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The field of marketing research marches onward year after year, with new techniques and new approaches.

For example, I remember when "garbology" first came out. Many found much amusement in the idea of rooting through someone's garbage to better understand their consumption patterns. Today, it is much more accepted, though still assigned to more junior market researchers.

A type of marketing research that has recently garnered considerable attention is "neuromarketing." What set off this interest was a study published in the October 14, 2004 issue of Neuron. Researchers monitored brain scans of 67 people who were given a blind taste test of Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Using brain scanners, they could see that each soft drink "lit up" the brain's reward system.

Participants were evenly split about which drink they preferred. However, when the same people were told what they were drinking, activity in a different set of brain regions were engaged. Three out of four said they preferred Coca-Cola. This demonstrated in a fairly dramatic way that brand matters.

For as long has I have been a student of marketing, we have regarded the human mind as a "black box," something which was rather mysterious. We marketers do our thing: beaming advertising, direct marketing pieces, a sales pitch or what have you to our target market.

We can measure the results of that marketing effort, in terms of sales, awareness, liking and so on. We understand reasonably well the beginning and end of the process—but not the vital part in the middle. That is, what goes on inside the mind of the consumer.

This is what is changing with neuromarketing. First, let me take a run at defining it.

The basic fundamental science underlying neuromarketing is neuroscience, which is the study of the how the brain gives rise to the mind. In other words, neuroscience is how the brain enables us to perceive, think, make decisions, feel emotions, communicate (i.e., the neural basis of human experience).

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Karl Moore is an associate professor of marketing strategy at the Faculty of Management, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.