Comedian Steven Wright deadpanned, "The brain is the smartest organ in the body, but then again, consider the source." Over the past decade, scientists have learned more about the brain than any time in history, finding that more than 95% of brain activity -- our decisions, actions, emotions and behaviors -- are programmed in our subconscious mind.
Naturally, marketers are keen to understand why consumers react to P&G's tear-jerker about Olympian moms "Best Job," Dodge Ram's reverent tribute "Farmer," or any of the top Super Bowl ads with such deep, emotional, human responses.
By tapping into the brain's conscious and unconscious reactions, neuromarketing -- also known as "consumer neuroscience" -- can help marketers, creative agencies and publishers potentially find the answers.
Major brands and publishers such as Coca-Cola, Campbell's and Turner have began using eye tracking and facial coding, functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI), biometrics that measure heart rate, and galvanic skin response (GSR) to understand how a person reacts to visual and audio stimuli. And this past year, copious signs suggest neuromarketing is exiting its hype cycle. Who ever imagined seeing a session titled "Cognitive Marketing: The Rise of the Super Intelligent Marketer" at a martech conference?
Amid the barrage of consumer neuroscience research and fantastical, synaptic-based insights, marketers must maintain a discerning eye. Vaughn Bell, a neuroscientist and senior lecturer at University College London, wrote, "The holy grail of neuromarketing is to predict which ads will lead to most sales before they've been released, but the reality is a mixture of bad science, bullshit and hope."
As neuromarketing claws its way through the clutter next year, here are the most promising technological advancements and behavioral findings to follow, and how the industry may begin subscribing to progress in the field.
Pre-testing with eye-tracking
Next March, at the Neuromarketing World Forum in London, Thom Noble, founder of neuromarketing consulting agency Neurostrata, is dedicating a session to discussing test-and-learn automated neuro-tools that creative agencies can use for fast, affordable insights.
In 2017, eye-tracking will gain ground with marketers as a dominant precursor to vet campaigns because it's fractions cheaper (by hundreds to thousands of dollars). Moreover, eye-tracking promises less clunky hardware, versus larger fMRI or EEG studies, which cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Krister Karjalainen, former head of digital at P&G Nordic, said eye-tracking could "increase our ROI on digital marketing investments in some campaigns up to 25 percent." But with dozens of firms claiming eye-tracking capabilities, brand advertisers should ask hard questions, probing potential partners' strategic and technical approaches.
Personalizing virtual reality content based on biometric engagement
According to Time Warner's CMO Kristen O'Hara, there's "an unparalleled opportunity to integrate both the biometrics part of research and also the neuroscience piece to help us understand how consumers are really engaging with the VR experience."
As brands like Post increasingly explore immersive branded experiences in virtual reality, neuromarketing sits at a prime position to help marketers build mission control-like capabilities, dynamically changing content based on consumers' eye and biometric patterns. For example, Google's recent acquisition of Eyefluence could enable an automotive company like BMW to dynamically alter, in real-time, the featured car's make, model, color, or other design features based on the simple blink or motion of someone's eye. Add connected fitness trackers and smart watches, and the same scenario could involve an individual's increased heart rate when viewing different car models.
Proceed with caution
Still, marketers will need to proceed with caution when they extrapolate short-term neuromarketing results. In other words, insights from a 32-year-old individual's eye tracking study on native ads doesn't necessarily mean that all millennials will behave and convert the same way.
Next year, marketers should pay close attention to published findings from longer-term research that provides deeper consumer insight. For example, a three-year neuroimaging study found that brain activity in the ventral striatum of an adolescent's brain -- while listening to new music artists -- significantly correlated to the number of units sold years later. As studies like these continue to scratch the surface, it's not far fetched to see a brand like Unilever leverage brain mapping to validate the effectiveness of rich digital video campaigns for Axe or Dove.
While neuromarketing opens up exciting new opportunities for marketers to become smarter about their consumers, there's still a lot of research to be done. By keeping an open mind and judicious lens, neuromarketing can bring powerful new insights that can take brands' integrated marketing initiatives to a whole new level.