5 Important Neuromarketing Lessons from “Moneyball”


Moneyball[This is a guest post by Tim Harvey – see Tim’s bio below.] Oakland A’s General Manager (GM) Billy Beane went out on a limb to adopt an analytical perspective to managing baseball, and the Neuromarketing industry can take some pointers from his story. Brad Pitt stars in the Hollywood adaptation of Michael Lewis’ 2003 book “Moneyball,” about how a math and science perspective changed the baseball landscape forever. Billy changed his managerial focus based on the ideas of a young Yale economics graduate, and the revolutionary baseball concept took off. As GMs can use statistics to help manage their team, the marketing industry is rapidly changing how it manages their messages. Here are 5 key things to take from Moneyball:

5) Neuromarketing will not replace or reduce the value of the marketing Creatives. In baseball terms, they’re like the players, and the executives would be the GM. Although Billy had a different style of selecting and managing the players than had been seen before, he could not run a team without the players or their passion for the game. The effective neuromarketing consultant is one who can encourage and tease out the best parts of the marketing efforts, and who understands that math and science alone won’t create great ads.

4) Better analytics mean that you can do more with less. The Oakland A’s played in the same league as deeper pocketed teams, and Billy Beane still played to win. So, he decided to move his thinking outside the established precedent of how players were picked and played for their team. Using the math and science behind what actually makes teams win (on-base percentage, mostly) they were able to legitimately compete in the big leagues while spending less money. Most businesses want to limit their bottom line as much as reasonably possible, and using the right data helps the effectiveness of marketing spending. People in a focus group will give an answer for why they buy something, but since people mostly buy with emotion (that they can’t articulate) and then rationalize with logic, they can’t give solid data for the real why behind the purchase. In A.K. Pradeep’s book “The Buying Brain,” he mentions that one typically needs about 10% of the participants for neuromarketing analysis as they would for traditional focus groups. Testing the ad is easier, and also the research reduces the cost of putting out ineffective marketing by sifting through some of that earlier on.

3) Neuromarketing advice must be presented clearly and directly, with a focus on the end result. The Oakland A’s GM did not make an attempt to explain every detail of his strategy to his managers or players, but clearly articulated what was to be done. The field of neuroscience and neuromarketing in particular is fascinating for most people in our industry, and we must remember that many of the CMOs, CEOs, or other directors won’t want to know every detail of how everything works. The effective neuromarketing consultant must be able to answer questions and explain how the science works and not lose the forest for the trees when explaining things. However – it will help to have at least the decision maker understand the basic premises of how neuromarketing research works. Billy Beane did not understand all of the math that his Yale protege used, but he understood how it impacted his team and how he could implement it.

2) You must have the right people doing the right analysis. Billy was fortunate to find a Yale Economics graduate to translate the analytical ideas to his team – and he got it right. Just because a consultant has the right ideas on why neuromarketing is advantageous doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. The execution of the ideas is very important, and you need good data in order to make good decisions. Sometimes the established company may be the best fit for the consulting role, and other times the younger company may be the best for the situation. Billy took a chance on a relatively unproven, young guy – but he still knew that the ideas and analysis were sound.

1) Adapt or get left in the dust. Many of the largest companies in the world have added neuromarketing techniques to their arsenal, and now isn’t the time in the race to stall on these ideas. More effective advertising very soon translates to a healthier balance sheet for those using neuromarketing, and the “wait and see game” will likely mean there is more ground for competitors to cover. Billy was ridiculed and ostracized for his different approach by those who didn’t understand and by those unwilling or unable to adapt. “The first one through the wall always gets bloody,” he says, but since he started implementing data-driven techniques to managing baseball it has changed the game forever. There is still some public (and corporate) pushback to the ideas of neuromarketing but progressive industrialists do not wait for public approval to make their decisions.

  1. Margaret J. King says

    Moneyball is a object lesson in the value of intelligence to competitive endeavors. It’s not enough to have muscle; you need the brains to mobilize any enterprise so that its efforts are focused intelligently. In my experience of providing cultural analysis to business, I’d say this is the key principle that somehow eludes otherwise smart executives; they think they already understand everything they need to know, and their knowledge is intuitive rather than intellectual, so analysis gets sidelined.
    It’s also perfectly true that it’s only the application that’s interesting to busy execs. They are far less interested than they should be in “why,” favoring “how” and “what” over the key facts that drive everything they do–these come from the cultural values that motivate their customers, and what’s in the customer’s head connects with the offering.

  2. ella says

    This post shows that you can really learn something from anything and apply it to the internet 🙂

  3. Sheila says

    I like the idea of doing more with less when it comes to analytics… It’s definitely true when it comes to blogging.

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