Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the NeuroU conference organized by HCD Research as a medium to discuss the future of neuroscience and its integration into modern consumer research methods. NeuroU 2019 was the first industry conference I have attended, so in this blog I want to reflect on my experience as someone from a purely academic background.
The different sessions and panels at NeuroU offered a wide range of topics from discussion on available neuro tools in market research, system 3 thinking, brand harmony, implicit testing, to the use of data science in market research. Hearing and learning from different speakers who are experts in their fields was fascinating, but what struck me the most overall, was the realization of how a similar concept can be used so differently in academia and in industry. I hope this blog post will give some insights for those who are moving from academia to industry like myself.
The first topic that I am particularly interested in is implicit association. The implicit association test (IAT) is a popular measure in social psychology to detect the strength of a person’s automatic association between concepts (Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998). The idea is that making a response should be easier when closely related items share the same response key. With a background in psychology, I have studied and done research on implicit association in the past few years, mostly in the context of racial and gender biases. Little did I know that IAT is also among one of the fastest growing approaches in market research for its objectivity and cost effectiveness in capturing consumers’ immediate, gut instinct and subconscious responses to brands, new product concepts, and other marketing products (Calvert, 2015). Allison Gutkowski, Director of Communication and Sensory Application of HCD Research, gave a great talk on using IAT together with other physiological measures to study brand harmony. In a case study on a fragrance product using languages on the product package, researchers used IAT and had consumers react to those languages with the brand name as well as its competitors. Results were striking in that consumers did not actually associate the brand and its product with those languages that appeared on the product. In other words, there was no harmony in what the company thought of its product and how customers perceived it. I just found it personally so fascinating how the same concept of IAT can be used in consumer research to help marketers understand their consumers at a deeper level, and hopefully from there be able to predict their purchasing behaviors more accurately. However, something that I would like to hear more about is a discussion of IAT’s reliability and validity in consumer research. In recent years, there has been an ongoing concern about IAT’s reliability (the extent to which a study can produce roughly similar results when retested) and validity (a measure of how effective a test is at measuring what it aims to test) in academia. I believe these issues are also particularly crucial in market research. If IAT cannot meaningfully and accurately predict behaviors, the results of the test would be irrelevant. For example, the study might suggest an incongruence in how consumers perceive a product and how the company markets it, but what if consumers still purchase the product anyway; how would we go about interpreting the results and what would we do then? I would like to learn more about market researchers’ views on reliability and validity and how they handle reliability and validity in their research.
Another talk I found interesting was one that Dr. Morrin and her students gave on olfactory symbolism. Their work is a great example of how academic research can inform and impact the consumer decision-making process. Building on the bouba-kiki effect of the association between speech sounds and the visual shape of objects, Dr. Morrin’s research focuses on a wide variety of cross-modal associations for a number of different scents. Interestingly, her research suggests that crossmodally harmonizing a product’s scent with its package shape can enhance how much consumers are willing to pay for that product. This ties back nicely with the idea of brand harmony, providing your customers with a consistent message throughout all aspects of your products. Results from research like this can give companies insights into how to design and market their products. I hope to see, through my internship with HCD Research this summer, more academic research with real-world applications and industry impacts like this one.
The last piece I want to touch on is the panel discussion by researchers on their experiences in adding new research approaches at their organizations. As mentioned before, my intention in this blog post is to point out my thoughts on how academic research and market research are different. The panel discussion, I think, fits nicely here because it is perhaps something academic researchers do not have to deal with. The speakers discussed the hurdles they faced as they try to apply neuroscience or bring in new technology at their organizations. The most common challenges include getting enough attention from management, explaining the needs for it, dealing with the resistance to change from traditional methods, and managing expectations about the new technology. This is an important conversation to have as more and more companies are trying to incorporate neuroscience and other cutting-edge technologies in their research. Researchers should be aware of these factors before initiating to their management about using technology in their research. Similarly, management teams should make sure they understand the technology fully before deciding whether it is an appropriate method for their practice. It is also perhaps crucial for researchers coming from academia to understand these challenges as they cooperate with companies in projects that involve neuroscience and new technologies.
Overall, I am glad I had the opportunity to attend NeuroU to learn so much about consumer research from well-versed guest speakers and attendees. I hope to be able to apply what I learned to my future work with HCD Research this summer and gain some hands-on experience in conducting consumer research. I also look forward to exploring ways to incorporate and leverage behavioral science in market research using neuroscience.