Are Market Researchers Really Hooking up People’s Brains to Measure Responses?

Research Mind Brain

There has to be an easier way

I try to keep up on what’s happening with consumer research, which is usually pretty dry reading, even for someone who loves research as much as I do. But, every now and then, something just jumps off the page and grabs my attention.

According to an article on market research trends in 2018 published on the website of the American Marketing Association (AMA), one hot new trend comes from neuroscience – the scientific study of the nervous system. Consumers agree to have electrodes placed on their scalps and their brainwaves are recorded while the subjects view, for example, proposed ad campaigns. Say what?!

The rationale for using neuro-tools is valid – it provides a window to the subconscious where most decision making originates. The AMA article says, “Neuro-tools provide a much more sophisticated and deeper look into the subconscious response to marketing stimuli. By using neuro-tools, marketing is now able to essentially read the minds of consumers. This is a very exciting new territory for researchers.”

As a researcher, I love the idea of being able to read minds, but I don’t think putting electrodes on the heads of casino guests is an effective way to collect marketing data. Let’s look at some other market research trends that are easier to execute.


Russ Klein, American Marketing Association CEO, had this to say about Design Thinking in
early 2017:

“Of course, everyone is talking about the role of Design Thinking as part of the marketer’s expanding skillset.”

Design Thinking is an interesting concept that actually has a wealth of applications in the gaming industry. It is an approach to innovation that is being adopted by corporations, government entities, marketers, and designers. Research plays a huge role in Design Thinking and has much to add to the discipline.

Design Thinking is solution-based thinking that involves evaluating a problem or situation and determining a reasonable, practical plan to attack the issue. In seven steps, problems are framed, the right questions are asked, ideas and solutions are created, and the best answers are chosen. The steps are not necessarily linear, can occur simultaneously, and may be repeated. To ensure an ongoing process of innovation, the process is often iterative.

Design Thinking is a process often described as having seven stages: define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement, and learn. The research profession introduces its expertise in four of the seven stages – define, research, choose, and learn.

What I like about the Design Thinking approach is that it’s so structured and quantifiable; just seven steps from start to finish. While this technique is a leadership tool that uses marketing skills, it’s an interesting approach to tackling new situations and challenges at your property.


Guest Experience is a hot topic in marketing, and business in general, and therefore also in research. Competition for the hearts and minds of guests is fierce. The competitive landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade and is considerably more complex.

Casinos are increasingly focused on using Guest Experience to win, keep, surprise and delight guests because we know that this can result in:

  • A relevant, personalized Guest (User) Experience
  • Brand differentiation
  • Increased revenue
  • Reduced guest churn
  • Improved Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) due to enhanced guest satisfaction
  • Greater team member satisfaction
  • Increased collaboration across the company

Guest Journey development has emerged as a key way to provide a framework for understanding the Guest Experience environments.

Mapping the Guest Journey typically includes defining the major and minor touchpoints between the brand, product or service, guests/users, and the environments in which the touchpoints occur. It also involves research with guests to truly understand each touchpoint in the Guest Journey, describing the emotional and rational aspects of:

  • Guest Predispositions
  • Need States
  • Pain Points
  • Guest Reaction
  • Perceptions of Brand Performance


A final area of growing interest for market research is Predictive Analytics. Marketers wanting to hedge their bets will no longer be satisfied with analytics that report how a campaign has performed. Rather, they will want to accurately predict the outcome of their marketing activities ahead of time in order to get buy-in from management and to avoid expensive mistakes and flops.

Fundamentally, market analytics is all about measuring and analyzing marketing performance to improve effectiveness and optimize return on investment (ROI). Like most disciplines, it ranges from simplistic frequency counts (e.g., number of people who visited your casino or ate at your buffet) to sophisticated measurement using multivariate statistical methods.

Predictive Analytics differs from other types of analysis in that it makes predictions about future events – answering questions like: What is the expected incremental revenue from a new gift-of-the-month program? Who is most likely to stay at an RV park if we add this amenity, and how profitable will that group of people be for our gaming products?


I’ll never conduct neuro research for any of our Raving casino clients. I’d really, really like to read minds, but I don’t think that I could get a bunch of people to sit still while I hooked up electrodes and asked them a bunch of questions.

That doesn’t mean that there is ever a time to stop looking for ways to improve how we conduct and use market research. Online survey software like QuestionPro and Survey Monkey are easy to use, affordable, and are continually adding tools and enhancements. The challenge is finding the research tools that are best designed to give you the answers you need to be more successful and profitable.

Deb Hilgeman, Ph.D.