Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Neuromarketing research for the win - pt2

The main question is: Should Neuromarketing research be closer to quantitative or qualitative approach?

Qualitative research is an in-depth exploration of what triggers people on a particular subject: their feelings, perceptions, decision-making processes, and so on. The most common forms of qualitative research are focus groups and depth interviews. Qualitative research will provide a much deeper understanding of how the target market thinks, but it does not provide data that can be projected and derived, so results cannot be generalized. 

On the other hand,  quantitative research  can be generalized, as it employs a larger sample (through mail, telephone or internet) which is representative of the entire population being researched, but it won't provide the depth of information available through qualitative research. 
Each approach has its drawbacks, as quantitative research often forces responses or people into categories that might not fit them, and qualitative research, on the other hand, sometimes focuses too closely on individual results and fails to make connections to larger situations or possible causes of  the results. But the solution would come in finding the most effective way to incorporate elements of both to ensure that their studies are accurate and valid[Bercea, 2013].

Neuromarketing and quantitative research

With regards to neuromarketing and quantitative research, there are some common points that are highlighted below: 

●  Psychophysiological techniques from neuromarketing research use a number of indicators to keep track of different psychological responses to stimuli, responses that can be represented by cognitive and affective processes. Quantitative measures of the cognitive processes include measures of beliefs, knowledge, attitudes, attention, memory, recall and everything that happens in the subject's mind. On the other hand, the affective process is a mental state that develops spontaneously without cognitive effort, and is involved with a set of emotional reactions.  

●  Rapid technological evolution enables marketing researchers to use more advanced equipment to conduct psychophysiological measurements. Researchers usually have to visually examine brain wave patterns recorded by EEG and also conduct brain wave mapping and statistical analyses using specific algorithms and software. Using computer-aided EEG, future marketing research may aim to identify the relationships between psychological processes and certain patterns of brain waves.  

●  Most data analysis in neuromarketing research includes preprocessing, statistical analysis, data interpretation (behavioral analysis and neuroimaging data analysis) and triangulation. Preprocessing includes having different phases which perform time correction (between appearance of stimuli and recording the signal of its effect), head motion correction, normalization (using algorithms in order to obtain a standard brain template) and smoothing (removing noises using Gaussian filters). Statistical analysis on the level of brain regions in order to find the Voxels (coordinates) for which the time series (fitting a general linear model) significantly correlates with a specific experimental condition. Data interpretation should confirm or infirm the hypothesis of the research, and triangulation should validate the research by correcting complementary sources and linking them to the data acquired with neuroimaging. 

● The purpose of neuromarketing studies is to test hypothesis, look at cause and effect and make predictions concerning consumer behavior, developing a quantitative approach.

● Although using a small sample size, findings can be generalized, as brain mechanisms of people are similar.

Neuromarketing and qualitative Research

Neuromarketing research passes the boundaries of traditional marketing research methods through the information provided and with the great advantage that it requires only 10% of subjects that would be necessary for traditional methods. Also, neuromarketing studies are small sample sized (not randomly selected) due to costs and complexity of the experiments, but taking into consideration that the data collected also contains noises that must be removed, at least 15 to 20 participants should be recruited to such studies in order to obtain internal validity. The reasearch of a small amount of subjects used make neuromarketing  come closer to the qualitative side and stay further from the quantitative one.

Invasive methods (such as PET or TMS - described in the previous post) change the role of the researcher, as he is able to activate or temporary disable areas of the brain or to add radioactive chemicals in the subject's blood.

Thus, we can consider neuromarketing research as being 

a triangulation of research, as it implies defining a problem (qualitative approach), 
defining and test hypothesis (quantitative approach) and exploring the results in depth (qualitative approach) [tribute to Monica Bercea, PhD, 2013] .

A sample Anti-smoking ad : Neuromarketing and UCLA fMRI 

Ad Campaign Comparison

A study published in Psychological Science brings us closer to that point: scientists using a UCLA fMRI facility analyzed anti-smoking ads by recording subject brain activity. They also asked subjects about the commercials and whether the ads were likely to change their behavior. The researchers found that activity in one specific area of the brain predicted the effectiveness of the ads in the larger population, while the self-reports didn’t.

The methodology involved comparing brain activity in subjects who viewed ads from three campaigns to actual performance of the campaigns in increasing call volumes. The researchers focused on a subregion of the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) but also compared activity in other brain regions for control purposes. They found that the ad campaign which created the greatest activity in the MPFC region generated significantly more calls to a stop-smoking hotline. The subjects failed to identify which ads would change their behavior; in fact, the most effective campaign, “C,” was the one judged to be least likely to work. The researchers also asked a group of industry experts to predict which campaign would work best. Like the experimental subjects, the so-called experts also predicted that “C” would be the least effective [Roger Dooley,2012] .

Even if this single, small study of smoker behavior can’t be readily extrapolated to campaigns for BMW or Pepsi, it’s still of great significance in proving neuromarketing studies can actually work. As the authors note, “The approach described here is novel because it directly links neural responses with behavioral responses to the ads at the population level.” Simply put, the brain scan data correctly predicted how the ads would perform in the real world – not just how the subjects would behave, but the broader public audience. Well, that’s a major milestone.