NMSBA logo sub

Buying Neuromarketing: Where to Start?

Are you considering investing in neuromarketing solutions, and would you like to know the latest about neuromarketing vendors and methodologies? Stephen Genco provides a snapshot of the industry in 2018, answering your questions about the field. Learn more below, or go directly to neuromarketing companies.

  • How widespread is the neuromarketing field today?
  • What industries are adopting neuromarketing research?
  • What methodologies are most popular?
  • How do vendors define their competitive advantage?
  • What are the biggest challenges facing the field?

Scope of the field

Today, vendor members of the NMSBA are found across 42 countries. The highest concentration of vendors is in Europe (54) and Central and South America (27). Other vendors are located around the globe in Asia (13), North America (11), the Middle East (3), and Africa (1). By country, the United States and United Kingdom have the most members (10 each), followed by the Netherlands (9), Italy and Germany (6 each), and Spain and Turkey (5 each). Neuromarketing today has expanded to the point where buyers can find nearby vendors with global or local expertise in almost every region of the world.

Industries using neuromarketing services

In our survey, we asked vendors which industries they served most often. We found a high concentration of research work in six industries: Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (11 vendors), Media and Retail (8 each), Automotive (6), Food and Beverage (5), and Finance (15 across General Finance, Insurance, and Banks). A wide range of other industries were also mentioned, although less frequently (see Figure 1).

As neuromarketing expands its reach across more and more industries, many vendors have chosen to limit their services to particular industries in which they have developed expertise, experience, and long-term clients. This trend toward specialization is a sign of growing maturity in the neuromarketing field. A one-size-fits-all approach is often resisted by clients who understand that each business has unique challenges and unique research needs. Clients want to engage with neuromarketing vendors who bring to the table not only technological and methodological expertise, but strong industry credentials as well

Figure 1. Industries served by neuromarketing vendors, 2018

What methodologies are most popular?

The mix of methods and tools neuromarketing vendors offer in 2018 is quite eclectic – and indeed quite different from the mix that existed as recently as four years ago. We asked our survey respondents what methodologies, techniques, and equipment they used in their work. We found EEG to be the most often mentioned approach (20 vendors), followed by Eye- Tracking (19), various Biometrics (16), Implicit Response Tests (14), Surveys (8), Facial Coding (6), and Interviews (5). The full array of methods mentioned is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Methodologies and techniques offered by neuromarketing vendors, 2018

In order to put this list in a historical perspective, we looked at the “specialties” offered by neuromarketing vendors in the 2014 and 2018 NMSBA Company Directories. We ranked methods by their relative popularity compared to the most-often mentioned specialty in the directory. In 2014, for example, the most popular specialty was “market research,” mentioned by 46 vendors. By comparison, EEG was mentioned by 20 vendors, giving it a relative popularity of 54 (mentioned by 54% as many vendors as the most popular mention). Using these scores, we can trace how relative popularity has changed between 2014 and 2018. Some of the most interesting shifts (or non-shifts) are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Relative popularity of selected methods, 2014 vs. 2018

Response Time studies show the greatest increase in popularity between 2014 and 2018. References to Brand measurement have also increased dramatically, possibly because Response Time techniques open up new possibilities for exploring the implicit mental connections consumers make with brands. Similarly, vendors in 2018 are much more likely to tout services involving Biometrics, Consulting, Eye-Tracking, and Shopper studies than they were in 2014. Other methodologies have shown more modest increases in popularity, such as EEG, Implicit, GSR, Online, and Facial Coding methods. In contrast to the increased focus on Brands, references to Advertising research have remained relatively flat. The only well-known methodology to show a slight decline in popularity between 2014 and 2018 is fMRI

In a crowded field, how do vendors define their competitive advantage?

Buyers of neuromarketing services have lots of options in 2018. How do vendors differentiate themselves from their competitors? According to our survey, many vendors choose to highlight their areas of knowledge and expertise. Academic Expertise is the most often cited source of competitive advantage (mentioned by 18), followed by Business Knowledge (8) and Research Partnerships (5). Vendors also relatively frequently mention their Multi-Method approach (4) and Regional Experience (4).

Some potential sources of competitive advantage that might be expected to be more prominent are only mentioned by one or two vendors each: Global Reach, Scalability, Automation, Low Cost, Speed, and Transparency. Finally, claims of specialized, proprietary methods are rare. Only one vendor mentions their Patent Portfolio as a source of competitive advantage. Only one mentions a Normative Database against which their findings can be compared and validated. The full set of competitive advantage references is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Claimed sources of competitive advantage, 2018

What challenges are neuromarketers facing today?

We asked our survey respondents what they felt were the biggest challenges facing the neuromarketing field today, and what they were doing to address those challenges. Here two clear themes emerged; one focusing on the readiness of clients to embrace neuromarketing, the other focusing on reputational risk created by inexperienced or underqualified vendors, mainly revolving around the negative effects of over-promising and under-delivering. In terms of readiness, the major challenges vendors cite as inhibiting the growth of neuromarketing are Lack of Knowledge on the part of clients (20 mentions), inadequate client Training and Education (6), general Resistance (5) and Distrust (2) regarding neuromarketing claims and principles.

In terms of reputational risk, vendors report that “snake oil” promises and underwhelming results continue to plague the field. Several responses mention “bad vendors” as a source of problems for the industry (6 mentions). Generally, “bad vendors” are described as those who over-promise on results, offer technologies and metrics that are neither validated nor transparent, fail to follow scientifically-rigorous protocols and procedures, or fail to make a persuasive case for the business benefits of their offerings. Once a bad vendor has disappointed a client, it is hard for other vendors to convince those clients that all vendors in the field are not the same.

Taken together, these concerns about clients who lack basic knowledge and vendors who fail to provide adequate services combine to create a kind of feedback loop that inhibits the penetration of neuromarketing into more cautious and conservative segments of the research-buying market (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Challenges facing neuromarketing vendors, 2018

The top three competitive advantages mentioned – Academic Knowledge, Business Knowledge, Research Partnerships – are in fact rather vague and generic, more competitive necessities than true advantages. It’s possible that some of the resistance and distrust vendors hear from reluctant buyers may stem from an absence of crisp, focused, and well-validated business differentiators on the part of the vendors. Some of the advantages mentioned only once or twice in the survey responses – items like Global Reach, Scalability, Automation, Low Cost, Speed, and Transparency – sound like better answers to the kinds of questions potential buyers ask when selecting a research vendor.

In a nutshell: Neuromarketers might benefit more from putting less emphasis on “who’s on our team” and more emphasis on “what our team can do for you.”

A mismatch between challenges and competitive advantage claims?

One question that arises from these findings is whether there might be a mismatch between expressed competitive advantages and reported industry challenges. Do the most-frequently expressed advantages effectively respond to the most-frequently reported challenges?

Looking ahead

In future installments of this series, we will drill down on this theme of “what neuromarketing can do for you” by taking a closer look at some of the most popular neuromarketing research methodologies and techniques, emphasizing how they work, what they’re good for, and when to use them.

Stephen Genco is a neuromarketing pioneer and lead author of Neuromarketing for Dummies (Wiley, 2013). He currently serves as Managing Partner at Intuitive Consumer Insights LLC. This article (textual and pictorial content) is subject to copyright. For educational purposes only. 

Buying Neuromarketing: Where to Start?

For a series of interviews, we are looking for client-side consumer insights professionals who are considering buying neuromarketing services. What are your biggest challenges and expectations? Interested in participating in the interviews, please contact Carla Nagel