is the necessary generation of empiricist-driven links between bio-measures and behaviors. As these links become clearer, our understanding unconscious emotional arousal and valence will be able to predict behavioral outcomes more precisely and reliably than ever before. The advancements in information processing, data capture and scientific theory have created the perfect storm to advance the fields of neuromarketing and consumer neuroscience beyond what was once thought possible.
The renowned science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke famously posited that: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In the coming years, practitioners and clients of neuromarketing techniques will most certainly demonstrate that what looks like magic in our industry today, will be considered the indispensable conventions of tomorrow.
May we continue to live in magical times.