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Applied neuroscience 2017 – More than just marketing?

When we talk about applied neuroscience, that is, the use of neuroscientific methods in studies that do not primarily serve a scientific purpose, the discussion – as of November 2016 – usually involves one of two topics.

For a start, neuroscientific approaches are being used more and more in the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses and injuries in medical science. In the evaluation of Alzheimer’s, the detection of brain tumors, the diagnosis of migraines, epilepsy, and a whole series of other health problems, neuroscientific methods are part of standard modern diagnostics, even if each doctor’s office cannot afford its own fMRT.

And the first therapeutic approaches (in the form of so-called neurofeedback, for example, by which the brain can learn to show or refrain from certain thoughts and behaviors) are now being tested and show noteworthy successes in the treatment of depression, for example.

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The other area in which neuroscientific approaches are increasingly establishing themselves is marketing.

Numerous studies from the early 2000’s showed that, for example, strong brands provide a "cognitive relief". This means that less processing capacity is necessary in order to reach a decision when confronted with stronger brands. It was shown that strong brands actually recruit those areas of the brain that are involved in emotional processing, which means that brands are, in essence, emotional; it was also shown that it is possible to predict the success of advertising years in advance and more reliably than with other methods of established market research with appropriate neuroscientific methods.

It is, therefore, no surprise that more and more companies are relying on applied neuroscience, also called neuromarketing.

Neuroscience nevertheless has far more to offer than "just" an exact prediction of advertising effectiveness. Many developments are emerging today, or have already begun. I would like to speak about these approaches - these trends, if you will - today.

Neuromarketing in the retail sector

Since 2014, various working groups have experimented with refining neuroscientific paradigms in such a way that data collection is no longer tied to the laboratory. Over the past two years, the respective studies were published and the first commercial applications were carried out.

The results were promising.

We can expect that this seed will soon bear fruit: a significant increase in the request for neuroscientific uses for stationary retail trade is expected in 2017. It remains to be seen whether these uses will involve mobile EEG investigations in a classical manner or rather indirect methods such as the measurement of hormone concentrations using secreted sweat, a method that was developed above all for use in sports stadiums and movie theaters. The principle is the same: the technology moved out of the laboratory. Decision-relevant processes can now be recorded everywhere - at home, when buying a computer, or around the corner in the nearby supermarket.

Neuromarketing has arrived in the real world.

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What does that mean for online marketing?

Over the past three years we have often heard "online and offline are the same for the customer!" That should mean: No matter whether online or offline, the message - even the implicit message - must be the same, naturally fitting the situation. And exactly in this way, neuromarketing comes into the picture.

Again and again, I encounter digital practices and marketing measures that are expensive and cumbersome to integrate into stationary retail trade, and that therefore are of no interest. For example, the digital merchandise indicator placed at a store’s entrance in Berlin so that anyone using it blocks the way for all other customers. Neuromarketing can help better integrate online and offline marketing and allow the effectiveness of these measures to be more easily quantified.

Internal communication

Until now, neuromarketing has mostly been used for market communication – used externally to speak to potential customers (attention) and then to convince those customers (emotion and motivation, etc.).

But within a company there is also a whole series of communication processes that should function effectively to ensure smooth operation. Company indicators, for example. The faster and more effectively an employee recognizes a problem, the more quickly he can react and take measures to influence it in a controlled manner, if necessary.

Too often, however, these communication processes rely on tables and non-aggregated data.

Neuroscientific investigations can help optimize these communication processes by demonstrating where the recipient’s information processing might be lacking, where attention deficits are being taken advantage of, and where there is boredom or, even worse, overload because of the presentation of information.

More on this later.

What does that mean for online marketing?

Internal communication is becoming increasingly digital and web-affine. In other words, it is oriented more and more toward the principles of online marketing. I see here a future, if not already a present, area of business for online marketers. This also is true in:

Learning and training

"Life-long learning": nearly everyone has heard of this concept, and the further along one is in one’s career, the more likely continuing education is a part of everyday life. But because each training means a double loss for a company - the teacher and the teaching material must be paid for and an employee is otherwise occupied for the length of the training - there is, of course, great interest in making trainings as effective as possible.

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One way to do this is via eLearning platforms.

eLearning has many advantages in comparison with traditional teaching. The students can determine their pace of learning and their time management themselves, which means that they can pace their lessons so that the loss of work time is as small as possible. In addition, you save cost-intensive teaching staff - ideally, the platform can be operated independently and without further instruction.

This requires the teaching material to be appropriately motivating, understandable, and "easy to learn" - requirements that are not always fulfilled.

Just as it is possible in marketing, with the help of neuroscientific methods, to investigate the entire customer journey in regards to their motivating influences (sales), it is possible to examine an eLearning platform for sequences that complicate the learning process. By means of a sample using EEG, it was recorded where during the training the students had difficulties, when their attention waned, or when it was overtaxed. This information can then be used to improve the platform and create a fully successful, motivating learning experience.

The first attempt in this direction has already been undertaken and it is expected that the first practice tests will take place in 2017.

What does that mean for online marketing?

Here too, in the area of training, more and more digital resources are being used. Here too, the supplier will profit more and more from online marketing.

Stress management – Is real-time monitoring of work load possible?

Stress comes when we have the subjective feeling of no longer being the master of a situation - and this has very negative consequences. Not only does work quality suffer when we have to make decisions while under stress, the consequences for the health of the one involved could hardly be more dramatic. It is no wonder that millions are invested in stress-reducing measures each year.

In addition to the optimization of internal communication measures that were mentioned above, there is a further approach that can perhaps bring about change in the real-time monitoring of processing and stress levels.

Neuroscientific methods have by now become so robust and inexpensive - thanks to wearables - that the first organizations are thinking about substantially using stress prevention methods. It is admitted that seeing a manager with a stress armband may seem strange right now - but several hospitals are already offering monitoring using wearables for early diagnostics and prevention. Perhaps it will last a bit longer than just until 2017, but I am convinced that in the near future we will experience further real-time monitoring of stress indicators – connected with, for example, a call that reminds you to relax when your boss yells at you. Maybe this example is a little far-fetched, but a manager who is reminded shortly before an important decision in a round of negotiations that his or her stress level is already high and that he or she is likely to make a stupid decision because of this, is something I can imagine.

Already in 2017.

What does that mean for online marketing?

Everything is more connected. The "quantified self" movement was just the beginning of this. I think that it will not be long because even doctors can utilize the advantages of this networking. This will be a moment that even online marketers will have contributed a central component to.

But really: What does this mean for online marketing?

First, these neuromarketing trends indicate that everything will continue much as it has. The world is becoming more complex. Digital. More difficult to predict. Neuromarketing is and will remain a tool that contributes to the planning, inspection, and management of various processes in certain areas. And many of these processes, because of their level of digitization and automation, are oriented increasingly toward those principles that online marketers are already using today.

Focused, target group-specific conversations. Barrier-free access. Filters. Choices. Decision-making power by the user/customer. The world is becoming more and more a playground for online marketers. Bit by bit.

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Published on Feb 24, 2017 by Benny Briesemeister