Neuromarketing crosses another frontier - EEG Brain Scans break the mould for Market Mavens

Neuromarketing crosses another frontier - EEG Brain Scans break the mould for Market Mavens

09 May 2008

In world-first experiments in Melbourne market researchers and neuroscientists from La Trobe University's School of Business and Swinburne University's Brain Sciences Institute have pushed their conjoined science across yet another frontier.

Using electroencephalograms (EEGs) to monitor the brain waves of 42 volunteers during psychological tests, they first scanned their subjects' brainwaves to define personality types, then cross-referenced the scans with earlier studies to predict how they will behave as consumers.

La Trobe University marketing lecturer Dr John Gountas (Senior Lecturer in Marketing, School of Business), and Swinburne neuroscientist Dr Joseph Ciorciari (from Swinburne's Brain Sciences Institute) say their novel EEG results confirm in hard physical data what previous studies have demonstrated empirically: that most informed consumers fall into one of four broad personality groups, whose personal preferences correlate entirely predictably with consumer behaviour.

Based on their psychological responses to questions and images, the 42 volunteers confirmed the researchers' principal hypothesis: across their ranks they each fitted one of four key personality categories, broadly defined by a variation of new Jungian and Myers-Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI) personality traits.

The four groups were:

  • Thinking/logical (primarily interested in ideas/concepts; tend to make decisions based on careful and logical examination of facts and relationships.)
  • Feeling/emotional (rely on experiences and actions to inform cognitive and emotional evaluations; prefer to evaluate a product in terms of its benefits from their own emotional perspective; and for its social kudos.)
  • Material/physical (oriented towards physical, tangible world experiences, value physical comforts and pleasures, material possessions and achievements; rely on sense-generated information to evaluate the world.)
  • Intuitive/imaginative (highly imaginative, strong tendency to visualise experiences, construct and manipulate images; heightened sense of intuitive perception and a tolerance for unconventional decision-making.)

The test results "broke the mould" for the marketing industry's most celebrated consumer group — the influential "market mavens", popularly targeted as dynamic drivers of consumer attitudes and behaviours, because of their propensity for product-savvy "viral marketing" (better known as word-of-mouth advertising).

This group (the mavens) - most commonly well-educated professionals of both genders with a higher-than-average knowledge of the best places to go, the best restaurants, retail outlets and holiday destinations, and the best value products - are generally assumed to form a broad -banded consumer elite spanning all product categories.

The EEG brainwaves however revealed that these much-pursued "market mavens" are not one homogenous consumer group at all, but different groups according to different product affinities — including one group that is specifically responsive to restaurants, and food and hospitality outlets, and others that pride themselves on inside-track knowledge of most other products. (In effect — according to their alpha-beta-gamma-delta waves - the mavens divided into "foodie and lifestyle" mavens, and "all-product" mavens.)

The theory was — and the Gountas-Ciorciari experiments confirmed — that mavens are compelled to trade market gossip because it suits their personalities.

The researchers tested this by correlating and comparing the brainwaves of the two newly-defined maven groups against the four key personality types.

What they found has implications for the food and restaurant industry specifically, but also for market researchers, airlines and other tourism and hospitality industries, government agencies, health and social welfare groups, learning organisations, relationship counsellors, futurists and even political lobbyists.

According to Dr Gountas the EEG results have significantly shifted the research parameters in this field, for the first time underpinning the behaviour and motives of market mavens with soundly-based personality theory.

"These tests have extended our survey-based research, supporting our initial findings with a new research methodology. The idea was to find a better way to do consumer behaviour research and use the best research tools available to understand the way consumers make decisions," Dr Gountas says.

"The beauty about this is that big companies in the food industry, restaurants and retail caters can use these findings to say the right things, to aim at the right kind of people and provide the kind of things the consumer wants, so they're much more competitive — and the economic efficiencies give benefits to everybody."

Including, Dr Gountas says, to consumers, consumer advocates, and society at large - because truth brings democracy to consumers and pitchers alike.


Dr John Gountas, Senior Lecturer Marketing, School of Business, La Trobe University.
Tel: 61 2 9479 2615

Dr Joseph Ciorciari, Lecturer, Psychological Sciences and Statistics
Leader, Biology of Individual Differences Research Unit,Swinburne University Brain Sciences Institute.
Tel: 61-3-9214 8363




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