Businesses ‘using neuroscience to better understand customer behaviour’

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Neuroscience is becoming increasingly important to businesses who want to gain a better insight into their customers and how they think.

Understanding a target audience has always been a critical part of establishing strong customer relationships and providing a relevant service that fits people's needs and preferences.

As a result, many firms take steps such as setting up focus groups, measuring website analytics and using software to identify patterns and trends in the customer data they have already collected.

However, awareness of neuroscience has risen a great deal in recent years and some companies believe this discipline offers the key to gaining an even deeper understanding of the people they want to both attract and retain.

Keith Glasspoole, client programme leader at Ipsos MORI, believes it can be simple for firms to embrace this approach as part of their existing data collection strategy, Marketing Week reports.

For instance, he said facial coding could be used if a person filling in an online survey has a webcam, while test participants could be asked to wear biometric devices that measure their responses to different forms of marketing.

This would mean that companies are able to see what stimuli provoke the strongest reaction and which approaches are less successful at engaging with the customer.

"Advertising is an emotive topic in client companies," Mr Glasspoole remarked.

"It's a big, important investment and something that lots of people in the company have an opinion about.

"Neuroscience helps to take some of the subjectivity out of that discussion."

Stronger insights

US-based company Kimberly-Clark is among the firms that are taking advantage of Ipsos MORI's expertise in this area.

Clive Sirkin, global chief marketing officer at the firm, insisted that neuroscience is better than more traditional means of research, as it provides stronger insights into their behaviour, whereas alternatives such as surveys are based on a person's rational and conscious reactions.

John Humphrey, director of analytics, insights and consumer services at Kimberly-Clark, acknowledged that steps such as scrapping traditional focus groups would be shocking to many market researchers, particularly those who are keen to maintain the status quo.

This, he said, means that moving forwards in this way "requires a big mindset change" in order to get behind this new approach.

However, Mr Humphrey stressed that using neuroscience has many advantages, from producing clearly visible results on each project to generating richer insights and a better understanding of people's behaviour.

He said these findings can often act as a confirmation for marketers about the reaction some promotional content might provoke, which may in turn enable them to act upon new ideas more quickly than they could have done otherwise.

"Areas like psychology and anthropology are going to become much more important," he commented.

Disconnect?

As is to be expected when a new approach to an important function encroaches on the mainstream, there has been some criticism of the notion of using neuroscience to engage with customers.

For instance, some have questioned whether the findings can have a genuine influence on how a company goes about marketing to a certain audience.

However, one expert believes that any possible disconnect between marketers and neuroscientists can easily be addressed.

Professor of neuroscience at University College London Beau Lotto stated that marketers and neuroscientists could work together on controlled tests in which people participate knowingly.

He pointed out that when brands use traditional methods of gathering information, they tend to focus on issues such as who, what and where.

However, Professor Lotto noted that by bringing in neuroscience to gain more insights into people's thinking and motivations, questions relating to why they act a certain way can also be answered.

"Once you understand that, you can apply it to any context," he said.

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