Neuro in the MENA region

Vandana Sridhar is a market researcher with over twenty years of experience in consumer insights – most recently, as the head of Consumer Insights at Al Futtaim in Dubai. She is currently on a sabbatical, which gives her the possibility to explore the potential of neuromarketing. Vandana particularly appreciates how neuromarketing provides us with actionable data.

Q: Why are you interested in neuromarketing?

A: We’re using databases by the millions, planning future consumer behavior based on ‘predictive data’. But this data can’t tell you what is happening tomorrow. Nobody has factored in how the competitive landscape is changing. Neuroscience treats each consumer uniquely and helps us predict the future by understanding people’s intrinsic drive, rather than looking at the past. In the current scenario, it’s no longer possible to make predictions based on the past. We must understand how people’s eyes and minds are working.  

Q: Is your interest in neuromarketing new? Why now?

A: I have been interested in neuromarketing for quite some time. People today are much smarter, I think we will never get their intrinsic decisions just by looking at their ‘masks’. I’ve been part to data analytics, and I was getting scores indicating extremely loyal customers. But the reality was not matching up. For example, at one of our brand’s exit surveys, we figured that people were repeating themselves. It turned out, the motive was not to give feedback, but to get the chocolate at the end of the survey.  

“I’ve seen a lot of neuroscience studies that led to changes – in color, model, ad backgrounds. Unlike focus groups, neuromarketing provides us with actionable data.

 

Q: What’s your view on neuro?

A: I can clearly see the applications of it. I recently visited a VR-park with my son, and there was this house where you could move things around. That’s where I saw the scope. Imagine for a furniture retail company, you could make customers create rooms without intruding on their personal space. But in this region, there is no company or agency to capitalize on it. The market is in dire need, but there is a gap when it comes to the educational part of neuroscience. Companies aren’t ready, because they don’t see the practical applications.

The other part is budgeting. Neuroscience is a specialized skill and therefore comes with a price tag. We need to get companies to understand it’s not just about price, but also about value. That is something the region is not yet ready to listen to currently. Especially now that the region is going through financial turmoil, and budgets are getting cut, sometimes by 50%. 

Q: What are your doubts?

A: When we did packaging testing for Cadbury Flutes in markets like Lebanon, we found out people don’t like yellow because it stands for a political party. Neuroscience couldn’t tell us that. You still need to tie neuroscience with conventional market research. The question is, are companies ready to up their budgets? In this region, we need at least four focus groups – locals, expats, Arabs, and Asians – and then we need to do a male and female group. We’re talking eight focus groups minimum. For that amount, what can neuroscience deliver? I know it’s expensive and exclusive, but I don’t know what kind of value we would get for that budget.  

Q: How would neuro gain more traction in the MENA region?

I can see neuro being applied in four verticals. The biggest entry point would be FMCG – products people cannot do without. Consumers would buy more if prices or packages changed. FMCG companies would be the ones most interested in these tough times, followed by automotive, electronics, and travel. People own on average 2.9 phones in this region, and each phone is replaced yearly. 

Vandana concludes, “Now is the time to do the groundwork. Create a buzz, a positive word of mouth. Show how neuro helps companies save, why they should do this and what can get better.” 

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