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When to use neuromarketing? And when to stick with surveys, interviews, and focus groups?


When to use neuromarketing? And when to stick with surveys, interviews, and focus groups?

The uprising of neuromarketing was first labeled as the end of all traditional market research. The brain scan would kill the traditional surveys, focus groups, and interviews.

And still, on many websites – often those who also offer neuromarketing research methods – I read that the establish market research is ready to be tucked away, deep into the tomb of lost marketing methods.

Why? Because consumers take their decisions subconsciously. And to measure the subconscious, you need to take a look at the brain. 

This has been concluded again and again by scientists in the behavioral and neurosciences. Yup, our decisions are mainly the consequence of subconscious brain processes, that are rationalized after the matter. And yup, that subconscious part cannot be captured by a survey, focus group or interview.

Still, neuromarketing is not the optimal way to go for all cases. On the one hand, the choice process of a specific product may be conscious after all. On the other hand, some research questions are not fit to be answered by brain research.

In this blog, we’ll list in which cases neuromarketing is the proper research method. Or in which cases it isn’t.

Neuromarketing works best for subconscious choices

Many of our everyday decisions and information processing happens subconscious. Buying a certain brand of soda pop, or the influence an anti-smoking commercial has on us. These effects are difficult to verbalize. That’s why they cannot be measured with surveys, focus groups, and interviews.
Scientists estimate that 90% to 95% of our decisions are made subconsciously. For these decisions, neuromarketing works best. Methods like EEG, fMRI, Eye Tracking, Emotion recognition, and biometrics directly measure the subconscious responses. Therefore, they are better in assessing the actual reaction of a customer on a website, commercial, product or store.

However, this does not account for the 5 to 10% of our decisions that are made consciously and thought out. These are often bigger and more long-term decisions. Think about buying a house or investing in business transactions.

These types of high-involvement choices can be researched by neuromarketing methods. However, traditional research is more cost efficient in this case. An online survey is just less expensive than a brain scan.

That’s why neuromarketing is of additional value for consumer products in the FMCG-setting. In B2B-companies, neuromarketing is a less logical solution.

Neuromarketing is not fit for ‘what-why-and-how’ questions

Neuromarketing studies measure a participant’s response to a stimulus. Therefore, it is mostly useful for two types of research:

Comparative research. For example, when testing which type of packaging or commercial appeals best to the brain.

Explorative research. For example, when you’d like to know which elements of the conversion path of your web shop work good, and where the customer gets stuck.

With these two research goals, many questions can be answered conclusively. However, neuromarketing is not fit to answer classic open ‘what-why-and-how’ questions. Why do you choose this brand? What are you looking for in a cereal? How did you prepare in the weeks before the purchase?

To be fair, neither  neuromarketing nor traditional methods could answer these questions. A survey will provide you with answers, but these are mostly rationalizations of the participants. Worst case scenario, the researchers knows even less than when he began. Put shortly, these answers cannot be answered yet with the existing research methods – they won’t provide you with revenue-increasing insights for now.

To effectively use neuromarketing research, it comes in handy to research the type of marketing communication (within the limits of research) for which you’ll get productive answers. Develop different alternatives to get insights in which elements speak most to the customer. Or explore how the customer interacts with a complete piece of marketing communication (product, site, commercial or store) to discover which elements stand out and what effect they have on the brain.

There should be more clarity in when to effectively use neuromarketing

Unravel Research only works with research methods within the neuromarketing toolbox. Nonetheless, we’ll always double-check whether your specific research question might be benefit from traditional marketing research methods. As a client, you wouldn’t want unsatisfying answers to research questions. As an agency, we wouldn’t either.

Our goal is to clarify the boundary conditions of neuromarketing research in answering different types of research questions. This blog is one of the many steps toward that goal.

Do you have any specific questions about the usability of neuromarketing research in marketing? Let us know; it might be interesting for future blogs. Send your questions and ideas to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Learn how to use brain data for more impact:

If you are curious which neuro insights can be applied directly, check "The Complete Neuromarketing Essentials" training. You can see the trailer here: 

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