Understanding the Role of Science in Business

When asked what you are thinking, you can typically answer because most of us know what is going on in our head. This is because one conscious thought, typically, leads to another. But, psychologists believe that that is not the only way the mind works. According to Daniel Kahneman, an influential psychologist and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, says “most impressions and thoughts arise in your conscious experience without your knowing how they got there. You cannot trace how you came to the belief … (that) you detected a hint of irritation in your spouse’s voice on the telephone, or how you managed to avoid a threat on the road before you became consciously aware of it”. Dr. Kahneman points out “the mental work that produces impressions, intuitions, and many decisions goes on in silence in our mind.”

From this simple observation, a number of efforts by psychologists, economists, and marketing executives about ways in which they can identify and predict a consumers’ purchasing behavior have occurred. The following is a brief outline of their work and how technology is playing a key role in trying to understand how we put thoughts together to make buying decisions.

How Science May Impact Marketing Practices

Science plays a key role in practically every aspect of our lives. This is even true in the fields of marketing and advertising. For over fifty years, or more, psychological studies of consumer buying practices have proven useful in measuring the superficial aspects of packaging, branding, and displaying of a broad range of products and services. Over the past two decades, a number of technological changes have lead to a new field of study called neuroscience, a sub branch of which focuses on advertising and marketing interest. People working in this area of science refer to their specialty as neuromarketing or neuroeconomics.

Can Neuroscience Improve Marketing Practices in America?

To answer this question, let alone understand the subject, we need to determine what exactly scientists are talking about in the first place. This will require a paragraph of technical mumbo jumbo, but it will go quickly and exclude a large amount of detail. So, here goes:

Neuroscientists believe they have identified several techniques that allow them to study specific areas of the brain activated by a stimulus. Some of the work in this field uses a highly sophisticated imaging system called an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), which measures changes in blood flow related to neural activity in specific portions of the brain. As this is a relatively new process, the amount of information obtained from an fMRI study is rather limited because of the size and manner in which data are collected. Further, the information collected is limited by the nature of the brain’s ability to process and react to stimuli, for example, repetition of stimuli reduces the novelty, thus the usefulness of the data; further, the subject is constrained to avoid motion of the head, thus, reducing the opportunity to provide “real world” situations. Therefore, some researchers have elected to use EEG (electroencephalography) as a measurement technique in addition to the fMRI. EEGs are fairly good for measuring how involved a person is when he or she first looks at a novel object. Some researchers have combined EEG and fMRI with eye tracking, physiological responses, and survey interviews to draw reasonably accurate conclusions that are of value to marketers and advertisers.

As you can imagine this kind of “high tech” approach is expensive and the findings of such research is based upon small samples of participants. However, some of the results have lead to useful information about how consumers process purchasing decisions, because the stimuli selected to study can range from product placement, subliminal messaging, brands/logos, health/safety warnings, and product packaging. Another possible use for neuroscience-based advertising research is to help marketers understand how consumers respond to advertising as they experience it, but, more importantly, scientists believe they can identify emotional reactions that the customers ultimately store in long-term memory concerning the brand or product. This stored information in long-term memory may, most likely, influence a future purchase or usage choice. Neuroscientists believe the driving force behind such responses is emotion, thus understanding the emotional response to stimuli becomes very important.

Does Neuroscience Help Us Better Understand Consumer Behavior?

Advocates for neuroscience are very enthusiastic about the positive results they have achieved, and feel very strongly that with improvements in equipment and better understanding of how consumers process information and make decisions, the opportunities for more effective marketing approaches will be achieved. Another possible use of neuroscience-based research is to identify how information about a product, service, or brand is stored in long-term memory, which may influence future purchases or use of a service or brand.

As a small business owner, these findings may not be as important as they are to large corporation executives, mainly because, as a local owner, you have far greater direct contact with your customers, and have immediate feedback from them as to their likes and dislikes. However, the information and knowledge gained by neuromarketing research studies may prove very useful nonetheless in trying to compete with national firms in the future.

The reason you need to stay informed about major shifts in the methods used to understand consumer decision-making is to anticipate potential negative impacts such findings may have upon your business. Of course, it may be that at some point you will be able to use such marketing research findings in promoting your business or branding a new product or service.

Please feel free to offer your comments on this or any other of our articles. Your comments and suggestions are always welcomed.


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