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Beginner's Guide to Neuromarketing

Beginner's Guide to Neuromarketing

Since you’re here, we’re assuming that you’ve already come across the term “Neuromarketing” and you’re intrigued! Well you’ve come to the right place. We’re about to break this seemingly complicated and intimidating new field of market research down for you in our Beginner’s Guide to Neuromarketing.

So that’s exactly what Neuromarketing is, research. However, it differs from the field of traditional market research, hence the part “Neuro”. Neuro quite simply refers to the nervous system, which of course includes the brain.

Where it all began

Neuromarketing first started to emerge in the 1990s when professor Gerald Zeltman patented the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET) with the express purpose of optimising the selling of advertising. ZMET sought to understand what images provoked a positive emotional response from consumers and in turn led to a purchase being made. ZMET quickly gained popularity amongst major companies, such as Coca-Cola, General Motors, Nestle, and Procter and Gamble.

In the 1999s, the field evolved to include Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to explore correlations between marketing stimuli and consumer brain activity, and in 2002 the term ‘Neuromarketing’ was first published. However, it was only in 2004 when Neuromarketing caught mainstream attention following the publication of an academic study by Neuroscientist Read Montague.

Montague used fMRI to measure consumers’ brain responses during a blind taste test of Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi. In an attempt to settle the debate on which product was better and why (as Pepsi had been shown to outperform Coca-Cola during blind taste tests), Montague concluded that his respondents changed their preference to Coca-Cola when the brand was known because their brains were recalling ideas from Coke’s commercials, and the emotions attached with the brand were overriding the product’s actual quality.

Understanding the tech

Fast forward to 2018, and Neuromarketing (also known as consumer neuroscience) is now commonly recognised as the application of neuroscience to marketing and market research. The way in which neuroscience fits into Neuromarketing is that it involves the scientific study of the nervous system using brain activity measurement and/or biometric technologies to measure a consumer’s response to a particular stimuli, whether that be a shopping environment, T.V. ad, product placement in a store, website, app, chatbot, menu board design, or promotional display.

Eye-tracking, Galvanic Skin Response and Facial Coding

Neuromarketing doesn’t focus primarily on what is happening in the brain. It also includes other technologies such a Eye-tracking technology to understand what grabs and maintains attention, Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), which measures a person’s level of emotional arousal, and Facial Coding which assists in determining what emotions are being experienced.

With Eye-tracking, a respondent will either wear a pair of Eye-tracking glasses, if they are in a real world environment such as a store environment, otherwise their eyes will be tracked by a remote Eye-tracker, if they are looking at a digital screen (mobile phone, computer or TV screen). There are even Eye-tracking software platforms that can track your eyes simply using your computer’s own webcam. With GSR, a respondent will wear a Shimmer unit on their wrist with two or three sensors attached to their fingers, which picks up the electrodermal activity on the skin. Electrodermal activity occurs with changes in skin resistance, which varies with the state of the sweat glands in the skin. In simple terms, when your body sends electrical messages via your sympathetic nervous system to increase the levels of sweat produced, the GSR device measures these changes.


In-store Eye-tracking Glasses (above).

Galvanic Skin Response

Galvanic Skin Response (above).

You might be thinking, how on earth does your sweat betray your level of emotional arousal? Well, believe it or not, the electrodermal activity on your skin grows higher during states of excitement, attention or anxiety and lower during states of boredom or relaxation. However, it should be noted that GSR can’t tell us what specific emotions you are experiencing, nor if they are positive or negative, it can only identify that you are in a heightened or lowered state of emotional arousal.

Electroencephalography (EEG) or ‘mind reader tech’

To know more about a respondent’s actual emotional state and motivation on a deeper level, Neuromarketing researchers use Electroencephalography (EEG) headsets to measure the electrical activity on the surface of the scalp.

In a Neuromarketing study that uses EEG headsets, a respondent will typically be given something to watch (such as a print or TV advertisement) or given active tasks to complete (in the case of assessing in-store shopping environments, websites, apps or mobi-sites), such as searching for a product in a store or online. During the experiment, the researchers will be interested in how much cognitive effort is applied to a task (is it a difficult task that requires brain power?), their level of engagement (are they mentally engaged with the task or are they just going through the motions?), and how motivated the person is to seek out a product or service after watching a T.V. ad, for instance (known as their level of approach motivation).

Electroencephalography (EEG)

Electroencephalography headset (above)

Electroencephalography (EEG)

Six channel electroencephalography headset (above)

Virtual Reality

Another exciting piece of technology that is increasingly being used in Neuromarketing research is Virtual Reality (VR) technology. This allows researchers to test things such as new store designs or in-store shopping experiences, planograms (how a shelf should be stocked), and the placement of billboards in outdoor advertising prior to the production/development thereof.

First, the researchers would shoot a real world environment in 360 degree footage (for instance a route in a city). Then, different billboard executions would be superimposed into the virtual environment. Respondents then experience the virtual “real world” environment and researchers are able to determine that grabbed attention and to what extent billboards were read.

Virtual Reality Store Environment

Virtual store environment for testing store layout (above).

Virtual Reality Headset

Virtual Reality headset (above).

Implicit Association Tests

Implicit Association Tests (IAT) and Response Time tasks (RT) can assess the attitudes, emotional connections, unconscious values and beliefs consumers hold towards a specific concept or experience (be that a brand, a user or product experience, or an advertisement). This methodology does not use a standard questionnaire, but instead uses a set of descriptors and adjectives (known as statements) to describe a concept/experience (known as an element). Respondents are asked to categorise these statements, and the speed at which this is done is indicative of the implicit strength of the association.

Essentially, this methodology enables us to identify a particular attitude and its behavioural consequence(s) - like what brand associations/attributes/benefits are currently owned by Brand A vs. it's competitor set in the minds of consumers. This can then be used to effectively inform the positioning/advertising communications of the brand.

To illustrate this, imagine Volvo didn’t know what they stood for in the marketplace. They would then test for a number of brand attributes to understand what people associate with their brand in the marketplace. They might expect that safety would come up first, but that may not be the case. IAT allows them to understand what brand attributes are actually associated with Volvo in the minds of consumers. If, for instance, they found that in the South African market, Volvo was not associated with safety and rather performance, then they would need to rethink their brand communications here.

Neuromarketing is no longer a buzzword

“A buzzword for years now in the agency world, Neuromarketing is finally moving into the realm of serious science and yielding actionable predictive insights for brands, forcing more traditional market researchers to take note.” - JWT, Trends to watch in 2016

Consumer neuroscience (or Neuromarketing) can be thought of as the cutting edge of market research. It is no longer about guess work and surveys when it comes to market research (traditional market research vs. neuromarketing research post to follow). Consumer neuroscience technologies allow researchers to truly understand consumer behaviour like never before and in doing so, optimise every element of the consumer experience.

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