Oct 18, 2020 | E025 How to Start a Career in Neuromarketing As a PhD? Building a Consultancy Company As a PhD

Dr. Davide Rigoni is appointed as Professor of Neuromarketing and Management Psychology at Hult International Business School and he is part of the research staff at the Business and Marketing Department of the Free University Brussels, Belgium. His research on free will and decision making is published in high-tier peer-reviewed international journals in the field of psychology and neuroscience. He is also the founder of the International Center for Evidence-Based and Neuroscientific Education (ICENSE), a company that provides education, training, and consulting in the areas of neuromarketing, management psychology, and economic decision-making.

In this webinar, Davide told us why he decided to get out of his comfort zone and take a step towards building his own company operating in neuromarketing. What is the condition of neuromarketing today? How can neuromarketing improve learning online? What are the tricks that marketers use to influence our decisions? What are the next steps for Davide’s company?

Davide’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/davide-rigoni-3b8bb2151/

ICENSE’s website: https://www.icense.org/

The episode was recorded on October 18th, 2020. This material represents the speaker’s personal views and not the views of their current or former employer(s).

Natalia 0:10 Hello, everyone. Welcome to yet another episode of career talks by Welcome Solutions. In these meetings, we talk with professionals including PhDs about their professional inventors and to find out how they successfully navigate themselves in the job market. Today, I have the pleasure to introduce Dr. Davide Rigoni who is appointed as a professor in neuromarketing and management psychology at a Hult International Business School. He’s a part of the research staff of the business and marketing department of the Free University of Brussels in Belgium.

His research on free will and decision makings was published in high tire peer-reviewed international journals in the field of psychology and neuroscience. He’s also the founder of the International Center for evidence-based and neuroscientific education. ICENSE is a company that provides education, training, and consulting in the areas of neuromarketing, management, psychology, and economic decision-making. Thank you so much, Davide, for accepting our invitation. Could you please tell your story since you entered graduate school in your own words? We are very curious.

Dr. Davide 01:30 Thank you for inviting me. Hello, everyone. I always wanted to study psychology. That’s the first thing. Since high school, I wanted to become a psychiatrist. But then my parents convinced me that it was too much study time and just try something easier. I enrolled in psychology. In the beginning, I wanted to study psychoanalysis. I was interested in interpreting dreams and understanding the sexual positions and so on. But then after I started to do the courses, I was so shocked and enthusiastic about the neuroscience, neurobiology, and psychobiology courses, which I fell in love with knowing how the brain works and within your scientific theories and experiments and so on.

I decided that this is what I want to do. I started to study to have to be more focused on psychology and cognitive neuroscience. After graduation, I studied in Padua in Italy, which was a beautiful city near Venice. I did my thesis on psychopathy, criminals, and their emotional disturbances. It was an experimental thesis. I was interested in this topic, because I, I always been interested in psychopaths because a fundamental question that I always ask myself is, whether people have free will or not imagine that when you have a criminal doing something terrible, like a very terrible murder, the question from an ethical point of view, but also a law point of view is always okay, was that person responsible or not?

This question which is going on forever in philosophy and psychology and the legal sciences has always been very intriguing to me. Then I decided to study to focus during my PhD on free will and the neural basis of free will. That’s what was my PhD about. It was on the neural correlates of our intention. What we perceive as our intentional actions is the core idea of free will so that we have the intention that we produce voluntarily. Do you have a question?

Natalia 4:29 I think I have a question. I couldn’t help myself ask this question now. What do you think about Free Will today? What is your quick answer to the question, do we have free will?

Dr. Davide 04:42 I don’t think there is a quick answer to the question but I will try to give one. In the traditional sense, I don’t think we have free will. Traditional sense means let’s say that accepting the idea that we have a brain and that we have in mind something that is completely separated from the brain something that is not material. This is from a scientific point of view. Now, you cannot accept the idea of a soul from a scientific point of view unless you believe in God or your religion but that’s another thing in that traditional sense the idea that we have a soul that can decide and can escape the laws of nature, then we don’t have free will because our brain needs to follow the laws of nature. The laws of nature we consider today are in a way deterministic. If we know the situation at time zero, then we will know what happens at time one. That science is determined if we had the whole information. We cannot have free will but I do believe that the freewill should be conceived in terms of continuing rather than yes or no. For instance, two of us have more degrees, so we have a higher level of free will than a person who is in a coma. That’s another extreme. In that case, the person cannot decide anything. We can apply it intentionality to our lives. In that sense, in the psychological sense, there is free will but in a philosophical sense, I think that there is no free will.

Natalia 06:46 I wanted to say that. At some point, I stopped asking myself this question. And the reason was that even if there is no free will, I don’t know the scenario. Once you don’t know the scenario, you have to just live on. Who cares if there is free will or not? I mean, at least I don’t spend my time thinking about this. I used to as a teenager but then at some point, I felt, okay, if I don’t know the future, then I can live as if free will existed, even if there is no free will because I just don’t know what happens next. How do you like to think about this?

Dr. Davide 07:28 We will come over that later. I also stopped asking myself this question. I did ask myself that actually when I started my PhD, I was convinced I was gonna solve the problem. I really thought okay, guys, I am here. And I will tell you the truth. I will tell you what it is about free will but of course, I soon realized that this is not possible. I stopped asking myself the question and this is one of the things that changed since I quit academia. I stopped asking myself questions that are not very pragmatic. And indeed, it doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, the truth about free will that matters is whether you believe in it or not, which was actually the core of my PhD because and also of my postdoc years, where I tried to investigate what happens when people stop believing freewill.

I could find some interesting findings for reasons that people behave in a less ethical way when they believe that free will doesn’t exist as if they are in a way less responsible or they feel less responsible for their own actions. This was the core of my PhD and my postdoc years. After my PhD, we were supposed to spend one year abroad. In Italy, the PhD is three years. It’s not four years. Last year, I decided that I had to go abroad and then I decided to come to Belgium.

I worked in Ghent for one year with Professor Marcel brass, who was leading a lab on these topics of free will and the feeling of agency intentionality, and so on. And we had a very good collaboration. We always stayed in contact. After the end of my PhD, I wanted to go to Belgium and they say I wanted to go to a warmer country. I went to Marseille, France. I worked for two years more or less there but then there was a position in Ghent in my own lab where I used to work. I applied and I got the position. Then I started to work in Ghent on the topic of free will.

We went a bit back and forward. After that, the first two, or three years of postdoc were amazing. I was really motivated. I really like to do research even if it was very philosophical. There wasn’t a strong link with reality, so to speak. But at the beginning, I liked that, then things changed, you know, life happens, and when you grew up, life events changed a little bit. Then I started to feel a bit frustrated in the academic world.

I didn’t like the low pace. I didn’t like the lack of touch with reality and with real society. I was really jealous, not jealous, but I was really admiring my friends or people I knew, who were solving problems of other people like solving real issues, concrete issues. Then I started to form in my mind, the idea that maybe that was something that I wanted to do. It was a bit conflictual because I always thought I wanted to become a professor. I had to struggle a little bit with myself and say, okay, you know, it’s very risky to quit academia. Then I also don’t know what else to do. Maybe I will never have a job. And for one or two years, I had this dialogue in my head. I have to say that the academic world is also a world that is a bit self-sustaining in a way that people in academia feel like a bubble. Sometimes, you relate to them. I’m generalizing. I don’t hate academics, of course. I’m still partially in academia, even with a very small percentage. But I always had the feeling that they were telling themselves and I wasn’t influenced by them. That’s the only career possible.

That’s the only way to have a cool job and the only way to have a satisfactory life. That’s the only job that is worth it. Once I got rid of that mindset, I eventually made the jump and they say, Okay, let’s give it a chance to do something else. I joined a startup in Ghent that was working on neuromarketing. At the time, I didn’t change because they wanted to do neuromarketing. But for me, it was the first attempt to apply my knowledge of psychology and neuroscience concepts and tools to the real-life and private sector. I tried it and then it was content-wise. I liked the job. But then, I had another dialogue in mind that I don’t like to have a boss. I want to be my own boss and to have full autonomy, even if this is a big risk. But then again, after one year and a half, I took the jump again.

And that’s when I found ICENSE which now is a bit more than one year. Now, I’m working on a few activities going on with ICENSE. I’m still teaching in London with a bit in the business school and I am in Brussels at the Free University of Brussels. And I’m teaching with my own company but mainly for professionals. That’s the current situation. ICENSE sense is a company where we basically apply the neuroscience of psychology to marketing and management issues. I don’t know if you want me to be more specific or if you have specific questions.

Natalia 14:26 That will be very useful for the viewers and for me as well if you could tell us a little bit about the state of the art in today’s neuromarketing. How does this field actually look like? And I’m also asking for myself because I had this episode in my career when back then in Warsaw 10 years ago after I finished my master’s studies and before when we were going for a PhD, I had an affair with a startup culture and I took an internship and it happened to be in a neuromarketing company in central Warsaw. I was taking other options into account.

I didn’t jump into the Graduate School straightaway. I was just wandering options. And one of the options that just was available was an internship in that company. I went there for a month. But honestly, it’s just about the timing because 10 years ago, in Poland, I think, neuroscience and neuromarketing were still in the very beginnings. The most you could get from these techniques would be like analyzing, interhemispheric asymmetry, and perceiving visual material.

It was mostly based on EEG. And the analysis was very rudimentary. There were very little amount of variables mined from the data. And other than that, it was some simple eye-tracking setup. Other than that, it was just behavior analysis. The most important part of the study was not viewing on-screen but rather the product they chose at the end of the study.

At the end of the study, they could choose between a few products as a gift. That was actually the main parameter in the study. They were choosing what they saw on the screen or some other products. In the end, it was like boiling down more to the behavior analysis than to something that is more in-depth and basically looks into your brain. That was like 10 years ago but I’m curious, what is the scope of the methods you’re using in your marketing today? And can a graduate in cognitive neuroscience jump to neuromarketing straightaway? What types of skills do you need to work in this in this field?

Dr. Davide 17:17 The part of new neuromarketing activities if you come from the academic world and from the scientific world, is still quite simple in the sense that the type of analysis that you do and the experimental designs are less complex. As you mentioned before, the analysis of the alpha symmetry to understand the approach or motivation is still the kind of thing that people do. They don’t want to do something more complex because you need to explain the neuroscience of psychology to your clients. If clients don’t have a background in neuroscience and psychology, then you need to make things simple in a way.

I’ll give an example of eye-tracking. It’s very easy to understand. Eye-tracking is easy to explain because it’s very visual. You have heatmaps and the client immediately understands what it is about. It’s very easy to communicate eye-tracking study. Plus, eye tracking is extremely useful from a consumer perspective. You can derive a lot of variables of interest. Now, besides the classic visual attention-related parameters, you also have the ability if you measure pupil dilation, you have attention measures or engagement. If you look at blink rate, eye tracking is still one of the most used tools in neuromarketing.

The other is the skin conductance or physiological sensors in general, such as heart rate sensors, respiratory rate, and skin conductance. Skin conductance is what I find the most useful because it’s an extremely pure and direct measure of the arousal of the nervous system, so how intense is our emotional experience? This is quite predictive of consumer behavior. And again, it’s very easy to explain to clients. From a scientific point of view, there are not many assumptions that you need to make. It’s scientifically solid. We know what it measures. And it’s very relatively easy to use. Of course in the world, when you were working in your startup, I think one of the major changes is that most neuromarketing techniques are now available also online to be used remotely.

For research, eye tracking is now used. But it can be collected via webcam. Until a few months or years ago, the quality was quite bad, so the accuracy was relatively low. You could do some studies but not very sophisticated studies. Now, it’s becoming much better. There are new algorithms already present in the market. The one we use, for instance, is extremely accurate. It’s comparable to a normal eye tracker. There is a lot of innovation in making the neuromarketing toolbox available online. That’s a big change. What was the second question?

Natalia 21:27 The second question was, which skills do the PhD graduates have to work in your marketing?

Dr. Davide 21:37 I come from a neuroscience psychology background, so I can see what my challenges were when I started neuromarketing. The main challenge was the type of communication that you need to have with your clients is completely different than what you normally have. When you work in academia, you’re used to talking with people who know exactly what you’re talking about. And they want to understand how the processes in the brain work.

We have a lot of conversations about the details of research, about details of a process, and so on. In neuromarketing, when you talk with clients, the focus is really on the output. What problem does this activity solve? How can I get a better advertisement? It’s your own inner world but they don’t want to discuss that except in a few cases.

The challenge is in communication skills. You need to translate into a language that is understandable to your clients. You need to focus much less on the methods and more on the problem of marketing. The skill that you need to learn is the soft skills rather than hard skills. It’s not that the problem of technical competencies is more a core problem of communication skills. I talk from my experience. But in the academic world, there are a lot of people who are extremely clever and they know they are. They may sound a bit arrogant when they deal with people from the industry not because they are more clever but because they sometimes are used to listening to the high level of reasoning and solving complex issues. Sometimes, you need to adjust your level of ego. But it is very personal. I think you have to adjust your ego and understand that other people have other skills that you don’t have. That you are not the most clever person in the world. And that at the end of the day, they are the ones who are in charge and that they can they have to hire you. You better connect with them in an authentic way.

Natalia 24:32 Can I ask one more question in this area. You are saying that neuromarketing requires more soft skills? And would you also say that it requires some business acumen? Because in the end, to prepare goods in your marketing campaign, you have to think like a business person. You have to think about what’s the business proposition and how to attract the customer. I am guessing that it might become more of business development than science, right? Or am I wrong?

Dr. Davide 25:11 I think it depends. I will even say, well, it is definitely you need the business attitudes. Otherwise, you will not survive. That’s clear. You need a business attitude from calculating a budget for your clients, you know, how much am I gonna spend? And how much does this project cost? If you make mistakes at that level, then you have big issues because then you cannot survive. At the same time, you cannot ask too much. Because it’s not correct. And it’s also not interesting for the client. Ye need to find a good business approach there. You need to find a business approach also to sell yourself.

I mean, good skill and a good project are not interesting and are not useful if you cannot sell them. It can be even a good idea or a good solution. You really need to be able to sell what you can do. And that case is of course, about business. But then, I think applying science in the right way will pay off in the sense that there are a lot of non-science people in the neuromarketing sector. In the long term, it pays off. Okay, I think you need to be scientific. You need to be business-oriented at the same time.

Natalia 26:50 Okay. In the meantime, someone from the audience commented on arrogance. He said, arrogance is based on fear and they aren’t the most clever.

Dr. Davide 27:01 I agree with Christopher. This is my perception. I don’t want to generalize. But my perception was that when I was in academia, I knew how to move in that environment. But when you go outside in the real world, so to speak, you need to learn new skills and I admitted that I was a bit unconsciously scared because it’s a jungle. The business world is a complete jungle. I needed time to adapt. I agree that the first reaction of arrogance saying okay, I’m actually more clever. I don’t need you is a reaction to fear. It’s a fear that you need to face in order to improve yourself. Because it’s the business world and it’s a completely different story than academia.

Natalia 28:19 Christopher also asked, I’m most interested in the possibilities of neuroscience in digital education. Can you make a statement on this?

Dr. Davide 28:30 I think that there are some implications of neuroscience for digital education that is for instance digital education. Neuroscience is useful for understanding how the levels of engagement of the students are talking and the level of engagement of the students change accordingly to exposure to a screen. We know that our attention has limited resources and our level of engagement is limited. We also know that attention in a digital education context is much more different from attention in a physical presence context. You need to take into account these facts about the brain when you design an educational program that is completely digital. The duration of how much time you can pay attention without getting distracted is different. Fatigue levels are different in the two contexts of communication. Therefore, those are the personal communication and therefore the level of how much you can retain from what your thoughts are different. You need to take into account these aspects that there is another component of the neuroscience or say neuromarketing on digital education which has to do with how you can use neuroscientific tools in the digital education process.
For instance, imagine applications where you can measure the level of attention from the blink rate to the webcams which could allow you to adapt the lecture or the content of what you’re saying to the level of fatigue, engagement, or interest of your audience. These are all possibilities that are not really possible in the physical classroom. That can make use of neuroscientific tools.

Natalia 31:06 That’s very interesting. I think that’s what was asking about if I’m correct. That’s a very interesting direction. I mean, e-learning is becoming huge. I’m curious how neuromarketing will actually improve on that. Thank you for the question, Keith. Okay, I have a question for you. From my personal interests, because I was doing a PhD. I was doing my PhD on fMRI data. I’m just curious, is there any link between fMRI and neuromarketing or this type of data sets is completely useless for people like you?

Dr. Davide 31:56 If I had an fMRI at home, I would definitely use it in my studies. The problem is that fMRI is extremely expensive. I think just to buy one, you need a 1.5 million or something. And even using it, if you want to rent it, the cost I will see is very high and most of the companies do not use it. Commercial clients do not have the budget or don’t want to spend the budget for fMRI studies. I know there are some neuro-marketing companies that use it. But my feeling is that is mostly used for PR or like for marketing of the neuromarketing, so they show they can use it which is a very good thing because you’re perceived as very successful and cool. But I don’t think it’s used regularly. But neuromarketing has two aspects. One is the projects that you do for commercial clients for specific marketing questions. Then it’s more correct to call Consumer neuroscience which is the bank, the corpus of studies conducted in most normally research labs or academic labs about the consumer’s brain.

How the brain and the consumer works and how the consumers make decisions are based on fMRI. And then neuro marketers like me can derive some insights from those studies without conducting them.. Sometimes, we have clients who ask for consultancy and we base our consultancy on the studies that have been asked by others. In that sense, fMRI is a huge source of information. But it’s not applied directly in commercial projects.

Natalia 33:50 Okay, I get it. I actually expected this answer. I will be surprised to hear because companies are practical, of course, and they can make the cost of the project. That’s a major factor to take into account. Okay, so I have another question for you. I’m curious. If you were about to hire someone for your company today, a new employee, what type of person would you look for? What type of profile, like what type of hard skills and how would you describe your perfect employee?

Dr. Davide 34:32 It’s funny because I had a discussion with my business partner about this recently. I think I would hire a business developer, somebody who finds sales. Somebody who finds clients and who can supervise the projects. Because I’m doing this and my business partner is doing this, but then, you know, we don’t always have the time to do other things. We will need somebody who does that. It’s mostly soft skills. People who can talk to clients and who can convince them who they can deliver, and communicate to them why they should refer to neuromarketing. It shouldn’t be somebody who has approved like some background in neuroscience and psychology, some knowledge of marketing, but mostly knowledge of how the companies work.

Natalia 35:50 Okay, the question is do you consider hiring neuroscientists who also have business skills?

Dr. Davide 36:09 Yes, depending on which are the business skills. But yes, that’s the profile that we will be looking for.

Natalia 36:16 How do you actually recognize this business skill? What level do you expect?

Dr. Davide 36:22 It’s mostly the best predictor of future behavior. I know that sometimes there is a bit deterministic. That’s what I would write now that I mean, I wouldn’t take risks. I will now go for somebody who has demonstrated experience in providing clients to companies.

Natalia 36:46 And Keith is asking, is the trend in marketing toward Anthropology and other social sciences or towards neuroscience?

Dr. Davide 37:07 I think there is a lot of attention to neuroscience now. I know, because at least in Europe and with my company, we also organize training in neuromarketing. I told you about this Natalia before the interview started. We do training for professionals who want to learn about neuromarketing. I will say that 90% of the people of the trainees come from the marketing world. I think there is a lot of interest in marketing. It’s also from people who do market research. They want to add their neuromarketing toolbox to their solutions.

Natalia 38:01 All right. Let me ask you another question. As you know, many PhDs who watch these materials are also thinking of possibly becoming independent in the future. My question will be, how did you find your co-founder? How did you know that this is the right person to start the company with?

Dr. Davide 38:22 Can I say his name also?

Natalia 38:26 He would be happy if you actually mentioned his name.

Dr. Davide 38:29 His name is Tim. I met him because he was my previous boss in the startup where I worked. He’s from Belgium. I’m not from Belgium, so the fact that he was from here helped because he knows more than the cultural nuance of how to interact with people. It’s in a way easier. But I think, finding a business partner is a bit like a wedding. I’m not saying I wanted to marry him. He’s not listening.

But if he listens, he knows that I didn’t want to marry him. It’s a strong connection that you need to have a stronger responsibility. He was my boss. We worked together for two years and I really liked the way we worked. He has a combination of, let’s say IQ and EQ, which I think is quite rare in the sense that he’s extremely clever and business-minded. At the same time, he has very high emotional intelligence. It’s a very good combination.

It’s extremely easy to interact, make decisions, and trust each other. It’s extremely transparent. We’re both transparent. That’s what makes him a crucial partner. Some people have the tendency to make business with friends because it makes them feel safer. In the beginning, you feel luckier. It’s a warmer relationship. But I think most of the time the mistake is that your business relationships are different from friendships. You need to be clear. I mean, you can be friend with your business partner, but both parties need to understand the right boundaries. I find that it’s not so easy. I had this feeling to work with him. I thought, Okay, this is maybe the right person to launch this project.

Natalia 41:18 Was it that you took that decision about starting a company because you found the right person to start with?

Dr. Davide 41:30 I tried to not. I wanted to have my own company anyway. And I was in the process of deciding what exactly I wanted to do. Then there were some circumstances that brought us to have a meeting where he asked me, what are you doing now? And he was also thinking about changing activity in a way he had in his previous company, but he wanted to do something else. Then we discussed and so I wanted to do, so I wanted to have my own company, he wanted to do something else. Then he said, why don’t we think about doing something together? And that’s how I was almost immediately convinced.

Natalia 42:17 What was the hardest in the process so far, since you started?

Dr. Davide 42:24 I think there is a lack of sleep. I think there are three components that are completely different from my previous life. I think, during the first six months of the life of the company, I was broken. I invested all my money in the company. The level of anxiety that I experienced those few months was unexplainable. I’m not saying that I didn’t sleep for six months but I had a hard time relaxing. Everything went better when I started to have projects, and then I started to have some income. You see, okay, it’s actually becoming safer and safer.

The anxiety level was reduced. That was the main challenge. Let’s say holding it together without getting panicking was the main challenge. The second challenge is that you have to accept the lack of time to do anything else. I think, for at least a few years, I have the feeling that this will be my life, the company will be your life.

I mean, there is not a lot of time to do anything else. This has costs in terms of relationships, in terms of the intimate relationships or you need to find people who accept this. It’s not so easy. I realized that it’s not an easy deal to make. I think people who find a partner who is willing to accept and support this are very lucky. I wasn’t. You need to accept that. You don’t have time and energy to dedicate a lot to friends or other relationships and other activities. You need to take a break. But it’s more like, just sleeping the whole day or doing very little things. I think the challenge is that you need to find a balance too. You need to find your own spot. During the day, you go running. You do sports, you relax. You have a healthy life. I used to go out and drink sometimes and I really enjoyed going to bars and restaurants.

When you have to work the whole day and you have your own company, that’s very difficult to maintain. I prefer to have a much healthier life which is good in a way. But you know, it’s the result of sacrifice with a lot of sacrifices. You realize that you’re also alone in this world. The problem that you have to face is that there is no one that is going to solve them. I think the main challenge is lack of sleep, anxiety, and lack of isolation to some extent.

Natalia 45:50 I feel for you. I know this problem very well. This vast majority of people who leave like work nine to five, or the majority at least in our area of the world will be more work-oriented. It’s normal that people work long hours because they live their American dream. And that’s the standard. But on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, the standards are different. As a person who is really passionate and has unregulated working hours, the longer working hours, I can totally see that. I often encountered this behavior from my friends who try to preach to me that I work too hard. And I’m like this but I’m not able to push my mind.

Dr. Davide 46:53 It’s not a choice. If you have to pay the bills, then it’s not a choice. Sometimes I do feel that I like to work and I like what I do. But sometimes, I just want to stop. If you have obligations with clients, if you need an invoice, then there is no plan B. That’s what keeps you alive and awake at night but it’s also the beauty of it. I feel that to make a comparison with the academic world, I think it’s there and I felt much safer. But the world was a bit in black and white around me. And now it’s I mean, when the lows are lows, they are very low. I am extremely scary and extremely stressful. But when the highest arrive, then everything is colorful. Then your life becomes much more meaningful.

Natalia 48:15 I agree. And I think that this certain amount of deprivation that comes with entrepreneurship also opens you up in some way. I totally see what you mean that this amplitude is higher and it’s like really swings from like highlights when you think that you’re on the top of the world because you’re thinking that you will never get that. It’s like even like day to day amplitude of you know, I can

Dr. Davide 48:55 I think I’m going to be too philosophical but it’s very close to our ancestors. I mean you have to fight every day to get your food basically. That’s a bit how I feel sometimes. There is not a single day since I started the company that one day when I feel bored. Or when I feel like a lack of direction. I mean you become the direction and there is nothing that pushes you. You’re just moving all the time and that’s very exciting. It comes also with a lot of costs. I’m not sure but if I was a millionaire, I would do that.

Natalia 49:52 I can see and I recently even checked if there is any dating website for workaholics people. This is the problem that there is nothing like it because this is the paradox that people who work a lot don’t even consider spending their time just chit-chatting online on something that is not related to the survival, meaning there isn’t a problem if you’re a hard-working person that needs other hard-working people, they are somewhere out there, but you can’t find them because they’re just working. They’re not out there on social media. They just spend time working. How are you supposed to meet them?

Dr. Davide 50:36 The plan is that you need to become a bit quite wealthy, and then you will have a bit more time. Otherwise, I will die in two or three years if it doesn’t slow down a little bit. But that’s indeed what you need to accept. It’s also important to find the positive things about everything at this moment, so you learn the value of time. You spend time with people. You look for people who kind of count for you. There are people who you really value a lot. And you have fewer relationships but the ones you have are much more meaningful and much more intimate. You manage to see those people. I mean, I’m talking about people that are not related to your business because then you have a lot of probably encounters and a lot of interactions but those are economically driven in a way. That’s not what I mean by relationships.

Natalia 52:00 I fully agree because then you kind of also start separating, you know, what is your working time and time you have to be productive and your quality time. This is also another big difference. When you’re in your professional life, you’re supposed to be as productive as possible. It’s not important how long you work but it’s important how much you can do in an hour.

Building relations with people doesn’t matter what you do and what you do per hour. It matters how many hours you find for them. This time is like, undisturbed quality time when you focus on those people. Then it doesn’t really matter what you do. You could chat, you could watch a movie and like you could just do anything. As long as you focus for a long time long enough, then you build bonds. That’s completely different.

If you have this deprivation of sleep, and you have to start valuing your time and start becoming really time efficient, then I think you’re also becoming better at saving time. I have approval for that. Before we started talking today, you also asked me to challenge you with some hard questions. I think there is a time for one. I would like to ask you to tell us some dirty stuff about the industry. Tell us a little bit about the tricks that marketers used to mess with our brains. Something that people do. It can be neuromarketing but something that people do to really make us buy stuff. I’m very curious and I thought of 1000s of things. You could tell us a few things that we normally wouldn’t guess like, we don’t think about some things that we like to interact with every day, but we don’t really think about them as marketing tools.

Dr. Davide 54:20 The biggest concept in marketing is that we take emotion and we make decisions. And consumers make decisions with their emotional brains and not with rationality. Once you learn the rule of the emotional brain and you understand how it works, it’s relatively easy to be persuasive. I don’t like the word manipulation, but I like the word persuasion. I mean, sometimes I realized that the border between the two is quite thin. But I do believe If you can persuade me, you cannot manipulate but you can persuade. Our emotional brain works the same way as it worked 3000 years ago. The drivers of behavior are more or less the same.

We know a lot of these drivers and neuro marketers nowadays. You just make it a very simple example that maybe everybody knows. Our emotional brain thinks in terms of work through biases. This is when we do not evaluate the situation, rationally and logically. We jump quickly to conclusions. Sometimes, these conclusions are wrong. They are biased because we don’t take into account all the information. One bias is the social proof. Social proof means that whenever we are in doubt about doing something, we have a biological tendency to follow what our social group does.

This’s very crucial for survival. I imagine that you are going to enter the cinema to watch a movie. And while you’re entering, there are a lot of people shouting and running away from the cinema, to the outdoor. The first thing you do is you don’t even think but your brain decides, Okay, let’s follow them. And maybe there is a fire, maybe there is a terrorist. You don’t have all the information. But you’ve got the social cue and that’s so strong if you just follow them without even questioning it. That’s because evolution shaped our brain to react in this way. It’s useful for our survival. But sometimes, if this biological tendency to follow what a group does, you can use it in your marketing campaign for it.

That’s what companies do. For instance, when you go to Amazon, and you will look for a book, Imagine that I know you wrote recently the book, Imagine that I go to Amazon and buy your book. Every time I select your book, I also have a message, okay, other people who bought this book, they also bought these other books, okay, these are the books. It works because people think okay, but maybe then if most people need that book, I will also find it interesting. They buy those books as well. You can know that rationally. You know that this is a trick. Your emotional brain has already decided that it’s important. That’s something you should take into account. This is one example. The social proof bias is one of the strongest and is used in the marketing campaign or in the marketing communication. You can see it on many platforms, websites, or webshops.

Natalia 58:32 If I’m correct, then the whole Instagram culture is built on that because if you consider someone authority or idol.

Dr. Davide 58:46 It’s based on the idea that if 1000s of people find your post of a certain person, a public person, then your brain is telling you that there must be something interesting. Because otherwise, not so many people would like it. That’s how it works. There are so many other biases. It will be easier for me to explain them with an image. But strong bias that is largely used in marketing is the scarcity bias, meaning that when you make people believe that certain good or certain product is very scarce and the perceived value of that product goes up dramatically. This is also a very strong effect. You don’t have a lot of these products, the perceived value of that product, even if you don’t want it or originally if you didn’t like it, it goes really up dramatically as well. Marketers are not able to be very subtle about this. But that’s also a very good trick.

Natalia 1:00:11 I have a question. Last weekend, I entertain myself by watching the series called contrepreneur bingo. I don’t know if you know that one. But those have their own programs on how to become rich overnight. You know how to run a dropshipping business or how to invest in the stock exchange or how to do affiliate marketing, and things like that. They are these gurus who have a lot of following. They have their own courses and their own programs where you have to typically pay, like, between 1000$ to 5,000$ to take that course, under the scholarship. This YouTube channel is very nice because it’s just a bit of a satire of this culture, and basically points out all these manipulative moves that these people do.

For instance, you talked about scarcity, it came to my mind. Because there’s always the same list. The price has to end at seven. One thing that they always do is a scarcity and there is always a bullshit backstory about how I become this big person I am now. And there’s always the same scenario. It’s just different modules change, or the point of the business changes, and the person changes and a few details. But after all, it’s always the same scheme. It’s easy to recognize once you know it but this is extreme.

Dr. Davide 1:02:11 It’s not enough to use those persuasion rules to be successful. I mean, you need to back up what you’re selling. That’s why I mentioned before the difference between manipulation and persuasion, persuasion means I’m trying to use what I actually have. That’s authentic to convince you that I’m a good choice. Manipulation is changing the reality. But then, of course, I did that. For instance, you mentioned using numbers. There are some rules that psychological price is known to work. There are some other rules that also work like putting the symbols away. The symbols of the currency away from the actual number have some effects in making consumers perceive the price as less as possible. Some others are really small effects. But of course, again, you need to be credible.

Natalia 1:03:38 I was just giving this example. This is a bad example. You shouldn’t be doing but I think it’s good to watch this once in a lifetime to actually be able to then recognize all this because I feel once you’re out there to the real world, like from academia to the real world, that was also a learning curve for me that there’s a lot of people that are out there. Then you have to actually learn to recognize those people. That was why I mentioned but I would never do that for my business.

Dr. Davide 1:04:19 Most people feel it immediately. I mean, if you’re authentic or not, humans have a very sophisticated system to detect immediately if somebody is not authentic. I don’t think that it will be very short-lived.

Natalia 1:04:40 Those people actually make millions on programs. I think that there is some percentage of people who are prone to this type of advertisement or they’re just born gamblers and they still invest their money even from the beginning. They know that they still decide to try. And I think this may be personal. I recently watched an interview where with a person who became a victim of those schemes and he didn’t learn from the first time. Finally, some people are just very sensitive to this type of marketing. Let’s come back to the topic of PhD careers. The question would be, is there anything like general advice that you would be willing to give to PhD graduates who are thinking of starting a career in this area, either in neuromarketing or just in marketing, anything that comes to mind?

Dr. Davide 1:06:00 The first piece of advice that I will give is not to be afraid of quitting academia. As I said before, once you are in that environment, it’s easy to feel like going outside of academia. It’s not a good idea or it’s less worth or less valuable. Once you go out, you cannot go back at all. I think that’s completely untrue. I mean, it doesn’t correspond to the reality of facts. I never ever met anyone who will quit academia and will regret the choice. I never met one person I do. I do meet people who are in academia and are for years thinking I would like to do something else and they never do it. My advice is if you feel like it’s not your path, just try it, and taking the jump is not actually a big risk. You will find that there is a whole world out there.

It could be much more fun. Most of the time it is you need to accept it, of course, you will need to adjust a little bit because, in academia, you have a lot of say autonomy. You could be lucky. You can end up in the wrong company and then you don’t have a positive experience. But it’s more a problem and it will be probably more of a specific problem with the people you meet but I’m sure that you can find a very good position that you may like in some other companies. My first advice is if you feel like it’s just taking the jump, then don’t be too scared. As I was saying before, another piece of advice I would give is to people with a PhD. They think that they are used to doing very complicated stuff. But there are many other skills that we don’t learn during our PhD.

As I was saying before, soft skills are extremely important. Some people have natural talents in managing people or communicating with people. Some people need to learn this a little bit. But the good thing about doing a PhD, is that I think you know how to learn. I really do believe that if you complete a PhD, it means that you have a good brain. But you have a very functioning brain. Then you can learn maybe better than other people when you are facing new challenges in a world that you don’t know but you will learn it. And you will have a lot of fun.

Natalia 1:09:20 Right. Let’s just address another question. The question is, I learned that Facebook and Apple possibly are looking for devices to detect consumer behavior. To my knowledge, they already have those devices under testing a lot of methods. I think the question is, what’s your standpoint on this?

Dr. Davide 1:09:49 I don’t know if the question is about ethics.

Natalia 1:09:57 The question is more about what are you also getting into this area and how to extract information?

Dr. Davide 1:10:07 We are not on these digital platforms but we were part of a consortium with ICENSE. It recently became a spinoff of the Free University of Brussels. We are now involved in a project about something similar. I cannot really reveal a lot about it. But it’s about in that direction, let’s say how to study consumer behavior in a passive way. Without applying neuromarketing toolboxes such as eye trackers and motion sensors, you need to put sensors on the skin of the people. You need people to wear eye-trackers.

You need an active interaction with the consumer. You measure behavior without interfering with consumer behavior. People are walking and looking at shop windows looking at the products and they are being measured. And they need to give consent to that. But that opens a lot of possibilities because you have much higher numbers of people tested.

Natalia 1:11:30 Right, okay. That was the question. Lastly, can I ask you, what would we wish for you and for ICENSE for the upcoming year?

Dr. Davide 1:11:48 We have a few ideas in mind. The first year was very interesting and very good. But we are trying to have a clear and more focused direction. I hope we will achieve that. To have a very clear-cut focus on what we will do. I hope that the turnover will grow. I’m not obsessed with growing fast. But of course, it would be nice to hire more people and to create a team of enthusiastic people that would like to have a team of two or three people.

Natalia 1:12:43 That’s ambitious. Good luck with your ambitions. I know what you mean. It’s like developing the business plan and business model and then finding the product-market fit. This is the hard part also. And it’s also hard to start growing your team before you get it right. What to do next, do the first tech, like find additional pair of hands to help you or make sure that you have a product that sells really well. It’s always the same dilemma and everyone has it. We wish you then good luck with this. I also heard from you before that you’re planning to write a book about neuromarketing. Is that the case?

Dr. Davide 1:13:38 We are on it.

Natalia 1:13:45 Okay. Thank you so much for joining us today. It was really wonderful. I’m so happy to see that someone else has exactly the same problem because we are just so misunderstood. I wouldn’t even say that we’re workaholics. We just have a vision and that vision actually requires sacrifice. This year, I can see that there are more people like this. All the best for ICENSE and looking forward to the updates. Thank you, everyone, for being here today Thank you so much for your attention.

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