Neuromarketing: A Flyover

You may hear some buzz about neuromarketing, or “System 1 Thinking,” an emerging approach to marketing research that combines three well-established disciplines of brain science to give a new perspective on human behavior and give insight into nonconscious decision-making:

  • Neuroscience – the study of the human nervous system
  • Behavioral economics – the study of how people make economic decisions
  • Social psychology – the study of how people think and act in the presence of other people


Most traditional research approaches are structured to assume that consumers are conscious and rational as they make decisions, even as we try to tease out the emotional components. But conscious thought is very energy consuming: humans have a brain-to-body mass of about 2 percent, yet the human brain uses about 20 percent of the body’s total energy. It stands to reason that much of consumer behavior is unconscious.


What’s Behind the Science of Neuromarketing?


Human beings are not rational decision-makers.  Instead we use System 1, our intuitive decision-making system, or “gut,” to make decisions. System 1 is in fact a number of judgmental biases and shortcuts, so it is automatic, effortless and fast. System 1 is the emotional and associative part of the brain and doesn’t access System 2, our conscious awareness. System 2 is the deliberative decision-making system, and is characterized as controlled, effortful and slow. Since System 1 is governed by habit—and habits don’t change quickly—it is hard to change our “gut” responses to a situation. System 2 is the rational and rule-governed part of the brain, and is more easily persuadable because of its ability to analyze and weigh options.


Neuromarketing measurement techniques fall into two general categories that offer a complement to traditional market research techniques:

  1. Physiological or biometric measures – approaches that measure the body responses
  2. Neurological or neurometric measures – approaches that measure brain signals


These techniques have application in several key areas to help marketers better understand how consumers really see and respond to marketing stimuli. Generally speaking, research in these areas is conducted to better understand consumer perceptions and emotional connections (vs. obtaining projectable data). The intuitive consumer model is appropriately used for providing guidance and insight in these areas:

  • Brand strength
  • Product development
  • Product innovation
  • Package design
  • Advertising
  • Shopping (online and in person)


Is Neuromarketing Evil?


Naysayers suggest that neuromarketing has the potential to manipulate consumer behavior and is an attempt at mind control. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, understanding the emotional drivers behind decision-making creates an even more complex challenge for marketers.


It’s pretty frustrating to have consumers tell you one thing and then behave in the opposite way. But consumers are human beings with intuitive minds. Their System 1 and System 2 brains—the nonconscious and conscious minds—work together to make good decisions in an extremely noisy and complex world. Neuromarketing techniques aren’t capable of convincing consumers to buy something they don’t want to buy nor do they reveal the underlying thoughts creating that brain activity being measured. In fact, marketing is much easier when you can give consumers what they want—and your job is then to persuade them to buy your product over the competition’s.


You can look forward to future blog posts from us discussing neuromarketing measurement techniques and their applications in specific research areas in more detail. We hope you’re as interested in these advancements as we are!