There’s been some buzz around Neuromarketing lately.  I sat in on a panel on Neuromarketing at South By Southwest Interactive this year and until then I assumed that only folks doing TV ads for large companies would be interested in it but at SxSW I heard marketers at smaller companies talking about it.  This frankly, scared me.  I believe marketers should ignore Neuromarketing (at least for now) and particularly marketers at smaller companies.

What is Neuromarketing?

Neuromarketing involves measuring brain activity in response to marketing.  The metrics that are most commonly tracked are emotional engagement, attention and memory.  Anyone who has ever run a focus group will tell you that customers often can’t express clearly what their purchase motivations are.  Neuromarketing attempts to go directly to the subconscious to figure out how we respond to marketing with the goal of improving it.

Are your Neurons connected to your Wallet?

So it seems logical that if the parts of your brain that are concerned with engagement, attention and memory are all firing away like crazy when you are exposed to marketing, that would mean that the marketing is good right?  Not so fast.  It turns out that all of that brain activity is one thing – motivating you to actually do something (like typing in or buying a bag of Doritos) is another.

Take the Super Bowl for example.  For the past several years, a “neuromedia” research firm has recorded brain activity while people watched the Super Bowl ads and then ranked them by “neurological engagement.” Unfortunately that engagement didn’t necessarily translate back to a desired behavior.  In 2008 GoDaddy’s ad ranked near the bottom of the engagement chart yet the ad generated 1.5 million hits on their site – a staggering marketing success.  Here’s what Roger Dooley at the Neuromarketing Blog had to say on the subject:

The truth is that at the moment, we don’t really know what all that brain activity means. That doesn’t mean the experiments are a bad idea – it just means that we need to keep working to establish a correlation between the brain effects of the advertisement and the ultimate achievement of the advertiser’s objectives.

This is an old quote (2006) but the panelists in the SxSW session this year re-iterated the fact that so far, we haven’t been able to connect the dots between brain activity and behavior in a way that marketers can use.

But Wait, Does that Mean I Don’t Have to Worry About Subconscious Factors?

Don’t get me wrong here – as a marketer I care about what’s going on inside your head.  But frankly, I only really care when it drives behavior.  In particular, buying behavior.  There are a lot of important things that marketers can learn about behavior from the neuroscientists of the world.  In Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely gives a host of great examples of how people behave in irrational ways with practical implications for marketers. Examples include:

  • If there is a default option, people are more likely to pick it.
  • People’s preference for a one product over another can be dramatically changed if presented with a third, decoy option.
  • The price that a product is initially set at, can anchor consumer expectations for what a product is worth.
  • If there is a free option, people will pick that one.
  • People ascribe a much higher value to things that they already own than they do to things they have not yet purchased.

Notice that each of these examples is centered around behavior and not brain activity – because frankly, at the end of the day, that’s what we, as marketers really care about.

You’ve Got More Important Things To Worry about.  Like Selling Stuff.

Neuromarketing, although interesting, is not something that marketers can use in a practical way today.  One day our brain activity may tell us something about how we decide to purchase things but until it does – don’t worry your precious marketing neurons thinking about it.

Hey, you made it all the way to the end! You should subscribe!  You can sign up for email updates, subscribe via RSS or follow me on Twitter.