BR ANALYSIS. Brain gain: neuromarketing opens up new avenues

Newsroom 20/05/2019 | 15:21

Neuromarketing is a new field of marketing which uses medical technologies such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study the brain’s responses to marketing stimuli. Researchers use fMRI to measure changes in activity in parts of the brain and to learn why consumers make the decisions they do, and what part of the brain is telling them to do it.

By Romanita Oprea

Marketing analysts use neuromarketing to better measure a consumer’s preference, and the information gathered will help marketers create products and services that are designed more effectively and marketing campaigns that are more focused on the brain’s response, say industry players. Therefore, neuromarketing will tell the marketer what the consumer reacts to, whether it was the color of the packaging, the sound the box makes when shaken, or the idea that they will have something their co-consumers do not.

The field of neuromarketing – sometimes known as consumer neuroscience – studies the brain to predict and potentially even manipulate consumer behavior and decision making. Until recently considered an extravagant ‘frontier science’, neuromarketing has been bolstered over the past five years by several groundbreaking studies that demonstrate its potential to create value for marketers,” Eben Harrell wrote in the Harvard Business Review.

That said, neuromarketing has happily been making steps in the Romanian market as well, due to some pioneers who stand ready to teach us more about the concept and how it can influence for the good the marketing of today and tomorrow. Over 100 people passionate about communication and marketing took part in the Cluj conference “Inside Your Brain. Neuromarketing”, organized by IAA Young Professionals Cluj in February, which had as guest Ana Iorga, specialist in the field in London for more than seven years, and also founder of the Buyer Brain laboratory, the first of its kind in Romania.

According to Iorga, speaking in an interview with, things have changed a little since 2012 in Romania, but we still cannot talk about a major advance. “Romanian managers don’t realize that being the first to use a certain technique is not a disadvantage. On the contrary, it will give you a big advantage, because you will learn insights about the consumers and the market, ones that the competition doesn’t have. The development rate of neuromarketing in Romania is still low, probably due to the big reluctance of decision makers. And the reason for that is the strong aversion towards the risks it might involve,” said Iorga in the article.

Moreover, according to Iorga, consumer neuroscience allows marketers to get a better understanding of their customers’ needs, expectations and perceptions. And it does that by going beyond the declarative level, because it doesn’t ask people what they think but it monitors their behavior and reactions in specific situations where they interact with the product or the service.

“Oftentimes, when people are asked about their preferences, their answers are fraught with biases that are difficult to spot and remove by traditional research methodologies. This is where neuroscience brings value – by going beyond what people say, it captures respondents’ unbiased reactions and perceptions. These are priceless in building the communication and marketing strategies,” added the Buyer Brain CEO.

Adina Nica, research & strategy consultant at Open-I Research, added, “Market research is a domain in continuous development, using techniques from various sciences, as marketers are looking for more depth and precision to understand how people react to different stimuli, how they respond to communication, creativity, design, products, and multi-sensory experience.” That’s why researchers came up with the idea of ​​using neuroscience in marketing. Moreover, Nica points out that knowing how the brain functions, and using fMRI, EEG and dedicated software, we can find out what is appreciated by consumers and what they really need. “Therefore, following testing with neuromarketing, decisions are taken more efficiently. I consider neuromarketing the next level in market research,” added the Open-I Research representative.

Adina Nica

Moreover, as Lluis Martinez-Ribes, brain-pleasing marketing catalyst at ESADE and m+f=!, points out, neuroscience provides top managers with science to run their business at a higher orbit. “They can have a sound base to conceive products, services, brands and customer experiences in such a way that can please customers’ brains. If the methods coming from neuroscience are well-applied, top managers can use them to foster in their customers a positive sentiment towards their brand and what they sell,” said the specialist. With extensive experience in the field, Martinez-Ribes is fascinated by innovation in marketing and retail, a specialization pursued in 31 countries. He combines his part-time work at ESADE as Associate Professor with selective activity as marketing catalyst (m+f=!).

Myths and reality

When it comes to the true and false of neuromarketing, Nica says that it is associated with machines like MRI and EEG, but sometimes you don’t need to use them, you only need to understand how the brain functions and what other studies have already proven and integrate that in the work you do. “Many marketers put neuromarketing in opposition to traditional market research. I believe the two instruments should be used together, each having its contribution to the overall understanding of an issue. I don’t believe in looking at neuromarketing reports without talking face to face with people, observing them, being in contact with them,” outlined Nica.

What about the myths that surround this popular and exciting word? Do people know what they are talking about? According to Martinez-Ribes, some people may think that neuromarketing uses conclusions from neuroscience to manipulate people’s perception or behavior. And this is totally inaccurate. “The ‘buying button’ – the alleged key which you can press and make customers buy like robots – does not exist. Customers’ freedom of choice is respected in this type of marketing,” said Martinez-Ribes.

Lluis Martinez-Ribes

In her turn, Ana Iorga said that one of the myths is that consumer neuroscience can solve all your business problems. That all you need is one research, and you find the answers to all your questions. “That is simply false. Unfortunately, this perception has been perpetuated by vendors overclaiming and overpromising what they couldn’t deliver. Another myth is that neuro-tools allow marketers to read people’s minds. These tools record respondents’ reactions when promoted with different stimuli (products or commercial messages) but they can’t pinpoint what are people thinking of. Even the fMRI, that provides the most accurate image of the brain, doesn’t tell us what thoughts go through people’s heads,” explained Iorga.

Ana Iorga

Neuromarketing has been proven to help improve an advertising campaign, as Nica says, from simply “having more precision about which route to choose”, to sometimes helping you refine the communication, by adding or removing a small but crucial detail. Moreover, it can also help you make a communication brief much more down to earth. Also, as Martinez-Ribes puts it, technically speaking, an advertising campaign is a set of stimuli detected by human senses (usually hearing and sight). Using neuromarketing techniques, researchers detect how these stimuli create a reaction in the body. “For example, they can see the strength of the triggered emotions as well as if they are positive or negative. Later on, the video can be edited, reducing the parts that generate a negative outcome,” he added.

Neuromarketing can be applied at various stages in the creative process and communication plan, from testing the product positioning, to see whether customers find it relevant or credible, to testing the creative concept, the visuals and the wording, to measuring the impact they have on different target segments. “These insights allow the company to finetune its message according to each segments’ perceptions and reactions, therefore the message will be more efficient and the company will benefit from a higher ROI on the media spending. Neuro can be also deployed to measure the impact of different in-store activations or merchandising on shoppers’ behavior and purchasing process. In our work, we use neuro tools to uncover untapped customer segments and to build solutions to increase customer engagement and loyalty,” commented Ana Iorga.

With so much science involved, one might ask if there is still room for creativity and, if so, when does it enter this process? According to Martinez-Ribes, at his agency, in all the marketing projects co-created with clients, neuroscience-based methods are the starting point. It is the basis of their work, and it really helps to understand customers in depth, including their pain point. “We know that when a person purchases something there is the anticipation of a future gratification, so a release of phasic dopamine appears. This is proof that the outcome is brain-pleasing. Then the purchase is highly probable. But to jump from the initial project phases to the way to shape a brain-pleasing outcome, creativity is simply crucial. Every project is different from the others and we never know what the result will be, since there is no pre-cooked recipe,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, Nica considers that being more accurate about how people react to stimuli does not limit creativity, but can actually fuel it. “Knowing more about the brain is knowing more about human beings, and this should give you more options and more ideas, not fewer,” said Nica.

And that while Ana Iorga considers that science enhances creativity, as it acts like a compass, providing one with the direction that is most impactful (e.g. insights related to what do customers want, what triggers do people react to, etc), removing the doubts and cognitive load that arise from uncertainty. “The creative person is then free to unleash its creativity in a constructive and efficient manner,” pointed out the CEO & Chief Neuroscientist at Buyer Brain.  

Top tips for marketers who want to use neuromarketing in Romania

Adina Nica:

  • Don’t believe what others tell you, test it and see how it can help you.
  • Start with simpler studies and continue with more sophisticated ones.  
  • Read the latest neuromarketing studies and experiments; sometimes you can find answers or generate hypotheses without jumping to a research project.
  • Always combine neuromarketing with direct interaction with the people you are targeting.

Lluis Martinez-Ribes:

  • To reduce the risk of failure when making decisions about packaging A versus packaging B, or commercial A versus commercial B, I strongly recommend calling Romanian specialists to use this very powerful marketing research tool.
  • If senior Romanian managers want to conceive a new product, a new selling method, a new brand or a new customer experience, they can use “brain-pleasing marketing” methods to guide the creation of concepts – new ones or modified ones – in a way that can please people’s brains. This discipline is also based on solid neuroscience. Companies like Orange have been pioneers of brain-pleasing marketing in Romania.
  • As a summary, use neuromarketing when you want to test something that already exists, but use brain-pleasing marketing when you want to change the game in your sector or industry.

Ana Iorga:

  • They should have clarity about what they want to achieve from such a project. Neuromarketing brings added value in various directions, like finetuning the message, testing the impact of the message on different target segments, testing the impact of packaging or pricing on shopper behavior, etc. Depending on the objective of the research, the approach and tools used might differ. For example, EEG and eye tracking are well suited to test the impact of TVCs or of UX studies. Implicit association works better when the concepts studied are more abstract, like brand attributes, positioning or company values.

As I mentioned before, marketers should have realistic expectations about what can neuro deliver and about its limitations.

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