The application of neuroscience methods to market research is an exciting area, and one that has received a lot of hype over the last several years. But does neuromarketing offer good ROI? Let’s dive in and find out.

Quantitative Precision Is an Advantage

Neuroscience methods measure involuntary biological responses to various stimuli from TV ads to shelf displays and new product concepts. Whether it’s heart rate, brain activity, skin activity, or eye movements, involuntary responses come in a variety of forms each of which can be measured very precisely using advanced tools and methods. These tools include, among others, electroencephalography (EEG), electrocardiographs (ECG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), galvanic skin response (GSR), and eye tracking. Rather than depending on people to subjectively report their perceptions via questionnaires, biological functions are directly and precisely measured which means they have the potential to offer a great value within market research.

Neuromarketing Can Be Expensive

So what’s the catch? First, neuromarketing is expensive. Most neuroscience methods require in-facility research with measurements taken by expensive and highly specialized devices and machines. The measurement tools must often be operated by highly trained technicians. As such, it’s not financially scalable to the same degree that online surveys are – it’s limited to smaller sample sizes.

Data Can be Difficult To Interpret

How do we know for sure which biological responses are in fact associated with the behaviour being exhibited? We used to believe that lie detectors were effective biological measures for identifying deception, but scientists have since discovered that this is not in fact the case. These interpretation difficulties cause much debate even among experts which is why neuroscience metrics are usually most effective when combined with explicit self-reports from research participants.

Data Has Lots of Noise

There is also a lot of ‘noise’ in neuroscience data as someone’s biological responses might be influenced by factors other than the marketing stimuli being presented. For example, the lighting in the room, an uncomfortable chair, the weather, the participant’s general mood, and other things in the room can all influence a participant’s biological responses. In such cases, how do we separate physiological reactions specific to the research stimulus from physiological responses to external stimulus? The answer is that researchers try to control conditions in the test room as much as possible to reduce ‘noise.’ Other than that, deciphering the data can be difficult.

Results Can Be Easily Misinterpreted

Lastly, neuromarketing reports can suffer from questionable interpretations. Because the data and results are so complex and scientific, less experienced researchers can easily misinterpret the results to mean something they really don’t. Fortunately, this problem can be avoided by including a trained and experienced neuroscientist (e.g., academic credentials in neuroscience) on the research team.

Overall, neuroscience offers great potential in its application to MR. But at the moment, because of the limitations listed above, it only adds value in rare cases. Keep an eye on the science and stay tuned! With increasing innovation, neuroscience methods will become more convenient, transportable, and affordable, and the application to marketing will become more within reach.

Ready to learn more? Learn how we helped our health and beauty client identify key target groups, determine product positioning, and predict the size of the potential audience. Or, download our Sklar Wilton Research Decision Wheel to help you categorize decisions to ensure your research plans are focused on the right big areas.