Marketing to the Human Brain

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Marketing to the Human Brain

One of the age-old dreams of marketers has been to divine, as if by magic, what people think about products and services.  This has led to a proliferation of businesses that probe and prod customers, conduct focus groups and surveys, and otherwise try to devise ways of discovering people's opinions. 

But, in too many cases, there has still been a big difference between what people say they think about a product and what they really think about it.  As a result, marketing professionals are always left with the sense that they can never truly know what is on the customer's mind. 

This has been rapidly changing in recent years.  Two areas of science are largely responsible for this change: 

n       Neuro-imaging

n       Behavioral psychology

In the case of neuro-imaging, new technologies were introduced that ultimately allowed researchers to look into the workings of the brain in real time.  Computed tomography, or CT scanning, was invented in the 1970s, and magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, was developed in the 1980s.

This set off a veritable explosion of related technologies and refinements in recent years that brought us to the present state of the art, in which scientists can have a patient perform a task — say, looking at a variety of product images — and can then see how the brain responds.

Today, so-called neuro-marketers are hard at work to crack the code on what customers are really thinking.  For example, scientists at Duke University and Emory University recently published an article in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience,1 offering advice on how to hire a neuro-marketing firm.  Neilson and NeuroFocus are two companies that offer brain scanning services to study the response to ads and buying trends of potential consumers. 

While there is already heated discussion of this trend in the blog-o-sphere, with concerns about privacy and fears that the ad business will take things too far, there are clearly good reasons why this technology could make itself useful, not only to companies, but to individuals who wish to buy better products and to receive more relevant advertising. 

Brain imaging has already done something that no one was able to do before:  Prove that a "brand" makes more difference than the product itself.  In the famous "Pepsi Challenge," people liked the taste of Pepsi more than Coke when they couldn't see the cans or identify which product was which...

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