The marketing mortality game – why neuromarketing has risen from the dead

The challenges and opportunities of the pandemic have triggered a noticeable shift in clients open to new thinking including neuromarketing and neuroscience-based research.

Oct 8, 2021

By Neil Davidson

Is marketing obsessed with mortality? Most marketing press headlines and social media posts would make you think so, proclaiming ‘the death of’ or ‘the birth of’, and usually end with a hyperbolic statement that nothing will ever be the same again. However, many of those trends die and then go through a cycle of re-birth and death. You can place bricks and mortar retail, television, CRM, ROI-driven marketing, behavioural economics, augmented reality, AI and the meta-verse at different points of this recurring life journey, along with over a hundred more marketing trends and topics. (There’s also a bit of the shocked first response when something new emerges, a bit like marketing garlic bread if you’re a Peter Kay fan.)

Has neuromarketing risen from the grave?

Another one of these is neuromarketing, particularly neuroscience-based research. It’s incredible impact and influence has been predicted many times and it already is the secret sauce for some blue-chip marketers. They believe it overcomes of the inadequacies of self-reporting in qualitative research and that it can answer the ‘why do people say or do that?’ of human responses and preferences in ways that other forms of research can’t.

The rise of neuroscience research in marketing seemed to be halted by the pandemic, particularly Electroencephalogram (EEG) based forms of research. Running EEG-based research at scale is like running the world’s largest hairdresser as you fiddle with people’s hair to attach the equipment. (No one gets hurt, honest. At least no more than at the hairdresser.) This meant that some of the biggest players in the EEG field closed permanently during the pandemic and wider neuroscience research was potentially entering another marketing death spiral.

Implicit testing offers new opportunities for marketing

Sticking with the language of hairdressing, our sister business HeyLab was more of a boutique provider of EEG-based research, but we still had to think long and hard about its future due to the pandemic. EEG has taken what is hopefully a temporary knock, but we’ve seen the rise of other research techniques as a result, particularly implicit testing. The pandemic and the need for non-tactile research solutions has opened up agile research solutions with global reach that still help clients make better decisions with more confidence through removing subjectivity and giving answers to the ‘why do people say or do that?’ questions.

Through the pandemic we’ve been able to work with clients to respond to many of the challenges that we describe as ‘Brand Dispersion’ a broader and deeper development of what Scott Galloway originally predicted as ‘the Great Dispersion’. This has included brand relevance, NPD and concept development, new D2C journeys and creating effective content at a time when everyone had an opinion about changes in the mood of the nation, but no one really knew, no small feat. Smart, agile decision-making has never been more necessary for marketers, or harder, and neuroscience research helps solve many of the issues around this.

The future is neuroscience, and nothing else.

So maybe that is indulging in some marketing hyperbole (and it felt good to break the usual shackles of moderation) but the challenges and opportunities of the pandemic have triggered a noticeable shift in clients open to new thinking that they were previously closed off to, including neuromarketing and neuroscience-based research. It’s not new anymore but it’s still good. Neuromarketing, the garlic bread of marketing.