Are you looking for a career in neuromarketing, or as some prefer to call it, consumer neuroscience? How should you pursue that goal? Is such a goal even a good idea? I’ll try to provide answers, or at least some information that will let you arrive at your own answers.
Still Nascent After All These Years
I’m contacted frequently by those who think neuromarketing would be an interesting career and want to get in on the ground floor. I first wrote about this topic nearly a decade ago, and while some aspects remain similar, there are big changes afoot in specific spaces.
One surprise is that we can still talk about neuromarketing as a nascent industry despite the progress that has taken place.
The activity in the neuromarketing space has definitely picked up. We see that in various ways. Here’s a graph showing the 10-year trend in Google searches for “neuromarketing.”
The peaks tend to correspond to bursts of news coverage.
Although a lot of the talk about neuromarketing seems to be U.S.-focused, the global interest appears stronger. This chart shows a concentration of interest outside the U.S., with a particular strength in Spanish-speaking countries:
(The distribution of interest shown in the above chart is one reason why I’m so excited that the Spanish translation of Brainfluence has finally been released by Ediciones Urano!)
Odd discovery: Another Google Trends chart shows that neuromarketing may have gender identity issues. Searches for “el neuromarketing” and “la neuromarketing” are about equally common. Perhaps one of my Spanish-speaking readers can shed some light on this…
Also interesting is that the increasing interest in neuromarketing is a global phenomenon. Searches in the United States show a modest downward trend at the same time as the global numbers are increasing.
Adding “consumer neuroscience” didn’t make a significant difference in the chart, so this sluggish trend isn’t an artifact of terminology.
Academic Preparation for Neuromarketing Jobs
One thing that hasn’t changed is that it’s difficult to steer would-be neuromarketers in a particular academic direction. In the general field of neuromarketing, there are no well-defined, universal job descriptions or career paths.
There are a few academic programs specifically focused on neuromarketing or consumer neuroscience. In the U.S., Temple University, the University of Akron, and Iowa State all have active research in the area. Other schools are focused on related fields, like consumer behavior, neuroeconomics, and decision science. Generally, these programs don’t award a degree in “neuromarketing” per se, but may provide both coursework and research opportunities.
Among U.S. academics, neuromarketing has had to overcome the perception that it may be pseudoscience. Or, if it’s real, it might be evil.
Back in 2007, ScienceCareers.org published an interesting and reasonably accurate perspective on careers in neuromarketing.
The ScienceCareers article played down the immediate career prospects in neuromarketing, noting that much of the action is still in the academic world. They also pointed out the gulf that exists between academia and business by quoting George Loewenstein of the Decision Sciences Department at Carnegie Mellon University. We don’t doubt that CMU’s founding father, industrialist Andrew Carnegie, would be spinning in his grave if he heard Loewenstein say,
If a graduate student in neuroeconomics ended up in industry, that would be a disappointment. The reality is that when you do marketing, you are a slave to economic interests, to people who want to promote certain goods and services.
Loewenstein isn’t quite as Marxist as that makes him sound. We’ve reported on his groundbreaking neuroeconomics research several times. He even did an interview with us – see The Pain of Buying.
In 2011, the disdain of U.S. academics for neuromarketing was underscored when a 50+ university neuroscientists were dismissive of neuromarketing claims from branding expert and neuromarketing author Martin Lindstrom. (See Do You REALLY Love Your iPhone?)
Today, some academics are less skeptical.
A recent Temple University study (see Neuromarketing Bats 1 for 6, Still Wins and Neuromarketing: Pseudoscience No More at Forbes.) concluded, “Our findings clearly demonstrate the potential of neurophysiological measures to complement traditional measures in improving the predictive power of advertising success models.”
Outside the U.S., academic neuromarketing has fared somewhat better. Some programs use the term specifically, like the new Masters in Neuromarketing program at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. (I’m one of the professors.)
What About Neuromarketing Jobs?
Back in 2007, a search of jobs listed at Monster.com showed zero listings containing the term “neuromarketing.” Zero.
Fast forwarding to 2015, things haven’t changed all that much.
Three jobs listings at Monster contain the word “neuromarketing,” but none are direct jobs in the field. Rather, they reference it as something applicants should be familiar with. Furthermore, the newest of the listings was a month old when I searched, and the oldest was four months old.
At least on that site, neuromarketing is hardly a hotbed of recruiting activity.
That doesn’t mean that neuromarketing jobs don’t exist. There are both new and established firms in the field that have positions to fill. But, currently, the neuromarketing field remains quite specialized.
What’s the best path to a neuromarketing career?
What should one who believes in neuromarketing as a future career path do?
First, there is no perfect path. One reason is the different technologies used by neuromarketing practitioners. At one end of the spectrum, there are fMRI brain scans that use costly equipment and produce 3D maps of brain activity. At the other end, there are simple implicit tests that are more the province of psychologists. In between, there are biometric tools, eye-tracking, EEG brain wave devices, and more.
It may be an oversimplification, but I see several good paths into the industry. The best choice depends on the individual’s interests and strengths.
Science-based Careers. A student with a strong scientific bent can certainly get in on the ground floor of neuromarketing and neuroeconomics by pursuing an advanced degree in neuroscience at an institution that is engaged in such research. (An interdisciplinary program like CMU’s Social and Decision Sciences department might be even better.)
I expect to see more formal neuroeconomics and decision science programs before neuromarketing or consumer neuroscience programs. (Pursuing neuroeconomics would be as close to a neuromarketing degree as one can get at most institutions, and even that topic isn’t all that common.)
An undergrad degree in neuroscience would probably be a good foundation, but to get into the serious hands-on (so to speak) brain scan studies enrolling in an advanced degree program is almost certainly necessary. If neuromarketing goes truly mainstream using fMRI and EEG, then grad students (or newly minted PhDs) with direct experience in designing and analyzing brain scan/brain wave studies will be in demand. At some schools, there may already be opportunities for grad students to work in professor-led business ventures.
Of course, any given neuromarketing services provider probably needs far more non-scientists than scientists. And, to the extent that the technology becomes standardized, the demand for scientists will level out or decline.
For example, today many firms use eye tracking for studying ads, evaluating user behavior, etc. but don’t need to employ scientists that understand human vision, how to track eye movement, and so on. The hardware and software take care of those details, and the level of academic training needed to use the equipment and interpret the results is comparatively low.
Marketing-based Careers. Not everyone is cut out to slog through four years of undergrad science and math, and many more years as a grad student/lab rat. Students who are more geared to the business side of things might pursue an undergrad degree appropriate for marketing, advertising, or consumer behavior. That might be a business or economics major at some schools, or even a more communication-oriented liberal arts degree.
I’d highly recommend loading up on psychology courses as a minor or concentration, perhaps picking up some neuroscience coursework along the way.
As neuromarketing is more widely adopted, advertising firms, the advertisers themselves, and boutique neuromarketing agencies will have a need for individuals who are primarily marketers and business people, but can communicate with the neuro-geeks.
Data-focused Careers Regardless of one’s academic preparation and specific degree, I think the ability to analyze data and draw appropriate conclusions is critical. This includes both scientific data generated in the lab and business data obtained by measuring behavior.
One of the hottest topics today is Big Data, and professionals capable of turning this data into useful information and business strategies are in high demand. We certainly aren’t far from the day when Big Data and neuromarketing overlap and marketing efforts are targeted at “neuro-similar” groups or even individuals based on their behavior.
One example of how emotion and psychology of an individual customer are being combined with digital tools comes from the world of mobile gaming. MediaBrix (I’m an advisor) delivers targeted brand impressions based on the consumer’s predicted emotional state, and reinforces the visual stimuli with sound and haptic feedback.
Another way to bridge the gap would be to combine data collected by neuromarketing tools with the existing store of data about an individual consumers. (Needless to say, this would have to be done in an ethical and transparent way.)
How to Get into Neuromarketing
At this point, neuromarketing career opportunities remain a bit speculative. It’s not that there aren’t opportunities now, or that there won’t be even more in the future, but that predicting their nature is difficult. Technologies will vary, and any given company may have very different roles to fill.
Hence, focusing on a particular technology might prove unproductive. Now, for example, fMRI is the most academically-used approach, but it’s entirely possible that other techniques will prove more productive (or more cost-effective) for specific marketing purposes in the future. At this moment, there are more than a half dozen general types of technology, and dozens of companies employing them in different ways, both singly and in combination.
My advice for prospective neuromarketers starting their college careers is not much different than the advice I’d offer to students interested in other fields: get a solid undergrad degree in a field that you enjoy, take diverse courses to broaden your knowledge and resume, and try to affiliate yourself with activity in your field of interest by volunteering in a lab, working as an intern, etc.
At the end of your undergrad education, with any luck you’ll have a better understanding of potential careers via first-hand exposure, and will be well-equipped either to continue in your original direction or pursue different opportunities.
Trying to guess what career will be “hot” four years or more in the future is a fool’s errand. Focus on what you like and enjoy, attend a school that will provide a transforming undergrad experience, as well as both breadth and depth of knowledge, and you’ll be well equipped for even an uncertain future.
Graduate students should focus on specific opportunities that provide lab facilities or business partnerships that will provide exposure to neuromarketing tools and techniques.
Current Neuromarketing Jobs
If you are past the academic stage, or are still working on a degree but want experience, your best bet is to contact companies in the neuromarketing space. Check each company’s website first, but be aware that openings aren’t always posted. A good starting point is this site’s Directory of Neuromarketing Companies. (If you are a neuromarketing company and aren’t in our directory, please contact us.)
Career Planning Caution
One of the most quoted statements about war is, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” The original quote from Helmuth Von Moltke and dates to the mid-19th century. This maxim applies to career planning, too. One might phrase it, “No career plan survives contact with the real world.”
Regardless of the field, one should expect the unexpected: big demand fluctuations for degrees and skills, technology changes that demand new skills, and so on.
At the individual level, opportunities and challenges will arise that may dictate a change in career path. Few people with a decade or two of experience are doing today exactly what they expected they would be doing when they began their career.
The best way to prepare for this uncertainty is to build a strong base of academic and practical skills. Good written and verbal communication ability will be important even when technologies cause market upheavals. The same applies to interpersonal skills and quantitative ability. The more basic skills you have, the more readily you’ll adapt to change at the market or company level.
The point of this article isn’t to provide broad career planning advice. Still, even if you have a great interest in neuromarketing, keep your eye on the big picture of building broadly applicable skills.
For a smart look at marketing careers in particular, read Mark Schaefer’s post, How to be “Future Ready” for a career in marketing.
Predicting the future is always tricky business, but there are a few trends that I think could affect the neuromarketing industry and what neuromarketing jobs might look like. Here they are, in no particular order:
- Lower cost tools enable startups and smaller players to offer neuromarketing services.
- Greater acceptance and lower costs will expand the market for neuromarketing services.
- Some brands and companies will bring neuromarketing activities in-house.
- Mobile devices and wearables will continue to be adapted to neuromarketing use, making testing cheaper and more scalable.
- New skill sets, like biometric app development, will be needed.
- Much, if not most, of the innovation may take place outside the U.S.
What’s your take on a neuromarketing career? Leave your thoughts in a comment!