HABITS OR “AHAH” BITS? – Part I

The field of Neuromarketing or brain sciences which study consumers’ sensory, cognitive and emotional responses to marketing stimuli is simply becoming phenomenal. The term Neuromarketing was coined in 2002 by Prof. Ale Smidts, ERIM (Erasmus Research Institute of Management) author of Top Article Award that same year. It designates the use of modern techniques, involving state-of-the art technologies like FMRi, specific experiments and projective techniques to better understand consumers’ mind and behavior. But what are the challenges and opportunities offered by this new research area to marketing professionals? The literature is vast and the examples really numerous, yet in what follows I highlight some of the most recent debates and success stories that feature the new “Gods” of what can be called the Neuromarketing Mount Olympus.

Behavioral economists and most specifically Neuromarketing readers know all too well that humans often behave in conflict with the traditional economist’s view of rational decision-making. Also, when confused by a complicated decision, many people simply don’t decide at all.

Take for instance the U.S. system for organ donation. Despite a need for organs so desperate that many patients die annually for lack of a transplant, most states in the North America. require explicit consent. A person willing to donate their organs after death must proactively take some action to express her willingness to bequeath the organs to science. In a recent book by Thaler and Sunstein, “Nudge” (2008), the authors contrast that with other approaches, like presumed consent, in which one not wishing to donate their organs post-mortem must opt out. The most aggressive approach described is routine removal in which the state legally owns the organs after death and can remove them without permission. This may sound strange or bizarre, but in limited implementations it has had astounding results. The state of Georgia changed its law to require cornea removal from deceased residents when necessary, and the number of cornea transplants jumped from 25 to more than a thousand in the space of a few years. Imagine the number of delighted cornea receivers and their new lives supported by organ donation.

Decision-making to marketers and strategic managers is a crucial area of knowledge and expertise, as we are always trying to get people make the best choice and take action. Often, however, the way we present that choice or action is structured to yield poor results. In other words we miss the opportunity of creating “ahah” moments and by the same token, bind positive emotional moods to good habits. By thinking about these issues in terms of choice architecture, we can ethically nudge our customers and employees to better decisions.

I have shared some more examples about successful nueromarketing examples in my next post. Have a look!

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