The Brain Sell interviews Dr Jaime Romano Micha of Neuromarketing Mexico
The Brain Sell interviewed Dr Jaime Romano Micha, Director General of Mexico’s largest and most high profile neuromarketing firm, at his company’s research laboratories in the heart of Mexico City. Located on the wide, tree lined, Ejercito Nacional, Neuromarketing S.A. Mexico undertakes studies for a wide range of companies, organisations and political parties.
A medical doctor, who trained at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, bearded Dr Romano, has been involved in brain research since he was a young student. After completing his medical studies he moved to UCLA to study for a PhD at their Brain Research Institute. There he worked under two professors who were to have a profound influence on his later research. The first was Joaquin Fuster, Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioural Sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience an Human Behaviour, and an internationally respected authority on memory, attention and decision-making. The second, Dr Frank Ervin who was involved in research about the amygdala and its relation with aggressive behaviour.
After four years at UCLA, he returned to Mexico City to begin his residency in neurology. Shortly after he was appointed head of the Department of Neurobiology at the National Institute of Mental Health.
Speaking in faultless English, Dr Romano began our interview by describing how he had first become involved with brain imaging:
Jaime Romano Micha (JRM): I was doing some clinical research and got one hold of the first computers capable of doing spectral analysis of EEG. Nobody in Mexico even knew how to turn it on! So I read all the manuals and started to learn about Fourier analysis and so on. Then, working with Mexican engineers, I developed a brain mapping system which still is used in 120 labs around the world. This does clinical diagnosis for epilepsy and all kinds of other different pathologies.
Also at that time I was analysing evoked potentials (1), brain stem evoked potentials and also cortical mapping of evoked potentials.
Then I started working with children and adolescents with learning disabilities. I’ve been doing that also now for almost thirty-five years. I set up a clinic with psychologists, neurologists, neurophysiologists, therapists and speech therapists. It’s a multidisciplinary team of professionals.
Another research area I moved into was neurofeedback. I was doing EEG feedback a long time ago and was able to publish some papers on how I thought neurofeedback should be approached. This was a little different from what other people were doing, because some people were doing specific protocols for specific disabilities which I believe is very naïve. I am now President of the Mexican Society of Neurofeedback which I started in order to make the field more professional.
About ten years ago, started a scientific laboratory to develop formulas for measuring everything that is involved in learning in children. I began to model what happens with information while it comes in through the senses and then it’s being processed through the brain until learning is achieved. Learning has to do with attention, it has to do with cognition, it has to do with emotion, it has to do with the action of learning.
I developed a model which I called a Neuropyramid. The neuro-pyramid which I already published in a book which is called The Neuro-Pyramid: Foundations of Neuro-Marketing. Then I began to develop this model into a marketing tool, because this model of learning also applies to decision-making or into buying. Buying has to do not only with emotions, not only with cognition, not only with the subconscious but also with attention. If someone doesn’t pay attention to the advertisement then they won’t understand and they won’t have the emotions.
(1) An electrical potential which is recorded from the nervous system following the presentation of a stimulus. It differs from the spontaneous potentials detected by some electrophysiological recording method, such as EEG.
Dr Jaime Romano Micha’s Seven Step Pyramid (Reproduced with Permission)
It is a seven step model. The first step is attention, the second sensory activation in the cortex, the third emotion, the fourth cognition which is analysis and synthesis. The fifth step is what I call the regulator of decision which is also in the frontal lobes which has to do with what I will record in my memory, it will be the synthesis etc. At the tip of the pyramid is verbalisation and then action, which in marketing is buying, which in politics is voting, which in education is learning.
So my clinical laboratory moved into the marketing area. I met with Martin Lindstrom in New York and he encouraged me greatly. He said, ‘Doctor you have to go into the field because your experience is very important for the area.” Then I met with Philip Kotler, one of the gurus in marketing. He also encouraged me and when I published my book he wrote the foreword. And in his own words:
“Romano´s Neuropyramid” must be a basic reading for marketers who want to advance their marketing tools to better understand how human beings make their purchase decisions. Philip Kotler
Through this model of the neuro-pyramid we are developing methods and formulas combining EEG (2) with peripheral sensors, you know what everyone does – GSR, (3) VBP(4), respiration, EMG, (5), whatever. But our expertise is really on the recording of the brain, that’s my expertise. I have seen more than 50,000 EEGs in my life and we do that all the time. Then I developed my own EEG machine, my brain mapping system. So this is one of our strengths.
The Brain Sell (TBS): Are companies in Mexico receptive to neuromarketing?
JRM: You know what, things are changing. When I started about eight to ten years ago there was a lot of rejection. Many companies didn’t know what I was talking about. But now the market is more sophisticated.
As you know, in the neuromarketing field there are serious people and there are people who are not serious and this is harming credibility. But our laboratory and myself we are positioned as scientists, true scientists, and that’s what we do.
Now the market is getting more receptive. We are undertaking projects for Mexican companies and also in South America where we are having a lot of success. I have been invited to give conferences in Colombia, in Brazil, in Peru. So the area is getting more receptive to neuromarketing. I think it’s evolving.
TBS: A number of executives have told us that they are worried about the amount of showmanship in some neuromarketing companies. Do you think that’s causing any problems?
JRM: There are a lot of showmen, as you said, but in time everyone will know that they are only showmen. Marketing is not always sophisticated, so if you tell them anything they will think that it’s true. And that’s one of the problems in the field. But my philosophy of life is as long as you do things correctly at the end you will succeed.
With any new science or any new movement you’ll see all these things. You’ll see people who are truly making the field to grow, like the Mindlab, Innerscope and ourselves. We are truly scientific people trying to do things properly.
(1) Electroencephalography, measuring electrical activity in the brain.
(2) Galvanic Skin Response, an archaic but still widely used term which describes a technique for recording changing levels of physical arousal.
(3) Variable Blood Pressure
(5) Electromyograph – electrical activity in the muscles
TBS: Is your work mostly laboratory based or do you undertake studies, for example, in a supermarket or in a shopping mall?
JRM: Most of the things that we do we do it in the laboratory, but we are doing some ambulatory recordings. But we want to go carefully because as you know with ambulatory recordings you get a lot of artefacts. In the neuro-pyramid the first steps of the neuro-pyramid are much easier to measure than the later ones.
TBS: What do you think of fMRI as a marketing tool?
JRM: fMRI can give us some insights on where to look for things, but I think that EEG and peripheral sensors have a much better time resolution than the others. So fMRI is interesting but not as a tool to do market research because it has so many difficulties.
TBS: The expense and the problems for the volunteers. Being inside a scanner is not a very pleasant experience.
JRM: And the regulations and everything, yeah. And you know with neurophysiology you can control many different things. Doing like a baseline and then exposing the people to some stimulus. You can control many different variables.
TBS: It seems to us that one of the problems with the field at the moment is the lack of openness. It is understandable that companies want to protect their intellectual property, but this means there is no way scientists can look at their data to see whether or not the conclusions are valid. Would it be a good idea if companies would publish some of their data, maybe through something like the Advertising Research Foundation? That way it could be reviewed by our peers?
JRM: I think that’s the only way to move forward in the field.
TBS: We’ve spoken to very many notable neuroscientists who are very dismissive of neuromarketing. Who just don’t believe it has anything to offer.
JRM: It’s not a matter of believing or not believing, it’s a matter of science. At the moment it’s not a matter of science because nobody is publishing their data. If we do it scientifically, if we truly share information, share formulas, etc I think that’s the way to go.
You need a model to do science. If you don’t have a model you don’t do science. Everyone will start saying one thing and the other. So we have to start speaking the same concepts, the same words.
So that’s one of the main things and that’s one of the goals of the Neuropyramid, which is a very simplistic model. Seven steps which anyone can understand. Marketers can understand that if you want customers to take an interest in your products or services, you must start by getting them to pay attention.