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Op-Ed: Neuromarketing, the revolution of emotions

Emotions and consumers are an inseparable couple, but what is the real importance of emotions in the decision-making process? Are they always present or only in some products’ purchase process? Are companies gathering the appropriate information from the precise sources and with the appropriate technology?

Neuromarketing has come to definitively stay in the market research processes. What will happen to traditional techniques?

Neuromarketing: What, how, when?
From the first studies until the 1970s, research on the mechanisms that control human decision-making was focused on rational processes. Emotions were considered obstacles or inconveniences that arose on some occasions, and blocked the correct decision-making process, based on procedures that used human reason to maximize the desired benefit.

Researchers did not doubt about the influence of emotions in the decision-making process, but they considered that were part of brain mechanisms different from those of the objective reason of each person. Therefore, they were seen as small problems that could be prevented making a correct decision.

The decision maker, when acting correctly, was able to eliminate that emotional influence from the equation and exclusively activate rational processes, whether consciously or unconsciously, to carry out the optimal decision at all times.

The end of the 70s, brought important studies that began to suggest that decision-making is influenced very directly by the emotions of each person.  

Establishing an exact start date for neuromarketing is complicated and controversial, due to the diversity of criteria. Damasio’s 1994 research with his theory of the Somatic Marker undoubtedly makes a crucial contribution. In it, the author states that emotional factors are part of the rational decision-making processes.

According to Damasio, intelligent behaviour has a very strong unconscious component and is based on the ordering of images that can be visual, auditory, olfactory, etc. These images are not stored as we observe or hear them, but an approximate reconstruction is stored in the initial sensory cortices of our brain, which acts as a neural firing model of the main features of the image and helps us to identify it although is not complete.

Damasio’s hypothesis says that when a decision is to be made, for an instant the image of each possible option is generated in the brain, and thus the emotions that would be produced in each situation are felt, marking positively or negatively every possibility. After this process, a rational analysis, or cost/benefit, of each of the options could be performed, but the presence of emotions in the process would be inevitable.

This process of “emotional marking” of the options in a decision-making process occurs, according to what Damasio exposes, consciously or also unconsciously. Unconsciously, the body can generate weaker images and evaluate them also as emotionally positive or negative, producing attitudes of acceptance or rejection. This is the scientific basis for the intuition, which researchers already consider corroborated.

As the study of the human brain has deepened, the hypothesis of the importance of unconscious processes in brain functioning has been highlighted by neuroscience research, with conscious mental processes currently being observed only as the small tip of a large iceberg, in which more than 95% of tasks are executed in unconsciousness.

Emotions and business
The importance of having useful, reliable, systematic, fast, global, and periodic information for correct decision-making in a business environment is so proven and so evident that currently it is not a matter of debate. To reduce risk, companies invest large amounts of money in studying the micro and macro environments in detail, to optimally satisfy consumer needs, in the fight to generate value for the customer.

Are traditional market research techniques capable of investigating the amount of information, mainly emotional, that the client is not able to communicate?

There are projective methods, which come from the field of clinical psychology, that can obtain information about feelings and beliefs indirectly, and that are used to overcome the barriers of consciousness, education, and irrationality, through the interpretation of the behaviour of others, sentence completion, etc.

Author Mikel Alonso has a PhD in Neuroscience applied to Marketing from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. He will be making a presentation on this subject at an upcoming Puerto Rico Sales and Marketing Executives Association event.

Given the volume and importance of the information we are talking about, these techniques seem clearly insufficient, much more so when the detail and reliability needed must be maximized to make correct marketing decisions, on which profit, and business survival are based.

In this sense, companies increasingly make their products and communications more emotional, so the customer feels, lives the brand, and relates to it in a more intense way, so they become brand lovers. And of course, they must also find techniques to investigate the feelings of the target audience: how do they feel about the brand? How have they lived the customer experience? Companies must increasingly relate to customer emotions, as senders but also as receivers, listening to this new emotional channel with alacrity, reliability, and detail.

Neuromarketing: Power to emotions!
Neuromarketing provides the possibility of investigating the market in a more complete and adequate way, since it allows to completely overcome the barrier of consciousness and examine the emotional processes of the consumer through techniques based on neuroscience, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, the electroencephalogram, magnetoencephalogram, etc.

The latest advances in brain knowledge make it possible to detect areas related to addictions, pleasure, aversion, social relationships, and many others. And they are directly related to emotions, and present in all consumer’s decision-making process.

The possibility of obtaining direct information provided by research using Neuromarketing techniques, allows the client to carry out their purchasing tasks, make decisions at the point of sale or whatever aspect is studied, while obtaining data and information about their preferences, taste, and evaluation of the main source: the brain.

In this way you have access to pure emotions, without a filter. The individual provides that information that he is not capable of giving when it is being produced unconsciously, as defined by Damasio in his theory of the somatic marker. This brings the process of obtaining information much closer to its authentic human, cerebral nature, than the use of consciousness to obtain it.

In any case, this does not imply the renounce of classical research techniques, which can provide some useful information on a conscious level about consumer behaviour. Neuromarketing highlights the importance of emotions in all decision-making processes, but when it comes to collect complete information, the best option would be the use of traditional and neuromarketing techniques, so the essential information is not lost.


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DAMASIO, A. (1999): “The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness”. Ed. Crítica.

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LEWICKA, M. (1997): “Is hate wiser than love?”. Decision Making, R. Ranyard, W.R. Crozier & O. Svenson (eds.). Routledge, New York pg. 91-106.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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