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Can neuromarketing be considered as a science?

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To answer this question it is necessary to define the conceptual elements implicit in the question, namely: science, marketing and “neuro”.

Empirical, fact-based science can be defined as a rational methodology that seeks to understand reality – based on observation and experimentation – and then explain it through a series of statements (knowledge) that must be verifiable, reproducible, not immutable and even predictable.

Scientific method

Marketing, on the other hand, can be defined as a set of activities, methodologies and processes that allow a company or organisation to identify the needs or desires of customers or consumers and then satisfy them in the best possible way in exchange for a profit or benefit for the company or organisation that implements it.

Brands

Can marketing be considered an empirical science? Although marketers use research methods supported by inferential statistics to validate whether there are significant differences in the data collected on consumer preferences, their approximation to reality remains imprecise and their predictive power remains low.

This is not because marketing research methods are not very rigorous, but because the type of phenomena it studies (human preferences, needs and desires) are not easy to measure, quantify or predict, as they belong to the realm of emotions and the human subconscious, a territory that is difficult to access by traditional research methods. In fact, predictability in marketing is so low that it has led to many failures in new product launches.

Is neuromarketing more scientific than marketing? To study consumer preferences, consumer behaviour researchers use a range of methodologies from neurophysiology and brain scanning that allow them to study in a more verifiable, quantifiable and even predictable way the mental processes that are associated with consumer needs, decision making and the emotional processes underlying those decisions.

Cerebro

According to the Neuromarketing Science and Business Association (NMSBA), neuromarketing studies which emotions are relevant in human decision making and uses this knowledge to make marketing more effective. Therefore, all neuromarketing studies emphasise the role that emotions play in the decision-making process of consumers.

Reviewing the origins of neuromarketing, we see that it emerged from scientific research. This is evidenced by two relevant publications:

  1. Zaltman and Kosslyn’s 2000 patent US6099319A, Neuroimaging as a marketing tool, registered neuroimaging as a means to validate whether advertising, communication or product stimuli were capable of evoking certain mental responses such as emotion, preference or memory, and to predict the consequences of such stimuli on subsequent behaviour such as consumption or purchase. From this patent, neuromarketing emerged as a scientific discipline, although its name was coined two years later by Ale Smidts.
  2. The research work of McClure, Montague and colleagues, published in 2004 in the journal Neuron, in which they conducted taste tests and passive experiments with Coca-Cola and Pepsi on human subjects carried out during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in two types of tests: anonymous tastings and tastings where the brand was indicated, finding variations in neural responses when subjects were indicated the brand.
Cola pepsy

Despite its scientific origins, neuromarketing soon diversified in the face of its enormous potential and evolved into the three approaches that dominate its activity today:

Neuromarketing
  1. The academic approach, which focuses on conducting market and consumer behaviour research using neurophysiological and brain imaging techniques to decipher the neural underpinnings of the decision-making process related to consumer preferences and needs, as well as the underlying emotional responses.
  2. The service companies approach, which includes hundreds of neuromarketing companies worldwide, with varying levels of credibility, that offer their assistance to various companies with neuro-biometric techniques, to optimise and make profitable the launch of products, advertising campaigns, logos, branding, packaging, etc. The information from these studies is kept confidential, except for some promotional ads that are released to attract new clients.
  3. The so-called neuromarketing influencers or gurus, who usually offer a series of “tailor-made” solutions, through conferences, books or consultancies to companies, easily understood by the general public because of their pill-like recommendations or prescriptions. They have contributed to the propagation of neuromarketing with a mixture of truths and half-truths, without sufficient empirical evidence, for example: 95% of our decisions are unconscious, we have 3 brains, we have to sell to the reptilian brain, there is a buy button in the brain, etc.

In short, and despite the distortions that neuromarketing has suffered in an attempt to turn it into a sort of recipe book for manipulating the minds of consumers, its origins as a scientific discipline are still valid and are what will allow it to continue to consolidate, to the extent that quality research continues to be carried out, capable of being verified, reproducible and applicable.

It is worth highlighting the important role played by the Neuromarketing Science & Business Association (NMSBA) in the consolidation of neuromarketing as a scientific discipline. Likewise, the role of various universities around the world that offer postgraduate courses in neuromarketing (including the NBS), as well as the research congresses in this discipline, such as the I Ibero-American Congress of Neuromarketing, recently held (March 2021) at the University of Valladolid, Spain, in which papers were presented on various research topics in the field of neuromarketing.

Editor: A manifesto for neuromarketing science

Neuromarketing Fundamentals Exam

Written by: Rubén Carvajal                                               

Date: 6 April 2021

Programs:

Máster in Neuromarketing

Máster in Neuroleadership

MBA in Marketing Digital

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