Our Hybrid Approach

What can the Marketer learn from the Neuroscientist? If all behaviors are directed by the brain, it would make sense that a full understanding of consumer behavior must include knowledge about the brains of those consumers. These days, brain research happens within the larger scientific arena of Neuroscience and neuroscientists have, in fact, discovered much about the brain that marketers should know.

One important theory to come out of Neuroscience research is concerned with the complimentary roles of emotional and rational thinking in a person’s decision-making. Damasio, in a book entitled Descartes’ Error (1995), reviews the neuroscience research that supports the possibility that emotion is involved in every decision that a person makes.

Damasio cites extensive evidence that supports the likelihood that the brain processes emotional and rational inputs in parallel, i.e., at the same time but separately. The frontal cortex, located just behind the forehead, is apparently that part of the brain where emotional and rational processing eventually intersect, and it is here that choices among rational options are made based on the emotions associated with each. In other words, a person can think rationally about six different birthday present options, but the decision of which to buy is based on the strength and positively of the emotions associated with each possibility.

The case histories Damasio cites of persons with damage to frontal cortex comprise convincing evidence that this is, in fact, the way human behavior is directed. A famous and fascinating case is that of Phineaus P. Gage, a railroad worker in the 1800’s. This man suffered extensive damage to his frontal cortex (similar to a “lobotomy”), when a tamping iron he was using to pack explosives created an explosion causing the iron bar to pass up through the front of his skull.

Amazingly, Gage survived, but his personality and capacity to make good decisions about his life had been permanently altered. Friends described him as capable of thinking clearly and rationally, but not capable of choosing the best course of action. He was also flat emotionally, except when overcome with rage. Without the critical juxtaposition of emotion with cognition, Gage became an indecisive, overly rational “Mr. Spock” whose life deteriorated due to poor choices.

Damasio believes that this is evidence of the disconnect between emotions and rationality that should occur with frontal cortex damage if his theory about the integrative function of frontal cortex is correct. For all those without frontal cortex damage, however, rationality is never complete. Emotion is integrated into every cognition.

The take-home for marketers from all of this is that if you want to change people’s behaviors you must impact both emotions and rational thoughts, recognizing that each exists only as integrated with the other. The decision landscape is clearly three-dimensional, and if the emotion dimension is not assessed in concert with the rational, or vice versa, the true motivations driving behavior cannot be appreciated.

Obviously, savvy marketers since the beginning of time have been effectively manipulating the emotions of the customer, but such ability seems to be more luck than science.

As marketing has become more of a science, it has become clear that the difficulty with predictably engineering emotions has been the accurate measurement of emotions at all, much less in their “natural habitat,” that is, as they are integrated with rational issues.

Need we remind the reader of the immense difficulty/impossibility of getting people to express uncensored, candid emotions at all? Interviewers and other social factors bias the honesty of expressed emotions (and issues) such that true emotions and motives can be entirely missed by traditional methods.

But, there is hope!

The experience offered by Brain Surgery Worldwide Inc. is a breakthrough in that it apparently does put an accurate and elegant yardstick to both the emotional and rational issues that comprise a consumer’s motives. And it also seems to have minimized social respondent-bias allowing an amazing depth of respondent revelation.

The method is the result of the latest findings in neuroscience which measure the emotion intensities associated with the cognitions that are elicited by a stimulus, e.g., product, service, or anything a person can consider.

This approach works because it gathers insights from brains in the same way that those brains process real-world stimuli. This makes for more accurate insights, and more accurate insights into consumers make for better business strategy and marketing.