by Herman Manson (@marklivesFounded in 2010, Neural Sense is a South African neuromarketing agency headquartered in Cape Town. MarkLives caught up with Neural Sense’s Mark Drummond to walk us through his pitch on neuromarketing to marketers and agencies.

Neuromarketing has been described as the place where brain science and marketing meets. It aims to help brands and their agencies on the consumers-insights front in assessing how people engage with with brands or products, be that in a physical environment, such as a retailer, or online.

MarkLives logo I’m a brand manager and I want to know what neuromarketing is and what it can do for the marketing department? Throw your pitch at us.
Mark Drummond: Neuromarketing is a new field of market research that uses neuroscience techniques and biometric technologies to assess an individual’s emotional and cognitive response to a variety of consumer experience. It is able to produce insights about individual’s unconscious decision-making, which includes mental processes such as emotion and memory, and neuromarketing omits the self-reporting and self-assessment biases associated with traditional research methodologies.

David Ogilvy eloquently summed this up when he said: “Consumers don’t think how they feel. They don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.”

Neural Sense logoNeuromarketing scientifically assesses the unconscious emotional and cognitive processes of individuals, providing access to richer and less-biased marketing insights, compared with more-traditional marketing-research techniques. With over 95% of our decisions being driven by our subconscious, it is also vital for marketers to understand these subconscious processes that aid in predicting the buying behaviours of their consumers and customers.

If it can be experienced, it can be explored, assessed and optimised using neuromarketing techniques, which can be applied across the full spectrum of the marketing mix. Marketers can assess how consumers experience their brand communications — from TV commercials to website-user journeys — therefore provide insights to optimise the various marketing activities to make them more emotionally engaging and memorable.

Marketers can use neuromarketing to develop a deeper understanding of their customers’ real-world in-store experience, in terms of what really grabs their attention, how they visually navigate aisles and shelves, and what POS elements are emotionally engaging within the in-store environment. It can also be applied to the research and development of new products and services, from conducting taste tests and assessing different olfactory responses to optimising a product’s shape, form and packaging through to the evaluation of its tactile, auditory and visual aesthetics.

As there are no limitations regarding the types of experiences that can be assessed using neuromarketing techniques, there are few research-subject limitations. Some of the more-common research applications include the optimisation of:

  • ATL/BTL/online advertising communications: TV; radio; print/press; outdoor; digital (display/social); experiential, etc.
  • Corporate identity elements: logos; strap/tag-lines; colour palettes; typefaces; fonts
  • Auditory brand mnemonics: brand jingles; brand sign-offs; theme songs
  • Brand visuals and iconography: logos; graphics; packaging; pack shots; product imagery
  • Brand sensory experiences: smell; touch; taste; sound; sight
  • Past and present user experience: product/service experience and engagement; in-store experience; online/mobile user journeys


MarkLives logo Tell us about some of the tools you use in your research.
MD: At Neural Sense, our neuromarketing methodologies analyse: emotion, memory, arousal (the intensity of emotion that is experienced), approach behaviour (the likelihood an individual will seek out the stimulus or experience again) and decision-making in response to the consumer experience — all of which play a vital role in influencing buying behaviours or purchase decision.

We provide our clients with a holistic view of the entire consumer experience and identify opportunities to optimise the experience to evoke emotional engagement and enhance memorability for their brands, products and services.

We achieve this by using neuromarketing techniques, technologies and other cool “neuro-sciency-stuff” to learn why consumers make the decisions they do, and how we can optimise the emotional drivers behind these decisions. Our researchers use neuroscience technologies such as electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain responses to give us indicators of memorability, arousal and approach; and biometric sensors such as galvanic skin response (GSR) to measure changes in one’s physiological state which is indicative of the emotional states being experienced.

We also investigate the specific emotions experienced at particular moments in time through facial coding software and identify specific visual influencers with remote and mobile eye-tracking technologies.


MarkLives logo Procurement wants to know what it will cost and how that cost compares with more traditional market research.
MD: We leverage technology to provide our clients with cost-effective market research solutions that can be tailored to almost any budget. We have a wide range of pricing options that are dependent on the research objectives at hand, the technologies used and the sample sizes required in order to obtain a statistically significant data set (which is typically around 30 respondents per individual target market segment).

On average, our neuromarketing consulting services are priced 15–20% below that of a comparative traditional market-research offering.

As an example, an average qualitative study using focus groups could cost a client between R200K–R300K, which would be run over a six-week period. We would offer a neuromarketing approach with a similar sample size for approximately R150K–R250K and complete the project over a three-week period, as our technologies enable us to offer faster turnaround times on average given the simultaneity of data collection and analysis.


MarkLives logo What are the limitations of your offering?
As with most market research techniques, our respondents are typically pre-recruited and incentivised to take part in the studies, and the studies themselves are conducted in a lab environment. As such, we encounter sampling errors such as non-probability sampling (convenience sampling) and the lab itself may also influence the research results, as it is not necessarily a “real world” or “natural setting”.

Participants can also have feelings of heightened anxiety, given the somewhat invasive nature of some of our biometric devises, so these factors have to be taken into account when we process and analyse the data.

We do, however, endeavor to get as close to the “real-world” scenario as possible and, as all of our technologies are highly mobile, we prefer conducting our studies in the field with real consumers and in real time, as opposed to using a centralised lab environment. We also take precautions to reduce these research limitations by incorporating dummy stimuli within our studies to establish exposure norms and we follow established guidelines in this regard using existing academic research within the field of neuromarketing and neuroscience.

Fortunately, given the scientific rigor of our methodologies, we are still able to provide our clients with insights that can be backed by empirical evidence. So we are confident that the insights gained from our sample groups are accurate and can be applied to the larger target market under review.


MarkLives logo What’s the value in neuromarketing to ad agencies?
MD: Market research firms are often viewed as being a “necessary evil” by ad agencies. On the one hand, they provide much-needed insight into the consumers of their clients’ brands, but they can also be detrimental to the creative process when used to assess the potential performance of a new creative campaign. For the latter, traditional market research can run the risk of becoming a box-ticking exercise and, ultimately, it’s the creative work, and the effectiveness of that work, that can suffer. Often, if the “right” boxes aren’t ticked during the research process, the campaign is a no-go, and no additional insight or guidance is offered to not only ensure the right boxes are ticked, but that these performance benchmarks are far exceeded.

At Neural Sense, our research approach is different and ad agencies now have the ability to back up the belief they have in the power of their creative ideas with scientific empirical evidence — as opposed to the subjective responses of a handful of consumers. Our focus is on optimisation, in that we strive to build a deeper understanding of the experience at a granular level by assessing it by the millisecond across multiple measures, and identifying exactly what aspects of that experience are or are not working.

We then work closely with ad agencies to understand how we can leverage the different emotional drivers and corresponding strategies that are available to enhance a creative idea and make the communication more emotionally engaging and memorable. Some of the more progressive ad agencies have realised the value-adding function we can bring to their creative process, and they are reaping the rewards.


MarkLives logo Give us some examples of projects you have worked on.
MD: We have recently completed a large-scale website-usability study for a major telecommunications brand, whereby we assessed the user-journey experience of both their customers and non-customers across two of their own websites, as well as one of their closest competitors.

Using remote eye-tracking technologies, we were able to track exactly how consumers navigated the website and matched this with facial coding and GSR data to assess their corresponding emotional states. Consumers were given nine tasks to perform and we identified the primary user journey stumbling blocks; key areas of frustration; and developed the optimal user-flow for each task to deliver on both the sales and service objectives of the company.

We have optimised finished TV commercials using EEG and facial coding by identifying areas of improvement regarding scene selection, editing, music choice etc, as well as assisted agencies in fine-tuning their initial creative concepts prior to production by testing animatics and storyboards during the creative-development stage.

We have optimised in-store menu boards within the entertainment industry and assessed the entire in-store experience for a large retailer across their new stores, and have also worked on a range of smaller projects. from a packaging and label design for a liquor portfolio to the evaluation of the effectiveness of radio commercials for a popular automotive magazine.

We are currently in middle of an exciting new project in which we are creating the world’s first NeuroWine — a wine blend created only from the subconscious emotional responses of a winemaker to his own wine-tasting experience of over 21 different varietals. We can’t wait to taste it!


MarkLives logo How did the consultancy Neural Sense come about and who is involved in the venture?
MD: Neural Sense was founded in 2010, but it’s only with the explosion of neuromarketing accross Europe, America and Australia over the last few years that the company has really come to the forefront in the SA marketing research landscape. The three directors each have a passion for this exciting new field and not only bring a valuable skill set to the company, but also varied perspectives:

The Neural Sense team of directors
Brandon Bester, Mark Drummond and David Rosenstein.

David Rosenstein comes from a background in clinical psychology; has just completed his PhD where he tested his hypotheses using fMRI neuroimaging technologies and techniques; and has vast knowledge in the field of neuroscience. His deep understanding of the human brain provides valuable insight into the inner workings of the subconscious.

Brandon Bester hails from the fast-paced technology industry and has a passion for understanding consumer behaviour, decision-making processes, irrationality, and emotion. He is a true behavioural scientist with a passion for research and statistics. Brandon ensures that the business requirements are interpreted into accurate project-design requirements and oversees all statistical and data analysis.

I [Drummond] draw upon over eight years of experience working within the fields of advertising and marketing, having previously worked for Ogilvy Cape Town and M&C Saatchi Abel. With direct senior involvement in the development of the marketing strategies and their resulting brand communications and creative advertising campaigns for major local and international brands, I have a good understanding of the types of business problems marketers face on a daily basis in today’s complex and ever-evolving environment.

We also have a number of industry experts as part of the Neural Sense team:

  • Katharine James is a neuropsychology-based researcher, clinician and consultant. Having recently completed her PhD focusing on physiological, psychosocial, bio-chemical, and neuroradiological factors associated with cognitive impairment, Katharine now uses these skills to help Neural Sense identify factors related to cognition in everyday consumers.
  • Dr Lester Ryan John has over 13 years of experience heading up an EEG research group at the University of Cape Town. He combines his insatiable desire to tinker with all things electrical with his in-depth understanding of the complex electrical circuitry that is the human brain.
  • Micah Friedland’s interests lie in two main areas of research: neuroscience and computer ccience. He draws upon his vast knowledge in these areas of science to ensure that Neural Sense provides its clients with accurate data that is backed by empirical scientific evidence.


Herman Manson 2105Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of He was the inaugural Vodacom Social Media Journalist of the Year in 2011 and has, over his 20-year-plus career, contributed to numerous journals and websites in South Africa and abroad, including AdVantage magazine, Men’s Health, Computer World and African Communications.



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