Towards the end of the 20th century, the introduction of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners meant that scientists could see inside the human brain during normal behaviour and uncover the mechanisms by which we think, feel and act.
Of many new revelations, perhaps the most fundamental involve our new appreciation of the power of the subconscious, and the balance that is always present between the ‘implicit’ world of the subconscious, and the ‘explicit’ world of the conscious. Neuroscientists now believe that as much as 90% of brain activity goes on subconsciously. Yet these brain processes that operate below our conscious awareness are now known to influence and determine a vast amount of our behavior. By relying solely on consumers’ conscious or spoken responses, marketers are only capturing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the emotions and feelings that drive and determine consumer choice. To redress the balance, marketers have begun to work closely with psychologists and neuroscientists to tap into these vital subconscious brain processes and are able to appreciate consumer behavior with much greater depth and insight than ever before.
How Does Neuromarketing Work?
Neuromarketing is the term widely used to describe this burgeoning new field and practitioners and academics are using a large range of different tools to measure and interpret consumers’ subconscious brain responses. The methods range from the use of high tech medical research scanners — functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) which measures brain activity while respondents are exposed to, for example, different marketing messages or new product ideas while lying in an MRI scanner, to electroencephalography (EEG) which measures electrical signals from the brain at the scalp surface, to eye trackers and biometric belts that measure involuntary attention or arousal levels by monitoring eye movements, heart rate and thermal changes on the skin. It is also possible to capture consumers’ immediate, “gut instinct” responses online using a range of behavioral tests that require participants to react in less than a second and before the conscious brain has time to respond and influence their decision – implicit techniques. These methodologies are transforming the way we understand consumers and the impact of marketing. It is now possible to investigate the reasons why consumers behave the way they do, what emotional and cognitive processes drive motivations, how subtle environmental cues influence choices and how subconscious brain processes exert their control without our knowledge.
Our research has shown that contrary to the once popular view that we think, choose and only then experience an emotional response to that choice, it now appears that emotions come first, our selection follows and only then do we reflect on the outcome of our behavior. In practice, the explanations behind the choices we make are often mere post-hoc rationalizations designed to justify the appropriateness of our decision. This has very real implications for market researchers attempting to illuminate the reasons underlying consumer choice. By capturing implicit, as well as explicit, consumer responses, marketers can gain much deeper insight into the real benefits provided by a brand or product.