Neuroscience is not everything it's cracked up to be

In March 2013 I wrote an article “How to lose sales quickly” on Inside Retailing and a commenter took me to task open my view and understanding of neuroscience. That debate was off-topic, but I felt compelled to debunk what goes for science in Neuromarketing a month later (April 2013) in this article.

You should be used to me being ahead of the curve by now (he writes with some self-satisfaction) but this explored in much greater detail in a July 2013 on Slate in an article questioning the science in Neuroscience.

The article concludes:

Despite the new user-friendly EEG technology, performing brain research is still a difficult endeavour. The challenge (as it has always been) is to perform well-designed experiments that are as unambiguous in their interpretation and conclusions as possible. This is not a trivial matter, and will be true no matter what new technologies are available for studying the brain. In the mad rush to commercialize the new EEG technology, the neuromarketing researchers are currently gleefully painting over the logical and technical cracks in their methods with glossy results graphs and 3-D pie charts. Those considering using these new research methods for their latest advertising campaign would do well to heed the classic commercial advice: caveat emptor.

And to that I say amen.

I will also say that, given our academic background and our personal interests, consumer behaviour is our ‘thing’ so we really make an effort to stay on top of it.

We incorporated Neuroscience (actually Behavioural Economics would be a better description) into our Retail Sales Training program. We felt ourselves qualified to do so, but we extensively adapted some of the insights offered by Behavioural Economics to fit with what we already know to work well in a retail environment and what the retail employees would realistically be able to incorporate into their workflow.

Much current research is conducted by commercial marketers and those insights are proprietary. The academically published work is largely based on experiments conducted on American College students, and this presents in my mind some serious limitations to the research findings.

Buzzwords come and go for a reason.

I am not suggesting that Neuromarketing is going to disappear overnight, but I am suggesting that ‘sound bites’ offered by gurus whose entire understanding of the subject is based on a few pop-psychology books should be taken with a forklift full of salt.