I have just got back from XLRI in Jamshedpur where I had been invited to speak at a symposium inaugurating their Behavioural Research lab – a first of its kind in India. I was almost certainly the least expert of all of the assembled experts on the panel so it was a pleasure to be invited and to sit in such distinguished company. The other people on the panel were Nicholas Hall, Managing Director of the Behavioural Lab at Stanford; Dr K.K. Deepak who has just written a book on neuromarketing and has been a Professor at AIIMS (India’s leading medical institute and teaching hospital) for some 30 years; Dr S.L. Vaya who is applying neuroscience and other biometric techniques to forensic criminology in Gujurat and has been doing so for 15 years and Manu Batra who offered the client marketing perspective, having worked for the likes of Unilever, General Mills, Cadbury’s and currently working for International Foodstuffs in Mumbai. Sujith Sudhakaran, who is working towards a PhD from XLRI and is a Strategic Planning Director for DraftFCB in his day job, chaired the panel discussion.
The brief all of the speakers had been given was pretty open, so it was interesting to see the different perspective that everyone brought to the discussion. I’ll talk about a couple of the other speakers in subsequent posts, but first I shall bore you with what I had to say (it’s my blog afterall).
I was there as The Practitioner so it was beholden on me to talk about the adoption of neuroscience/behavioural techniques by commercial research, where it was headed and what the barriers were to adoption. The first bit of that was the stuff you will have heard many times before if you’ve ever heard someone from Millward Brown talk about neuroscience – it will augment traditional research but not completely replace it, become part of the toolkit not be the entire toolkit, has the potential to add huge value but not a panacea etc. etc. etc. so no need to dwell on that too much.
The barriers to adoption are all me, I suspect the Powers That Be would agree with them, but I haven’t checked. Still, this is ‘all thoughts my own’ territory after all, so here they are:
- Hype – There is a fine line between the evangelist and the zealot. The way to the Lord is not through neuroscience alone. Let us talk about the strengths and successes of neuroscience techniques, let us show case studies where they have demonstrated value over and above what traditional methods could offer – but let’s do it in a measured and sensible way and not over-egg the pudding for a quick headline.
- Industry in-fighting – There are always disagreements on methodology and philosophy in any field of research. In my view, this is too often gloves-off street-fighting where neuroscience practitioners are concerned rather than the level of professional debate the subject deserves. Let’s try and stick to the Queensbury Rules shall we?
- Scepticism – Some scepticism is, of course, healthy. However, there are many who believe neuroscience practitioners are little more than snake oil salesman hawking techniques that claim to solve all their problems and some problems they didn’t even know they had but that in reality have little validation outside the academic textbook. For that reason robust in-market validation based on multiple cases is an essential next step. Case studies are all well and good, but they won’t cut the mustard for long. Of course, we are making a rod for our own backs where scepticism is concerned with the hype and in-fighting.
- Confidence – Neuroscience approaches are typically way outside the comfort zone of the people buying it and, often for Big Research, the people selling it (outside of specialist teams like mine). There’s plenty of new techniques around (social media research an obvious example) but most are far more easily accessible to an experienced researcher because they have some basis in what they have always known/done. An Insights manager suddenly having to answer questions about brain science from their brand teams is unlikely to be immediately comfortable. We need to kill the jargon and talk in simple terms about the outputs and what they mean for marketing decisions. Blinding people with science might make us sound clever, but it’s counter productive in the long term.
- Cost/Benefits – Neuroscience is, of course, subject to the usual business logic. The reality is that a fully blown neuroscience project is likely to be more expensive than the traditional research it would replace – or if you’re taking our approach and building it onto traditional methods, then there’s obviously an additional cost for the neuroscience elements. Naturally, it is then essential to demonstrate real value over and above the cost that was previously being paid. It’s not enough to simply be better, you have to be enough better to justify the extra spending.
Neuroscience is a relatively young discipline and the application of it to marketing younger still, so we shouldn’t be disheartened by the barriers we face. Indeed, the more XLRI-style Behavioural Labs that start to pop up around the World, the more we will see some of them disappear organically. The MBA at XLRI will already have had exposure to neuroscience and other behavioural research methods before they go into businesses – things like lack of confidence and (undue) scepticism will not be an issue. To turn a terrible phrase, we will be beginning to work with marketers who are neuroscience natives.