Neuro Myths Busted: We have come so far…
Dr. Cristina de Balanzo recently attended the 2019 Neuromarketing World Forum (NMWF) organised by the NMSBA where renowned academics, clients from all over the world, students, practitioners and vendors came together to discuss consumer neuroscience and applied neuroscience.
Held in Rome this year, a wonderful city that represents art and science at its heart and, I guess, still hides the secret behind what creativity is all about…
There were over 20 great talks during the two day-conference, delivered with brilliant quality and all very good and engaging speakers. By far one of the most exciting things was to see how clients were proudly presenting their neuro cases, proud of their agencies and proud of the teamwork carried out. You could feel it was the case for every client that was on the stage presenting, they were all passionately delivered.
The culmination of this feeling was listening to the client panel chaired by Carl Marci, Chief Neuroscientist for Nielsen. Carl was joined by different clients and every single neuro myth was busted, the climax of day 1. My takeaways were:
• Neuro is not perceived as expensive anymore, but efficient.
• Neuro is not complicated, but able to deliver insightful stories and focus on the why behind the data.
• Neuro is not only for specific categories, with talks ranging from Butlins, Formula 1, Facebook, New Balance, Henkel, Uber, Mars, Southwest Airlines clients, but we also heard from media owners and creative agencies. These testimonials showed the richness and the breadth of these techniques.
• From a nice to have to a ‘must’ have; helping make techniques like implicit mainstream.
These are all great indicators of what we have done together as an industry and how astonishing it is to see how far this field has come in the past 10 years.
I would like to highlight some talks as well for two main reasons: either they revealed the next trend that our sector will need to face or because they give a point of reflection or caution which brings our feet back to Earth again. The first is from one of my favourite neuro pioneers, Elisa Mosses, who after giving the highlights from GRIT report which showed once again neuro was on the rise, noted what could well be the next big thing in neuro: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning techniques. Elissa mentioned some start-up companies already using these approaches to predict the market’s emotional reaction, this is indeed a great sign of the next ‘neuro-research’ revolution and what we should be strategically focussed on. She also gave notes of caution like the need for a good experimental design and the need of test and re-test which I agree are crucial to keep the success in this field.
Ana Lorga’s talk, Chief Neuroscientist Buyer Brain, explained how to retain customers when there’s ‘No Love’ in an insurance category. A great human approach was used to understand the implicit and biased perceptions for this leader insurance brand. The EAST framework (easy, attractive, social proof and timely) was the solution adopted which includes fundamental aspects we know for being successful at changing people’s perceptions and, ultimately, behaviours.
Academics like Carolyn Young, Professor of Marketing, University of Michigan, opened the second day giving a good overview of the main academic contributions with ground-breaking studies that demonstrated how neuroimaging approaches were effective at predicting behaviour beyond self-report techniques. She also urged us to build more bridges between academia and industry. This reminded me what Professor Rafal and I were saying at the first NMWF, back in 2011, so there is still the need to keep bridging the divide wherever possible.
Roeland Dievorst, Scientific Director, Alpha.One gave another good note of caution, that while there is a wide use of (neuro) techniques at our disposal, from implicit to fMRI, we need to see that depending on the research question and type of stimuli, the best solution is chosen. It seems a pretty simple call, but I think it is key for the success of the neuro industry, but also research in general. I would add that to know which one, when and how you blend the different approaches is still the holy grail.
Another great contribution was the talk from Brendan Murray, Vice President of Global Enablement Services at iMotions. He made great points about the danger of reductionist metaphors for human cognition such as System 1 and System 2: an invite for reflection in the (neuromarketing) industry. He reminded us of the complexity of human behaviour and the almost infinite number of factors that influence decision making and the role of context, so this makes our job quite difficult, so we need to think carefully when designing research and beware of the limitations.
This last note of caution probably builds on what I have always said: that although neuroscience has a great role to play in marketing and communications, it needs to be used in conjunction with other techniques and scientific approaches that bring up different sides of human beings. The complexity of decision making is still a difficult one to crack and a multidimensional approach will always be needed. As well, there is still the need to be pedagogical and informative to marketing about the range of techniques we can use and what possibilities and limitations each brings.
Thanks to Carla Nagel and her angels for another great event. Next stop: L.A!