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The Future of Neuroscience Is Now. Let’s Embrace It.

By Joe Willke, President, Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience, and Dr. Carl Marci, Chief Neuroscientist

Joe Willke
Joe Willke

We recently announced the acquisition of Innerscope Research, a leader in the use of neuroscience to help brand marketers solve their unique marketing challenges by delivering a better understanding of their consumers. We are integrating Innerscope’s groundbreaking techniques and expertise with Nielsen’s existing, industry-leading neuroscience group to create the most complete offering of consumer neuroscience capabilities in the world. Our goal for Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience is to showcase these technologies and insights as complementary, and essential, research tools, particularly within the media, marketing and packaging design industries.

Why are we doubling down on neuroscience? Simply put: It works. Studies have repeatedly proven that understanding non-conscious consumer responses delivers information and knowledge that traditional research methods cannot. Deeper and more actionable insights from consumer neuroscience tools deliver significant and often untapped value for the industry and for our clients.

Carl Marci
Carl Marci

We understand that some marketers still may be wary of neuroscience. Early, less-advanced attempts to apply neuroscience to marketing may have tainted some in the industry—by overpromising, under-delivering and providing information and insights that were too difficult to understand and/or implement.

However, we have now arrived at a time when consumer neuroscience has evolved to the point that it is ready for major market penetration, when the reality of the technology and the power of the insights are too difficult to ignore in an increasingly complex world.

We think there are seven reasons why marketers should be using neuroscience today, all of which highlight its value while dispelling many of the myths still circulating in the industry.

  1. Consumer neuroscience tools measure something that nothing else can. Countless academic studies have concluded that our decisions are often influenced by our non-conscious emotional responses. So a lot of what drives our everyday decisions—including what we’ll purchase, watch and talk about—cannot be measured through traditional survey techniques. Understanding conscious and non-conscious responses is critical to painting a more complete picture of the consumer and understanding what influences his or her purchasing behavior.
  2. Consumer neuroscience is backed by decades of scientific rigor. While the scientific study of the nervous system and its impact on behavior are over a century old, modern neuroscience has developed rapidly over the past 30 years to a point where it is now highly relevant and accessible for marketers. Nielsen and Innerscope have individually spent the last few years focused intently on perfecting research processes founded in scientific rigor and reliability—and produced at the speed of business and at an affordable price. The new Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience will have nearly 20 PhD- and MD-level neuroscientists with more than 550 peer-reviewed papers and countless years of experience to support and help interpret projects. They are backed by a Scientific Advisory Board headed by Dr. Robert Knight of the University of California, Berkeley, and led by Chief Neuroscientist Dr. Carl Marci, who co-founded Innerscope. Clients can be assured that the science that underlies the measurement and interpretation of results uses medical-grade equipment and adheres to only the highest and most thorough academic standards.
  3. Consumer neuroscience delivers highly actionable insights. A common misconception is that neuroscience will produce “nice-to-have” results for a campaign—but little practical applications. This could not be further from reality. The ability to measure the second-by-second neural activity of study participants means that we have precise data about which creative elements are eliciting a reaction. Whether it is a quick cut to a new scene, a change in background music or an actor’s facial expression, consumer neuroscience can help us identify and measure the impact on viewers far better than any technology to date. By integrating measures like eye tracking, facial coding and implicit measures, along with biometrics and EEG, non-conscious reactions provide significant revelations about creative performance. And this measurement precision and deeper understanding can be applied at any phase in the creative development cycle.
  4. Consumer neuroscience delivers in-market results. Every year, the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) bestows David Ogilvy Awards to honor creative uses of research in the advertising development process that have actually driven in-market results. This year, three recipients (Toyota, Kraft and the Shelter Pet Project) received awards for campaigns in which they made use of neuroscience provided by Nielsen and Innerscope. Innerscope alone has received 11 Great Mind Awards from the ARF, including best paper in the Journal of Advertising Research for its award-winning model of how viewers engage in a multimedia world.
  5. Consumer neuroscience is scalable. Another common misconception is that high quality neuroscience studies are expensive, time-consuming and custom in nature, limiting their use to periodic studies by only the biggest marketers and in the biggest marketing campaigns. While this was true 10 years ago, dramatic improvements in measurement technology, automation and standardized approaches have significantly reduced cost while increasing the speed of study execution and insights. Today, Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience has the ability to conduct a neuroscience study for a campaign in about the same time and for the same, and sometimes less, cost than you would pay for a traditional approach. In 2014 alone, Nielsen conducted more than 1,000 studies, collecting data from more than 32,000 people in more than 35 countries. In addition, we now are able to bring neuroscience outside the lab environment—and directly into the real-world environment—with Innerscope’s in-home and in-store testing expertise and capabilities using leading edge wearable technologies, allowing us to continue to adapt to the rapidly changing media landscape.
  6. Consumer neuroscience offers a critical advantage. Neuroscience is being used today by some of the world’s biggest brands. Why? Because they recognize the challenge in reaching today’s consumers (who increasingly have grown up with mobile devices in a changing world—representing uncharted marketing territory). Paying attention only to what consumers say is at best incomplete and at worst dangerous to the bottom line. Our clients are rapidly gaining a competitive advantage by using the unique insights that only Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience can bring to improve their marketing communications. Understanding how to connect emotionally with consumers on a deep level not only improves marketing but also leads to stronger brand relationships and—ultimately—better in-market performance.
  7. Consumer neuroscience is getting better (fast). With the acquisition of Innerscope, we immediately became the largest and most complete consumer neuroscience company in the world. We can deliver and integrate the best technology to address every client’s unique challenges and opportunities. And we’re the only company that can leverage this complete set of tools on a global scale. Innerscope’s technologies in biometrics, facial coding and eye tracking and its experience integrating self-report are the perfect addition to Nielsen’s EEG technology and global footprint. These two consumer neuroscience leaders—with their complementary technologies and methodologies—now makes non-conscious measures and insights far more accessible and complete for any brand hoping to get a deeper understanding of the hearts and minds of their consumers.

We’re excited about enhancing the power of consumer neuroscience to help marketers better understand their audiences, boost their creative efforts and get the most out of their marketing investments. We hope you are, too.