Using Neuroscience to Learn How Consumers Perceive Brands

Neuroscience has been tapped to help brands understand consumer purchasing decisions for several years now, with methods from healthcare and academia such as EEG and biometrics applied to study the motivations of consumers. Marketing insights company Nielsen, for example, even has a branch devoted to neuroscience called Consumer Neuroscience headed by Harvard Medical School neuroscientist Dr. Carl Marci. But what have market researchers actually learned from all these efforts that can help brands?

Some very interesting research results have come from a Baylor College of Medicine study. A team of neuroscientists presented 40 subjects with vignettes of actions taken by both humans and corporations to monitor brain scans of their responses. This research originally stemmed from the inquiries into the legal implication of “corporate personhood” and fact that the American legal system has extended the rights of individuals to corporations and held corporations, as a collective unit, liable. Funding for this work came from the “Initiative on Neuroscience and the Law”.

Our Brains Use Different Areas to Process People and Objects

The study went like this: The vignettes given to the participants showed actions that were positive and pro-social such as donating money, neutral such as purchasing office equipment, or anti-social such as law breaking. There was also a control of vignettes about inanimate objects such as fruit or an ironing board. Baylor College’s website reported: ”When participants made judgments about people, specific areas of the brain involved in social reasoning became active. In contrast, when participants reasoned about an object, activity in these areas was diminished.” 

The Human Brain Experiences Corporations as People

The study found that people essentially used similar parts of the brain to understand corporate and human behavior. This study which originally had to do with law has applications to how consumers relate to brands – if they’re using similar parts of the brain to understand corporate and individual human behavior, they’re essentially equating brands with people! You can read the entire paper “Are Corporations People Too?” written by Mark Plitt, Ricky R. Savjani and David M. Eagleman here.

Companies Need to Work on Reputation, Loyalty and Trust

This study gives some radical insight into how people view brands; one author of the study, David Eagleman, says it tells us that companies need to work on reputation, loyalty and trust. We’re excited to say that Eagleman, host of PBS’ The Brain and NYT best selling author will be at The Market Research Event this October. Eagleman’s talk is called: “Emotion, Motivation, and Reputation: What Matters to the Mind of the Consumer.” 

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