Neuromarketing: How Consumer Analysis Changes
From behavioral economics to neuromarketing: how is the study of the consumer changing, and what are the implications for marketing? What if consumers were also human beings? This shouldn’t be a provocative question but information that is anything but obvious; However, for years, we relied on a consumer decision-making model based on a strictly rationalist conception of man.
Which, in reality, did not take into consideration the complexity that characterizes individuals and all the emotional and unconscious factors that characterize their choices and often also their responses to traditional market research methods (surveys, focus groups, interviews).
In Theory, We Are Strictly Rational Beings; In Practice, WE Are Human Beings
Classical economic theory starts from the premise that individuals, perfectly informed about all the options available, make choices based on utility maximization. In theory, one should know exactly which brand or product best suits one’s needs, which is the most convenient hotel among all the options, and which university course best suits your profile and preferences.
Not being able to diminish the contribution of these currents of thought for the analysis of the markets and the progress of economic sciences, we pause to observe the reality and the way economic agents move and how consumers behave. According to the Nobel Committee, Richard Thaler, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in October 2017, demonstrated how human traits – such as “bounded rationality,” lack of self-control, and social preferences – « systematically influence individual decisions and market outcomes.
” The winner, in particular, stated that the impact of his research was mainly important for “the awareness that economic agents are human beings and economic models must include this observation.’ Over the years, several leading personalities in the field have “denounced” the innumerable deviations of individuals concerning the decision-making rationality of the homo oeconomicus postulated by traditional economic theory.
As early as the 1950s, the Nobel Prize in Economics Hebert A. Simon had argued – speaking of “limited rationality” – that individuals have incomplete knowledge of the alternatives available and that in making choices, they are conditioned by their preferences and by an emotional nature that leads them to consider only some of the options available to them.
In the 1970s, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky also identified a series of cognitive distortions that condition, often unconsciously, people’s assessments and decisions. These distortions or biases also affect the perception of advertising communication and products and how the options available are evaluated. In a focus group, for example, social influence can push the people involved to agree with the others present.
For many years, traditional market research methods have been based on the idea that consumers can respond objectively and accurately to any question regarding their preferences and consumption choices. Back then, focus groups, interviews, and surveys were the only tools available to companies to analyze the effectiveness of their communication and products.
These tools, however, despite their relevance for the study of purchasing behavior, have limitations deriving from the fact that the answers provided by the interviewees represent “censored” or “filtered” data since various factors can condition the accuracy and the truthfulness of the information provided.
How can a commercial have an impact on consumer behavior? Is it enough to ask? For some consumers, it may be difficult to admit that they have been influenced by advertising communication because the idea of making choices conditioned by third parties, even unconsciously, would be annoying.
Beyond the studies of behavioral economics and cognitive psychology, it is necessary to refer to the knowledge coming from the neurosciences, which, starting from the studies conducted by António Damásio and his team, have demonstrated the role and importance of emotions not only as part an integral part of the decision-making process but as an element necessary for decision-making.
The recognition of the impact of factors of an emotional nature on decision-making makes it possible to explain the gap that too often occurs between what consumers declare in surveys and the actual behavior verified in the field.
Neuromarketing: A New Way Of Approaching The Consumer And The Contribution To Marketing
To study the consumer, it could be useful to start from who he is as a human being and, as such, to analyze him in his complexity, which is difficult to fully understand with the contribution of a single discipline or starting from a single point of view. Progress in the study of consumer behavior has been achieved thanks to knowledge and authors from various disciplines: behavioral economics, psychology, cognitive sciences, and neuroscience.
Taking advantage of all this knowledge, neuromarketing allows you to optimize corporate communication and, thanks to neuroscientific techniques, to measure the response to marketing stimuli, leading to a better understanding of the impact of these on purchasing behavior. The sector is currently developing considerably all over the world.
It is helping to increase awareness of the importance of integrating, in the marketing field, techniques that allow the analysis of emotions and the psychophysiological activation of individuals in correspondence with external stimuli such as commercials, packaging, or during product tasting.
Combining traditional methods with neuroscientific tools can produce more complete and objective results. It is no coincidence that multinationals such as Nielsen, a global leader in market research, rely more and more on neuromarketing.
In 2011, the US company had already acquired Neurofocus, a North American multinational specializing in applying neuroscientific techniques to the production of advertising, packaging, and brand building. In May 2015, the multinational significantly increased its investment in this field by acquiring another major neuromarketing company, the Research Company Innerscope.
Neuromarketing is an increasingly useful solution for understanding the mechanisms associated with attentional processes and, consequently, identifying what attracts the consumer’s attention the most. Visual attention, in particular, has a dominant role in the decision-making process.
Still, in this context, it is possible to notice great changes in the approach to the consumer through advertising communication. In the book “Psychology of Communication and Neuromarketing,” Vincenzo Russo refers to the old and new model of the decision maker and the related link with attention.
For many years it was the decision-making model based on the individual’s rationality that guided marketing strategies; emphasis was placed on the role of “conscious attention” and, therefore, on the importance of attracting attention for the subject to understand the message, trying to convince the consumer through exposure to the advantages of the product.
However, as the author explains, today, several studies highlight the possibility of having” attention without awareness and consequent memorization, “i.e., it is possible to “detect that the visual attention is positioned on the part of the advertising message and that it has not consciously determined a reflection,” which could, in any case, affect the perception and evaluation of the brand.
For this reason, we are increasingly trying to focus on the emotional and sensory involvement of the consumer. These factors can guide attention and, even unconsciously, influence the brand’s perception. The paradigm shift that is taking place could also be accompanied by adaptations, at the terminological level, in the marketing sector.
Consider, for example, the term ‘target, ‘the etymology of which refers to the word ‘Targa,’ a defensive weapon used in the Middle Ages as a target for throwing arrows. As Caterina Garofalo, president of AINEM pointed out with a provocative statement during the seminar “Neuromarketing in practice,” it is the appropriation of military terminology to refer to consumers. Terms like this could become unsuitable for a sector that is increasingly sensitive to the importance of a complete vision of the consumer, closer to people, and even more human.