Neuromarketing World Forum 2014

I had the pleasure to speak at the 2014 edition of the Neuromarketing World Forum, which was held in New York on March 5-7. It was the third edition of the Forum, a unique event crossing the spheres of business and academia; it proved the biggest and most successful ever in the history of the field, attended by most of the key personalities from neuromarketing and consumer neuroscience worldwide. Caroline Winett, co-founder of Neurofocus and one of the main keynote speakers, even joked that if somebody wanted to stop neuromarketing on its tracks, he would just have to round the building to put an end to it. Thankfully no one took that advice literally.

The huge amount of information shared during these event-packed three days is hard to sum up. For what I gathered, I would say that neuromarketing is following two broad and complementary directions:

  1. Business interpretation of insights from neuroscience
  2. Application of neuroscience tools to the evaluation of marketing strategies

The first axis was mainly represented by the fascinating talk from Daniel B. Yarosh at Estee Lauder. The aim is to rethink the whole representation of the consumer as a biological being, with needs driven by millions of years of competitive evolution. All brain processes, and eventually all behavior, are grounded in these drives, such as the need for women to look young and hint at a high level of estrogen, in the case of a beauty product. Taking into account these fundamental aspects of behavior helped Estee Lauder to better understand their customers and successfully deploy a host of new products.

The second axis, the use of biometric tools to evaluate marketing messages, is evolving quickly, extending to new measurement methods and applications. Thus far there is no convergence towards a single technique, such as EEG or eye tracking, which would be better than the others. The emerging consensus is that most biometric methods have their merits and disadvantages. Therefore, the favored approach is to build a toolbox, and choose the optimal set of methods for each different marketing problem. And everybody agrees that classical research methods, such as survey and focus groups, have perfectly their places in this toolbox.

A general feeling at the event was that neuromarketing, while still a nascent field, is at the beginning of a strong expansion. A string of promising developments supports this view. The most obvious is the involvement of all the big names in marketing research, with Nielsen and Ipsos sponsoring the event, and Millward-Brown presenting their latest results. Neuromarketing is starting to be deployed at a true industrial level: Millward-Brown performed millions of face recognition captures in the last years, while bank Polski in Poland ordered more than 60 neuro projects. And the field is undeniably maturing. The hype of some of the early pioneers is now behind, and everybody agrees on the need of good science, white-box methods, and strict validation.

If I had to pinpoint the strongest events of the forum, I would certainly start with the keynote from professor Read Montague. He presented, among other things, details about the famed Pepsi-Coke experiment, the one that started it all. In hindsight, it was interesting to learn how hard it had been to convince the reading panel of the scientific value of such research. Nobody, including the author, foresaw the tremendous impact this study was going to have.

Other highlights were the business cases, all of them instructive and fascinating. We all feel really thankful to the clients who accepted to share their experience of neuromarketing.

But the climax of the event was, of course, the keynote by professor Antonio Damasio. It was a great honor to have him here, and really enlightening to hear him discourse on the nature of emotions and the human mind. While he is not a neuromarketer himself, his ideas and theories deeply permeate the whole industry.

As for my talk, I had the luck to speak at the very beginning of the event, and therefore could enjoy a very alert and focused audience. I had interesting questions, and I really hope that my results will be of some use to anyone.

Next year's edition will be in Barcelona, and anybody with interest in neuromarketing should definitely consider attending what will be, I am sure, an even more successful event.

Site of the 2014 Neuromarketing World Forum:

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