3 reasons why we should (and an example).

By Lana Novikova

My “geeky” hobby is neuroscience, and during my first month here SW+A, I decided to start a Mind Blog. Lo and behold, at my first blog team meeting, Luke Sklar tells me that he does not believe that neuroscience could be of use to marketing and market research. He is a “neuro doubter” (a term coined in a recent NY Times article). Many believe that neuroscience is too confusing – and not proven yet – to be a reliable and actionable source of insight. I disagree. Here’s why.

Reason #1: The “mind science” is universal (if you dig deep enough). The brain is the most complex system known to man, yet all humans (I should say “all mammals”) share similar internal structures, chemicals and emotional drivers – no matter what target group or income level you are.

Reason #2: Yes, neuroscience is confusing and complicated, but so is statistics. Yet, we have learned to use statistical tools to get great insights. Why not learning relevant neuro basics as an insights tool? It could be quite enlightening if it’s done well!

Reason #3: It’s FREE. Really, you don’t need to buy an MRI machine or EEG caps to scan the brains of your consumers. Most of the “goods” could be found while scanning already published academic research. Curious? Keep reading…

I read ScienceDaily to understand how the human mind works. I want to help marketing folks to demystify the “mind science” and include it in our existing MR toolbox. Let’s imagine for a second a Toolbox of Market Research 3.0 – a new shiny big box filled with the best that our industry has to offer. Is there room for more tools? I’d say “yes”!

Here’s an example of how a great “emotional” insight can come straight from academic labs.

A recent neuro study tries to understand why people prefer tactile sensations (like holding a Teddy Bear) when they are sad, but when happy they like visual stimulation (like beautiful sunset or Mona Lisa). How would you attempt to answer this question if it came from your CPG or Retail client who is working on a packaging design for a new product or a new shelf idea?

Would you design a survey and ask good left-brain questions? Would you hold long conversations with a few consumers who represent your target, or observe them in a real-life environment touching or staring at things? If you use traditional quant and qualitative tools, you would probably find a connection between mood (sad vs. happy) and preference (tactile vs. visual stimulation). But if you rely ONLY on existing tools to explain the sub-conscious mind, you will never truly deeply understand WHY people prefer one thing over the other.

Going back to our sad consumer holding a Teddy Bear… Why do people prefer tactile sensations when they are sad, and visual – when happy? A good hypothesis comes from evolutionary neuropsychology. When a person feels sadness, some areas of the “emotional” (limbic or mammalian) brain are activated. We are mammals and we are wired to connect with our attachment figures from birth – it’s simply the matter of survival. That connection is most directly communicated through touch (and could be complemented by scent and sound). When we are sad, having a tactile stimulation makes us feel connected, nurtured and safe on the sub-conscious level. When mammals are happy, they are “primed for visual exploration, to fulfill goals of protection and territorial expansion,” explains the ScienceDaily.

So, next time you ponder why your consumer do what they do, consider dipping your toe into neuroscience. It is not that complicated.