There is a surfeit of competition is stating the obvious. But how do companies ensure that consumers prefer them over the rest during that vital moment of truth, when the consumer is at the store within picking distance of their brand, or for that matter, their competitor’s.

There are enough and more cases to highlight the fact that consumers walk the other way at the very last minute, leaving their preferred brand out in the cold. S K is one such consumer. When SK entered a large format retail store last week, she had already made up her mind on what she wanted to buy — three casual shirts, all Pepe.

But when she walked out, her shopping bag did not have a single shirt from her preferred brand. Instead she had picked up a rather lesser-known brand Rig, without any salesperson pushing it down her throat. Why? S K states the obvious, that she found the range of Rig attractive in the key parameters of colors, finish and design.

For a new and growing tribe of experts in the field of marketing, this vague explanation is perfectly clear. For this is a set that probes for a deeper meaning using medical technologies like the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to explore last minute changes in consumer behavior.

Did SK’s brain pick up signals from a hyperactive competitor at the point of sale? Did the mind play tricks, or did it take a short cut in the purchase decision process? Called Neuro-marketing, it’s the new, advanced, marketing technique that’s catching on like forest fire. To put it simply, Neuromarketing studies the marketing stimuli among consumers using techniques that are perfected not in business schools, but in medical universities — sensory, motor, cognitive, affective response and so on.

Be doubly sure, this is no brain wave, but a technique that’s finding a remarkable acceptance in the marketing departments of large corporations. An Internet search of the term ‘Neuro marketing’ throws up 2.5 million results. And the companies that are currently using Neuro-marketing to mine for insights to their increasing roster of marketing challenges include the top-notch marketing corporations ranging from automobile companies to beverage makers. You name them, they have tried it.

When the next big thing, does become The Big Thing, CMOs could come with the prefix of ‘Dr’ to their names. Because understanding Neuromarketing, could mean bringing the expertise of understanding the human brain to the marketing world.

For example, when consumers avoid the brand in question, a Neuromarketer could conduct an fMRI analysis to understand which areas of the brain actually influence such aversive behavior. Or it can identify certain genetic codes that separate the risk takers from the conservatives and help companies design campaigns that trigger the risk takers to take action and prefer their brand over the competition.

If experts in the field are to be believed this data can be tracked in a manner that’s completely non-invasive. “Neural activity results in the generation of electro-magnetic signals that can be captured by sensors. These signals are processed and then analysed statistically to draw behavioural patterns of consumers.

The accuracy of these measurements that can be filtered down to the order of milliseconds (one-thousandth of a second) has attracted the interest of researchers who are demystifying the decision-making process.

N S, a senior executive from an MNC that’s tried out Neuromarketing points out that another area of interest that’s gaining ground among Neuromarketers is to track the connection between the codes passed by the optical nerves to the brain. Some questions that are being asked by marketers include, do consumers exhibit a bias to products that they see more often, through exposure to advertisements and product displays, or do they pick brands that they see first at the store shelves.

Other questions that are being explored include, does a product being placed on the left stand a better chance of being picked considering that in countries like ours, consumers are trained from a young age to look from left to right (remember, before crossing the road).

At another level, the science of Neuromarketing is also being used to track which is the best possible marketing channel strategy, how consumers react to different pack sizes and price points at various points, which distribution strategy works better in triggering the positive response, which distribution mechanism sends confusing codes to the brain and so on. Even different retail chains can trigger different stimuli among consumers.

The same consumer may buy your product at one retail point, but choose your competitor at another retail destination. This can happen despite the space allocated to your brand remaining the same. That’s because different retail chains can have a different influence on the perception and evaluation of the product.

Other factors that influence the decision making process include the brain retrieving the episodic memory, past experience with the brand, sensory memory (memory that is stimulated through the senses) and so on. Analysis by neuromarketers help in establishing which parts of the brain show the maximum activity while selecting or rejecting a brand.

These findings help marketers find out what are the influencing factors behind consumer susceptibility and helps in positioning the product in such a manner that it results in developing a judgement bias in favor of the product and also develop even the right product and price strategy for the entire portfolio of offerings.