Thursday, July 25, 2013

Neuromarketing research for the win - pt1

Marketing research methods continuously develop and over the last decade technology offered solutions to improve this area. Traditional marketing research methods fail at some point in certain cases, and since emotions are mediators of how consumers process marketing messages, understanding of cognitive responses to advertisements have always been a challenge in methodology. Neuromarketing is the branch of neuroscience research that aims to better understand the consumer through his unconscious processes and has application in marketing, explaining consumer's preferences, motivations and expectations, predicting his behavior and evaluating successes or failures of advertising messages.


Neuroscience gathers information on the structure and functions of the brain and its sub-domain called cognitive neuroscience seeks to understand the neural mechanisms behind thoughts, reasoning, emotions, memory or decision making. Using technology advances in neuroscience, researchers can obtain information on brain responses to marketing stimuli, not having full confidence in what they report. They provide new ways for understanding how consumers store, retrieve, develop and use information. Neuromarketing is an emerging interdisciplinary field that aims to investigate and understand consumer behavior by studying the brain. Thus, using neuroimaging techniques, researchers measure subjects' responses to marketing stimuli. Therefore, the development of this field depends on the advance of science, technology and computer science.

Neuroimaging tools

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) represents an appropriate methodology for uncovering the areas of the brain activation in response to a very simple experimental design with little potential for the temporal dimension to be a problem. fMRI combines magnetic field and radio waves, producing a signal that allows viewing brain structures in detail and following the metabolic activity in the brain. Τhe subject lies on a bed, with the head surrounded by a large magnet which causes the atom particles (protons) inside the subject's head to align with the magnetic field. As blood contains iron, the iron atoms that are not bound to oxygen produce small distortions in the nearer magnetic field and when a certain brain area is active, corresponding blood vessels dilate and more blood rushes in, reducing the amount of oxygen-fee hemoglobin and producing a change in the magnetic field in the active area.

Software allows viewing this change, displaying colored areas overlapping the grey-scale image of the brain and refreshing the image every 2 to 5 seconds. fMRI allows measuring brain activity and searching for patterns while subjects perform certain tasks or experience marketing stimuli. Data analysis can be conducted using specific software packages, as BrainVoyager QX or Statistical parametric Mapping (SPM5).

Electroencephalography (EEG) is one of the most used tools in neuromarketing research, after fMRI. The amplitudes of the recorded brain waves correspond to certain mental states, such as wakefulness (beta waves), relaxation (alpha waves), calmness (theta waves) and sleep (delta waves). A number of electrodes (up to 256) are placed on the scalp of the subjects, in certain areas, in order to measure and record the electricity for that certain spot. Technology allows EEG to be a portable device and record brain activity in any many circumstances, as for example in supermarkets. Also, EEG is able to record only activity data from superficial layers of the cortex.

Positron emission tomography (PET) is another expensive method to use that can obtain physiologic images with spatial resolution similar to fMRI by recording the radiation from the emission of positrons from the radioactive substance administered to the subject. A battery of detectors surrounds the subject's head and traces radiation pulse, without precisely identify the location of the signal. Technical issues involve obtaining the radioactive material and it's short life.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses magnetic induction in order to modulate the activity of certain brain areas that are located 1-2 centimeters inside, without reaching the neocortex. New TMS technology allows also targeting lower brain areas and is less expensive than PET or fMRI scanners. A plastic case containing an electric coil is positioned near to the subject's head. TMS discharges a magnetic field that passes through the brain, allowing making changes in the brain tissue in certain locations and being able either to temporary activate neurons (using high frequency) or temporary disable neuronal activity (low frequency). TMS is able to highlight causal inferences by analyzing the subject in front of a marketing stimuli while certain brain areas are disabled, stimulated, or normal.

Neuromarketing methodology

Eye Tracking allows studying behavior and cognition without measuring brain activity, but where the subject is looking at, for how long he is looking, the path of the subject's view and changes in pupil dilation while the subjects looks at stimuli. Eye tracking allows measuring the attention focus and thus monitoring types of behavior. Eye movements fall into two categories: fixations and saccades. Fixation is when the eye movement pauses in a certain position and saccade is a switch to another position. The resulting series of fixations and saccades is called a scan path, and they are used in analyzing visual perception, cognitive intent, interest and salience. Eye tracking provides more accurate information than self-report, as research shows that claimed viewing is not always the same as measured actual viewing.

Measuring Physiological Responses to stimuli can provide information on the subject's emotional effects by monitoring the heart rate, blood pressure, skin conductivity (affected by sweat, measuring arousal level), stress hormone from saliva, facial muscles contractions, and inferring the emotional state for each moment. [Bercea,2013]

Response time measures computes the amount of time between stimuli appearance and it's response, informing researchers on the complexity of the stimulus to an individual and how the subject relates to it. This cheap method can be used on recall studies or on measuring subject's attitude towards certain stimuli.

                                                      To be continued...