Marianne McLaughlin (New Balance): our use of neuro has completely evolved

Marianne McLaughlin is the Global Consumer Insights leader for New Balance, which started applying neuroscience as far back as 2015. Since then, New Balance has become a neuro-champion – a topic Marianne also discusses at the Neuromarketing World Forum.  

Why are you interested in neuromarketing?

The focus of my role is to enable in-depth consumer understanding: the target consumer’s needs, desires and influences, so that we can stay on the leading edge of technical performance, lifestyle and fashion trends. Neuro has offered us the opportunity to understand target consumers on a whole new level, sometimes beyond what they themselves can articulate.  

“Our use of neuro has completely evolved. In the past, our women’s catalogs would focus on the product. Today, we know more about our target consumers and the kinds of activities they like to do. Now, we do photo-shoots on location, on the body, in the activity or occasion when consumers use our products.” 

How does New Balance view neuro?
Initially it was a learning curve – but the consistent delivery of highly impactful results built a level of trust, to the extent that today we require neuro evaluation of marketing, content, and programming. With a turnaround time of five to eight days, neuroscience compares favorably to more traditional approaches to creative testing. In the world of global fast fashion, we need to respond quickly. It’s an absolute necessity. 

You mention a learning curve. What’s your advice for companies that want to start using neuro?
In most organizations, people in senior leadership roles are not involved in the day-to-day diagnostics and logistics of tools or platforms like the ones we use to analyze marketing creative or programming. If you get too much into the weeds of the math and science of how neuro works, you risk losing them.  

“Be sure to share the story with the leadership team: here are the business questions, here’s what we learned from the research, and here’s why that matters. That is the best way to get senior leadership onboard.” 

Also, continue to track what happens after you decided to use neuro. What happened in the market when you went live with that decision? Was the model a good predictor of optimized results? It’s important to tell that story. Record the real outcome, and wrap the story up with the results. Show people what is possible with the insights and information. Once you show them, they will want more. 

What are your doubts?
The only lingering caveat is that, as a global company, we recognize the cultural variances and nuances that need to be considered. Different key cities around the world contribute different influences and fashion credentials. Consumers can react differently based on their own context. That’s why we were careful to select a vendor that offers locations in many cities around the world.  

What questions do you currently have regarding the use of the technology and interpreting the results?

A: It would be ideal if we could use neuro to identify winning designs earlier. A neuroscience version of a concept screen could improve upon the more traditional crowd-sourced surveys. You could show the consumer twenty different product designs and have their brain respond: do they like it or do they not like it?  

That way we can quickly identify the winning designs, which consumers would love, with an action-intent to buy. That would help pick global styles quicker. That’s my dream. If you can identify a winning product globally sooner in the process, you optimize efficiency and save expenses in creating samples and prototypes. By freeing up that cash, we could invest more in marketing, design and quality materials.  

What do you expect from the World Forum?

I’m hoping to learn about the latest innovations and see some creative applications from other companies and industries. The fashion industry, for instance, is very fast-paced. I would like to know how other fast-paced industries inform their decisions, shorten their timelines and optimize retail decisions.  

At the end of our interview, we discussed the maturity of neuromarketing as an industry. Marianne absolutely notices that the industry is maturing. She points out that the science has now evolved to the point where there are clear KPIs (key performance indicators) to track, and she concludes that the industry is “at a very exciting tipping point.”


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