Frequently Asked Questions about Applied Consumer Neuroscience

I recently participated on a webinar panel discussion regarding implicit, non-conscious measures in market research.
It was a great panel feature experts from several different companies and backgrounds:
NIMF WEBINAR: Measuring Nonconscious Impact and the Application of Neuroscience run by GreenBook Webinars.

You can view the recording of the webinar session here:
Click here to view the recording

There were some great questions posed by webinar attendees. You can view all panel participant responses via this link.

Below are my answers to popular questions. If you have any questions regarding the uses and abuses of neuromarketing, applied consumer neuroscience, or implicit measures, please feel free to let us know in the comments or emailing me at

Does anyone think that non-conscious measures will ever stand alone as market research tools? Or will they always be tools to pair with "direct inquiry" methods currently used?
I believe it is still important to ask the consumer what they think as that is also informative and useful. Conscious decision making is very important as well and should not be abandoned. While non-conscious measures certainly can stand alone, they are currently more powerful when combined with traditional measures. Neuroscience technology is not a mood right and does not exactly "read minds". Neuroscience is a developing field and technology is getting better every day. However, it should be kept in mind that the human mind is also very complicated. So even with more advanced technologies for brain imaging and activity measures, this does not necessarily translate into easily interpreted descriptions of human thinking. As an example, it is not possible to pinpoint any one spot in the brain for any particular emotion because many brain structures and types of signals are involved. Humans are not simple creatures and neither is predicting their behaviors. Consumer behavior involves both conscious and unconscious decision making.

If you could list the top three to five marketing research applications for non-conscious tools?
Top 5 from my perspective are:
consumer product development
claims development
concept/communications testing
product differentiation
experience innovation

Do the practices of non-conscious measuremet have stronger applications to lower involvement purchase decisions like most CPG as opposed to higher involvement purchases like a car?
Most of my work involves consumer decisions and experiences with more common CPG products as opposed to higher involvement purchases, but that is mostly due to my own background. We, at HCD Research, have also done quite a bit of work on more luxury, higher involvement products and find the process to be quite similar. There are marketing theories specific to luxury purchasing and advertisement that we pay attention to when designing our research (with the aid of academic marketing expertise).  As the idea behind non-conscious measurement involves measuring the consumer’s experience, the practices are quite similar regardless of the type of product.

What are some best practices you would suggest? I’ve heard that it works in social situations where your reaction may be more pronounced, agree or disagree?
There is a lot of controversy in the academic research literature around the theories supporting facial coding, in particular the universal emotions as well as method of data acquisition. For online, web-based data collection this is of particular concern due to the quality of the data and high throw-out rate. Certainly this is still very useful for studies in which that is acceptable, such as high-throughput, low cost data collection. However, we find that “best practices” is best prescribed according to the research question, consumer population and type of product. Applied consumer neuroscience tools are not one size fits all. Each have different strengths and limitations. Your research provider should be able to discuss these with you and make recommendations based on your needs. If they aren’t willing to tell you the limitations of the technology, then you are being disserviced.

Do you have a view on the place of non-conscious research methods in what many might perceive as traditionally rational / science-led decision making environments, for example healthcare & pharma?
HCD Research has worked in the healthcare and pharma industries (as well as insurance and financial) for over 20 years (where it got its start), employing non-conscious measures for the last decade. A lot of our work has been directly on that relationship between the physician and the pharma or healthcare rep. We’ve found these sort of measures to be very useful in helping clients create better communications, products and services and to be very well accepted, especially for communications that are perhaps less intense or exciting such as healthcare or pharma communications can be. In these cases, more sensitive measures, such as non-conscious measures, can be very useful in diagnosing and assessing communications.

How could non-conscious methods supplement understanding of text analytics in CX service industries? Specifically in more precise diagnosis & prediction of customer behavior.
We use these types of techniques much like data we get from large scale quantitative and qualitative research, we use it as a first step in development of a consumer technical model. Learnings from quant, qual or text analytics can be used to feed into non-conscious research paradigms to then better understand that consumer use of certain words or behaviors. While text analytics can be problematic on its own, we find that you can use the information gathered to feed in to more precise study and understanding and modeling of consumer behavior.

How do you overcome the fact that IAT tests tend to be lengthy. Does this impact the ability to use this for in-context research?
It is possible to use more abbreviated forms of IAT, such as the brief IAT described by Sriram and Greenwald ( Our research designs are customized to the client’s need and so the options are only limited by the limitations of each technology or methodology. If it doesn’t work as a fit for the question at hand that we work with our clients to find the best way to answer their questions.

Who wrote the book on this topic, specific to customer/market research? methodologies. I’m looking for resources to help get a start, both in my understanding of methods and how to sell internally.
The neuromarketing handbook of sorts is written by Stephen Genco. Other resources include Potter & Bolls text ‘Psychophysiological Measurement and Meaning’.  We have a blog where we are very critical of current methodologies as well as applications ( A lot of my own personal work surrounds education of applied consumer neuroscience. And I’m happy to provide you with any further information that may help you to communicate the ideas with your colleagues. This summer we are running a learning webinar series on a variety of topics with featured academic speakers (topics range from branding to packaging to sensory marketing).

Won’t nanotechnology be key moving forward?
Better, more efficient technology will definitely be helpful. Many measurement devices can get in the way of consumer behavior. But all tools have advantages and limitations that need to be taken into account.

Can one of you elaborate on the inclusion of methods in that very fuzzy front end / fast moving space? I find that they are academically agree in these methods but want to resort to empathy (idi’s) research for everything….
Qualitative techniques, like IDI, can be very informative, particularly in developing consumer language for further study. We find that when developing consumer technical models or models of consumer behavior, understanding their own language for routines, cues and rewards can be quite helpful in better understanding their interactions with brands and products. Further, when we are assisting clients with more whitespace or innovations programs, insight from qualitative research can be very helpful. While it’s not always necessary, for large scale, big innovative product development, a combination of qualitative, quantitative and non-conscious research can be most helpful in building a fuller story of the consumer experience.

Do you have case studies -evidence where non-conscious measures gave different results to conscious measures plus predicted behaviour better?
Absolutely! But we don’t actually see it as a disagreement, but rather a continuation of the understanding of the consumer process. If non-conscious measures simply repeated results from traditional testing, then it wouldn’t be worth doing. But since non-conscious measures are actually telling you a different side to the story, the overall understanding of the consumer experience. A great example is with consumer product when you ask the consumer about liking and appropriateness. These can actually be difficult concepts for the consumer to fully articulate and even more difficult to differentiate similar products. With non-conscious measures we have been able to more precisely differentiate products and their attributes to help product developers make decisions on product attributes. Another example of this liking problem is with commercial ad testing where the consumer can say they like the ad, but non-conscious measure can help the client understand how effective the branding moment was or to diagnose problems in the communications for optimal effect. Conscious and non-conscious measures are providing very different answers (or should if done correctly). And so they shouldn’t be at odds with one others, but should be providing added and synergistic information to help clients make better business decisions.

How much of a problem is the mis-labeling of methodologies as "implicit" that aren’t actually implicit? Is this growing, getting better, or other?
I believe this is still a problem. I do think that clients are asking better questions that are forcing research providers to be more clear and accurate when describing what they do. "Neuromarketing" (a word I really dislike as a neuroscientist) is still a bit like the wild west with research providers making a lot of different claims and adding "neuro-" to many offerings that perhaps aren’t quite as they are described. Education and open discussion is definitely important in this. We are very open to providing educational lunch and learns and webinars to clients to help them better understand the tools being offered, their limitations and the theories behind them. We actively participate in scientific conferences and present papers on the topic. I recommend taking a look at our blog ( for some of the latest writings and feel free to contact me for any additional information. I do think that the key, from the research provider’s stand point, is to be open and honest about the methodologies being used. For me, scientific integrity is everything. And I encourage clients to question all claims and methodologies.  There have been movements to try to form accreditations for methodologies, however, this has become quite problematic. As I mentioned before, each methodology is only as good as it is designed for the question being asked. And so blanket statements or accreditations on any one technology may not be valid from one research design to another, making the issue quite complicated with vested interests often getting in the way. The best way for scientific integrity to be pushed is by the client demanding it and the research provider providing it.