Standards for Neuromarketing Research - a work in progress

Agreement on standards for a commercial research field is a sign of maturity. Most industries have established industry associations, which, as part of their representation of the industry as a whole, develop codes of ethics and standards for members to follow. For example, the opinion survey industry has the American Association for Public Opinion Research, the market research industry has the Marketing Research Association, and the advertising industry has the Advertising Research Foundation. Neuromarketing is beginning to move in the direction of standards, but there is still much work to be done.

The first major standards effort aimed at the neuromarketing industry was launched by the Advertising Research Foundation in 2010. Eight neuromarketing vendors, utilizing very different methodologies, analyzed the same TV ads from 12 sponsoring companies. All results were submittedto a team of academic and business experts for review and assessment.

The experts attempted to codify standards in two areas:

  • The suitability of different methods for measuring different types of responses to advertising
  • Standards for communicating design and delivery elements of neuromarketing research

Given the disparity of methods included, and the difficulty of comparing results across methods, the first goal was only partially achieved. A follow-up study was launched by ARF in 2011 (NeuroStandards 2.0) to address these issues.

Agreement on communication standards was easier to achieve. Experts agreed that neuromarketing studies would benefit from more standardization on several fronts:

  • Explaining sample size, sample composition, and recruitment criteria
  • Clearly demonstrating how the experimental design supports research objectives
  • Documenting data collection, analysis, and interpretation procedures
  • Specifying validity and reliability of metrics used in the study
  • Identifying statistical tests and significance levels for all comparisons
  • Clearly separating findings from interpretations in reports of results

The ARF NeuroStandards project represents an excellent start, but because it is only aimed at advertising testing, similar standards efforts need to be taken up in other application areas (brand testing, package testing, etc.). These efforts could be led by associations within each of these application areas, or pursued under a dedicated neuromarketing association like the NMSBA.

Our position on neuromarketing standards is summarized in Chapter 22 of Neuromarketing for Dummies:

Standards are important for industry growth and acceptance because they codify what buyers expect. To the extent vendors show a willingness to comply with standards, commerce can be conducted more efficiently and with more confidence by both buyers and sellers. Vendors who resist standards by claiming they conflict with proprietary methodologies are missing the point. Standards don’t replace competitive differentiation; they just make it easier for buyers to buy. For this reason, vendors ignore standards at their own peril.