Conducting Neuromarketing Research the Old-Fashioned Way

After reading my headline, you may be thinking – neuromarketing research and old-fashioned isn’t that a contradiction of terms? And you would be correct in the purely technical sense.  

However, my intent is to expand on a previous blog in which I touched on two very different approaches to conducting neuromarketing research: one which focuses solely on the technology that is used to measure consumer reactions, and one which combines technology and validated, proven research approaches to conduct neuromarketing research. The latter approach respects the complexity of the human being /media content interaction, particularly when trying to understand mental processes as indexed through any physiologically based measure which is the whole point of neuromarketing.

I don’t want to point fingers or single-out research providers using either approach, and therefore, I will keep my comments general in nature. However, I will also admit up front that I am biased toward the latter approach given the nature of my career choice in academia.

In all of this, I am reminded of the title of a scientific paper co-authored by John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago.  Professor Cacioppo is an extremely well respected Social Neuro Psychologist who continuously, validly applies physiological measures including fMRI and other biometrics in advancing the understanding of how the brain produces complex social experiences.  The title of his paper was, “Just because you’re imaging the brain doesn’t mean you can stop using your head.” 

Neuromarketing applications that rush ahead of basic science, over extending the psychological meaning of observed patterns of brain activity, neglect to recognize, as Professor Cacioppo points out in his paper, that the brain is an extremely complex network of neuronal connections and this complexity is exponentially ramped up in social interactions, which encompasses media exposure. 

This approach produces very exciting and intriguing measures of “engagement” that companies claim can help optimize media content including brand messages. The problem is that the competitive nature of the industry prevents any real, thorough review of how each company’s approach to studying the brain “on” media so to speak, stacks up against scientific criteria for valid research and insight capable of truly helping clients solve complex communication challenges.

As I mentioned in one of my previous blogs, we all need to be appropriately skeptical of any research enterprise that over claims or hypes the conclusions about consumers that can be drawn by probing the activity of their brains.  Please note, I’m not only talking about EEG and fMRI, but also the collection of peripheral nervous system measures, such as heart rate and galvanic skin response, which I use in my own research.

Admittedly, I have the luxury of skepticism in my position as a basic scientist working at an AAU Research 1 – the highest university distinction – institution, the University of Missouri. I am not under the same performance pressures that industry professionals are under to produce insight – extremely  quickly!

However, that doesn’t alter my position that conducting neuromarketing research the old-fashioned way with appropriate levels of scientific training and skepticism is the best path forward. The good old- fashioned way simply involves getting back to the basics using a rigorous research methodology and following a strong scientific paradigm capable of guiding the application of physiological measures in marketing communication research. 

I believe this approach produces more valuable insight for clients and having direct access to expert knowledge of what the brain scientists are saying about what we know AND what we DON’T know about the human brain/mind functions is truly an added benefit. This is the approach that media psychology researchers like me use in my work with HCD Research, which is not just an “Ivory Tower” idealistic approach but has real practical value for clients. 

In this post, I referenced some of the content that I’ve written in previous posts, so please bear with me as I keep that trend going.  I conducted a Thought Leader session at the Advertising Research Foundation, in New York last Thursday, October 11, with HCD Research.  In my presentation, I outlined the paradigm that I believe should underlie the application of biometrics and how biometric data can be combined with other measures to produce rich contextualized knowledge that can truly help clients communicate effectively with a desired target audience.

I will summarize the content of that presentation in an upcoming post.  Please stay tuned and let’s work together on a “good old fashioned” approach to conducting truly cutting edge neuromarketing.