February 2019

2019/01

THE CONSUMER NEUROSCIENCE LABORATORY

Welcome to the first BMR Consumer Neuroscience Laboratory newsletter. 

In recent years there has been an exponential rise in interest for neurosciences from different disciplines and businesses. Today, we see a plethora of new and developing disciplines, such as neuroeconomics, decision neuroscience, neuromarketing, consumer neuroscience, neuroethics, neurofinance and even neurocinematics. What these designations actually mean may sometimes be less obvious, suffice to say that the addition of ‘neuro’ signifies significant change from business as usual.

The BMR has always nurtured sound academic, scientific and innovative research practices. To keep track with the latest research developments and practices the BMR introduced the first Consumer Neuroscience Research Laboratory in Africa in 2016. This laboratory aims to find psychophysiological explanations for the thoughts, feelings and actions of consumers and continuously focuses on current and future uses of neuroscience in business.

Traditional marketing research methods have provided a level of understanding of what drives consumers’ attitudes and behaviours. We do however know that this understanding is limited to about ten percent of human behaviour (conscious, rational) whilst the other ninety percent (sub-conscious) remains largely untapped. Conventional measurement tools such as consumer surveys and focus groups assume that consumers consciously and rationally articulate their preferences, beliefs, opinions, feelings and attitudes. The pervasive role of the subconscious, loosely referred to the ‘black box’ in consumer behaviour models and theories, was largely negated.   This ‘black box’ is however becoming increasingly visible through the application of neuroscience. Neuroscientific answers to questions, such as those listed below, are consequently being realised:

  • Why do consumers buy what they buy?
  • How much are they willing to pay?
  • Why do some brands appeal more than others?
  • How desirable is your product?
  • What emotion is triggered by your promotion?
  • Which advertisement is most effective?
  • What price causes the consumer pain?
  • How do consumers feel at your point of sale?

As with any new approach, consumer neuroscience must face the challenge of some limitations. For example, the studies are very cost and time intensive, and are associated with legal and moral considerations. As mentioned above, the outcome of experiments to date needs to be further validated and expanded, because of the complex data analysis required, the relatively small number of existing studies, and the relatively simple experimental setting that is necessary for conducting brain imaging studies. Even though the technical methods are steadily improving, they still only offer a relatively indirect measurement of cortical activity changes, due to limitations in temporal and spatial resolution. Beyond this, all results provided by consumer neuroscience rely on the assumption that the measured activation is not the result of only noise or systematic errors, that a correct spatial and temporal assignment of measured quantities is possible, and that the supposition about typical functions of certain brain areas is valid in the actual case as well.

With this newsletter we hope to rectify the sometimes over-simplified assumption that consumer neuroscience is focused on a search for the ‘holy grail’ of marketing, the ‘buy button’ in the brain. Consumer neuroscience is still in its infancy and should not be seen as a challenge to traditional consumer research. Rather, it constitutes a complementing advancement for further investigation of consumer behaviour.

Nevertheless, by observing the brain — the organ of (buying) decisions – one of the most fascinating objects of research is now spotlighted by marketing research.

Regards
The Consumer Neuroscience editorial team.