Neuroscience Transcends the Niche at IIeX 2016 NA

By Christina Luppi
June 24, 2016
At Sentient, we bring advances from behavioral science to the business community to move global business forward. You could say consumer neuroscience is in our DNA whereas the industry remains in the early adoption phase.  The 2016 GRIT Report labeled neuromarketing as a “niche” method, as only 17% of respondents currently use it (“crossing the chasm” of new product adoption into the early majority for the first time in 2016).
But the tide may be turning. A recent GreenBook blog post notes that interest in nonconscious techniques is high. According to the post, the most coveted interviews requested by buyers of research and investors at IIeX were with neuromarketers—by a long margin.
One company that’s interested? Facebook.
In a talk entitled “Facebook’s Hybrid Approach to Insights,” Naomi Grewal gave attendees a “peek behind the curtain” by sharing some of the company’s internal data sources. With a small smile, Grewal admitted Facebook’s 1.6 billion users provide a rich repository of data about people’s attitudes and perspectives. This data can lend researchers equally rich behavioral insights.
“We know, for example, that new moms post 3.5 times more photos and 4.2 times more video,” she noted.
But for everything the social media behemoth can do and all the insights it can glean, Grewal said Facebook needs to get better at understanding non-conscious response—the underlying mechanisms and reasons behind users’ decisions.
Explained Grewal: “We’re always looking for the why.”
The industry will eventually follow Facebook’s lead into measuring non-conscious influence. Here are three IIeX speakers who are already on the path:

The Brain Science of Buying

“Most buying decisions involve emotions and feelings, not just logic and reasoning,” Dr. Susan Weinshenk stated on Day 3. The behavioral scientist went on to explain that people buy when they feel confident in their decision: “This is an unconscious process.”
Because people are not consciously aware of what inspires the buying action researchers can’t trust consumer feedback, warned Weinshenk. What people say about why they buy may be inaccurate.
Interestingly enough, the inaccuracy isn’t due to a disconnect, but a connection in the brain. The ventromedial pre-frontal cortex (vmPFC) plays a role in both the inhibition of emotional responses and the process of decision making.

“If you can’t feel emotions then you can’t make decisions,” she explained. “If people have damage to [the vmPFC] they can’t feel emotions. They also can’t make decisions.”

The bottom line: If you want to understand consumer spending, you need to understand both emotion and reason, the non-conscious and conscious. (Sound familiar?)

The Real Role of Emotions in Marketing

Consultant Daryl Weber echoed the idea of emotion as motivation in an engaging talk.

“Our emotions are guiding us unconsciously, much more so than lofty positioning statements,” Weber said.

How many CMOs in the audience either scoffed or blushed? It’s common practice to stuff brand briefs with overthought, overworked, and overanalyzed positioning statements. Weber’s example was Wheat Thins, “A snack for anyone actively seeking experiences.”

The focus, Weber stressed, should instead be on inspiring emotions. He argued that metacommunication is just as important as the actual message.

“How you say it may matter more than what you say. There are subtle things happening in advertisements that matter a lot: lighting, tonality, etc. All these things can impart a feeling.”

The Future of Insights and The Future Needs of Corporate Researchers

Predicting, forecasting—we can’t help ourselves, can we. Even at IIeX we can’t simply be present instead of grasping to understand the evolution of the industry before it happens. Two different panels of experts did their best to see into the future of market research on Day 3.
What did they see for neuromarketing and other “niche” methods? The need for validation.
“Yes, the information is interesting,” said Nick McCracken of Ford Motor Company. “[But] how do we know this is better than using what we were using? Does it give us more business impact than what we had before? This is a difficult test for emerging technology.”
While McCracken spoke from a client perspective, Sentient founder Dr. Aaron Reid shared the sentiment as a supplier.

“We can inspire and motivate for an initial trial of a method, but unless we have validation of actual business impact we’re not going to have long-term adoption of these methods and long-term change in the market research industry,” he said.

Standing on the shoulders of science will only make the industry stronger. From what Dr. Reid saw in the GRIT Report’s emerging methods, we’re already making progress.

“Over 40% of the research sample for the GRIT Report is now using facial coding. Would we really be at that number if researchers were still relegated to hand-coding facial expressions? If you can automate the science, not everyone in the room has to be a a scientist. So if we automate the science and make it accessible to the entire industry we’re going to see much broader adoption and bigger impact.”

Demonstrating the business impact of our innovations will ease the security concerns of our clients. And that’s how neuroscience will move into the early majority.

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