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Finding out what we buy everyday, both online and in the real world, has been fairly easy for businesses these days. However, what they’re really been after for many years now is finding out why we buy.

Thus the field of Neuromarketing was born and is now beginning to take flight – a field that uses the tools of neuroscience to determine why we prefer some products over others and even how we feel about it afterwards.

Let’s face it, we are often times motivated by what makes us feel good and that is particularly true when it comes to buying things.

So it’s now surprise that marketers have begun taking a keen interest in how gaining a deeper understanding of the human brain can in turn help them gain a deeper understanding of consumer behavior – prior to purchase, during purchase and even after purchase.

We recently sat down with Neuromarketing expert, and author of several books on the subject, Steve Genco to get to the bottom of exactly what’s happening today with regard to how the marketing world is trying to get inside your brain.

Shopping Frenzy

TOGGLE: First, talk a little about what exactly is happening with consumer attention spans when it comes to all the marketing messages they are bombarded with today?

Genco: Marketers tend to assume, first, that marketing doesn’t work if it doesn’t grab attention, and second, that their job is to grab more attention than their competitors … that is, to “rise above the clutter.” But brain science tells us there may be some serious problems with both these assumptions. Here are a few:

Most marketers assume that if people don’t pay attention to their marketing, it’s a missed opportunity, but has no costs. For example, online advertisers don’t worry that over 99 percent of the people who see their ads don’t click on them. They may even think that’s ok because of the unconscious “mere exposure effect,” which says that when people see something repeatedly, they tend to like it more. But there is another unconscious effect that most marketers don’t know about, called “distractor devaluation.” Quite a bit of research has now confirmed that when we filter out distractions, like ads we’re not interested in, we tend afterwards to dislike everything about them a little bit more, including the product or brand being advertised. So striving for attention and failing to achieve it does come at a cost, one that marketers may not be aware of.

​So the simple assumption that marketing must always try to grab attention has some issues. The real question is “what’s the alternative?” In fact, there is an alternative to attention-grabbing, and some of the most successful campaigns have used it. Here are two clues. First, we don’t like being persuaded, but we don’t mind being influenced. Second, we’re willing to give our attention when it is earned, but not when it is demanded.

TOGGLE: Briefly explain, to the uninitiated, exactly what Neuromarketing is.

Genco: Neuromarketing is not a different kind of marketing. It is a toolbox of new methods and technologies that can be used by marketers to better understand ​both the conscious and unconscious sources of consumer responses, choices, and behaviors. It is built on several scientific disciplines, including neuroscience, social psychology, and behavioral economics.

It is also useful to say what it is not. It is not stealth marketing, it is not subliminal manipulation, it is not marketing exclusively to the unconscious. Neuromarketing is to marketing as a microscope is to medicine. It is a tool, not an alternative.

Brain Scan

TOGGLE: Walk us through exactly how a brand might use Neuromarketing as a basis for their next marketing campaign.

Genco: There are two paths a brand might want to pursue. First is to look at the associations their brand currently has in the minds of consumers. From this, they can decide if and how they want to reinforce or change those associations. Second is to evaluate their current and prospective marketing to determine how it is influencing their brand associations. Is it moving the brand’s associations in the direction desired?

A brand is basically a network of associations in our minds. Many of those associations are not consciously accessible to us, so Neuromarketing techniques can be particularly useful for teasing out what connects to what, and how strong those connections are. The same techniques can be used to measure the associations of competing brands, to see what connections are shared within the category and what connections the brand might be able to own uniquely.

Coming up with a marketing campaign is a creative process. There is no substitute for creativity. But the results of those creative efforts can be measured to determine how well they are achieving their goals. In this case, Neuromarketing methods can be used to measure both conscious and unconscious responses to marketing and how brand associations are being influenced. Over time, brands can determine if their campaigns are hitting their marks and achieving their objectives.

TOGGLE: What advances have been made in the area of EEGs recently that have taken Neuromarketing into the fast lane?

Genco: I think the​ biggest recent advance has been the emergence of home-based data collection methods. In particular, eye tracking and facial emotional coding can now be used to​ obtain second-by-second attention and emotion measures from thousands of people through webcams or smartphone cameras in a matter of hours, at price points that are levels of magnitude lower than lab-based studies. This has gotten marketers’ attention! These methods may not be as precise and clean as lab-based results, but if marketers find them “good enough,” lab-based Neuromarketing vendors have something to worry about.

I don’t know if this webcam and mobile camera revolution will trigger the long-predicted “tipping point” for Neuromarketing adoption, but it’s a possibility that bears watching closely.

Eye Tracking Glasses, such as these from SMI, can record where a consumers eyes gaze longest while looking at a product.

Eye Tracking Glasses, such as these from SMI, can record where a consumers eyes gaze longest while looking at a product.

TOGGLE: Address the notion that some people may feel the idea of giving advertisers additional insight into the subconscious mind might prompt privacy concerns.

Genco: I understand the concern, but what I tell people is this. ​It is a misconception to believe that a better understanding of unconscious processes will make consumers easier targets for​ ​marketing​.

​ ​There are no unconscious “​buy buttons”​ in the brain that can render consumers unable to resist the messages of marketers and advertisers. On the contrary, I think the more marketers understand the intricacies of the consumer mind, for example how resistance and filtering and priming and processing fluency work, the more they’re going to realize their jobs are much harder, not easier, than they ever appreciated before.​

With regard to privacy, it’s important to remember that Neuromarketing methods are not mind reading. None of these methods can read thoughts. They read the physiological changes in the brain and body that accompany thoughts.

TOGGLE: What does Neuromarketing look like 5 years from now – where is this science headed?

Genco: Of course the honest answer is: I don’t have a clue. But if you insist I embarrass myself​ with predictions that can only come back to haunt me, I will oblige.

In five years I don’t think Neuromarketing will be a separate discipline in market research. Its methods will be built into the fabric of market research and integrated with other methods. Just like there are not research companies who specialize in “multiple regression” today.

Most of the small Neuromarketing vendors that are providing measurable ROI to customers will have been bought up and absorbed by the big research players, just as successful advertising agencies get absorbed today. Some people will finally get rich from Neuromarketing, which will be a big surprise to all of us who started the field a decade ago.

Marketers’ ability to predict consumer choices and behavior will get marginally better, but will still be far from certainty. My stretch goal would be … rather than 80% of new products failing, maybe we can get it down to 50%.






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