Neuromarketing has often led to particularly eye-catching headlines. One such example is Martin Lindstrom’s “You Love Your iPhone. Literally.” (The New York Times, Sept. 30, 2011). However as mentors in the past have often told me, if results look particularly unusual then something is probably wrong. Taking the above study as an example, the headline stems from finding that a brain region called the insula – linked to love and compassion- was activated when people looked at videos of ringing iPhones. What the researchers failed to mention was that the insula is also involved with memory, language, attention, anger, disgust and pain. So, other interpretations could be that we actually hate our iPhone. What we need to remember when looking at subconscious processes is that regions of the brain rarely, if ever, only do one thing and so neuromarketing can rarely provide us with simple explanations to understand the consumer.
Not only should we be wary of how neuromarketing findings are interpreted, but we should be cautious of the types of methods it uses. A recent study demonstrated that of 8 methods (including traditional surveys; implicit measures; eye tracking; heart rate; skin conductance; breathing; brain activity, fMRI; and EEG) only fMRI significantly improved the predictive power of traditional surveys. Therefore it’s important to keep in mind that used alone neuromarketing may not be much more valuable than traditional market research.
Being an advocate for the use of neuroscientific methods in the field of market research I am by no means suggesting that neuromarketing is simply neuro-baloney – after all, evidence points to 95% of the brain’s activity being below conscious awareness. What I am suggesting is that we should respect the complexity of the human brain and behaviour and the limitations that neuromarketing currently has. As with any good research, I prefer an integrated approach to understand the complications of consumer behaviour and it is because of this that traditional question and answer methods are still necessary in market research.