Neuroscience in the casino environment is beginning to emerge as a hot topic.

For evidence of this, you need look no farther than last month’s Global Gaming Expo (G2E), which featured a session entitled “Maximize Brainomics: The Economic Gains from Advancing Innovative Thinking.” In this presentation, Dee O’Neill, program manager of SMART for the Brain Performance Institute at the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas, discussed leveraging core principals discovered in neuroscience to fuel innovation in the gaming industry.

Applying lessons learned in neuroscience to innovation is just the beginning; use them to help with marketing and you have a new area of research called neuromarketing. Neuromarketing is an emerging field that isn’t currently being leveraged in gaming yet, but it is being utilized by Fortune 500 companies outside the gaming industry, from PepsiCo to Yahoo… much like data-driven marketing was 20 years ago. The reasons these companies have gravitated toward neuromarketing include:

  • The ability to grow market share and gain a crucial competitive advantage;
  • The ability to tap into customer “pleasure centers” and create improved marketing experiences that lead to loyalty, increased visits and wallet share; and
  • The ability to minimize risk and maximize profit of marketing campaigns though more precise customer testing.


So what is neuromarketing? We all know how effective applying a scientific approach to marketing in the gaming industry has been; using basic techniques like keeping a control group and A/B testing are prime examples. Neuromarketing takes the scientific approach to the next level and beyond. Simply put, neuromarketing is the application of neuroscience to marketing. You can think of it like the scientific, data-driven marketing approach on steroids. Neuromarketing includes the direct use of brain imaging, scanning or other brain activity measurement technology to map a subject’s response to specific products, packaging, advertising or other marketing elements. When leveraged correctly, the impact neuromarketing can have on a casino’s revenue can be game changing. And that is stating it mildly.

The scientific techniques of neuromarketing include:

Eye tracking—small cameras can track eye movement and focus, helping researchers understand which parts of an advertisement are most visually appealing to test subjects.

Facial coding—test subjects’ facial expressions are analyzed to learn more about certain responses to a product or advertisement, including frustration, happiness and more.

Galvanic skin response and electro dermal activity—this type of tracking measures sweat gland excretions associated with physiological arousal and electro dermal activity that is associated with high or low levels of excitement and engagement.

Electroencephalography (EEG)—EEG measures electrical activity in the brain that is associated with increased or reduced focus and/or excitement.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)—this measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow.

Don’t be turned off by this scientific lingo; those that take the time to understand and implement these tests will drastically improve the efficiency and results of their marketing programs.  In many cases, brain response, as measured by these techniques, is not consciously perceived by the subject. That means this data can often be much more revealing and accurate than old-school approaches (such as self-reported data via surveys and focus groups).

Indeed, current marketing practices often rely on opinions from the executive team and intuition instead of science. For example, in a focus group a player may indicate the reason for a resort visit was a value offer received in the mail. However, what really spurred the trip was the picture of a couple at the roulette wheel in the offer, which subconsciously evoked an emotion so strong that they picked up the phone and booked. If the customer had taken an MRI during this decision-making process, either the pleasure centers of the brain or the rational (best-value) decision-making areas would respond. Knowing which center gets activated would provide key insight in relation to the actions to take to spend the marketing budget more effectively. If the player is choosing to stay at a casino because of the higher value, then keep providing that higher value despite its impact on profit margins. But if it is specific artwork that evokes powerful emotions that generate the response to visit, you could simply invest more time in getting the creative right; a much cheaper proposition than offering rate reductions and free play vouchers.

This is neuromarketing in a nutshell—a focuses on examining how the brain works when it makes decisions and processes emotion, and then using this information to create the most effective, impactful marketing campaigns possible.

Does this sound expensive? It’s really not, comparatively. Think about the hundreds of thousands (even millions) of dollars gaming and hospitality companies have lost from ineffective marketing efforts that missed the mark. As executives, when we are in the middle of one of these debacles, we know it is happening, but we aren’t usually lining up to attach a number to the losses. Losses don’t just include a poorly invested marketing budget; they also include opportunity cost, customer attrition, lost market share and more, all of which are difficult to quantify.

Meanwhile, neuromarketing offers a way to mitigate such marketing losses by executing more effective marketing campaigns. And some neuromarketing tests are becoming less costly to implement, according to an article in Forbes: “A few years ago, the cost of renting brain-imaging machines kept many marketers from dabbling in neuromarketing. Today, with at least eight companies offering EEG and MRI testing devices, the costs have come down. A marketer can hook 30 consumers up to an EEG device for $50,000. An MRI trial with 20 people would cost more like $40,000.” There are also scrappier approaches a company can take, such as partnering with universities and tapping into their research funding.


Here are a few practical steps to consider when it comes to establishing a neuromarketing program:

Partner with a university. In a study conducted at UCLA, brain scans were found to accurately predict which marketing campaign would yield the highest response. Universities are guiding big brands, such as Campbell’s, through the process, and they have the technology on campus to perform the testing.

Bridge the gap. Don’t hire a chief officer of neuromarketing quite yet. Source an expert to coordinate and align your business goals with the scientific approach at the university—this way, you can prove the positive financial impact neuromarketing can have on your casino to your key stakeholders.

Have a clear, measureable goal. This might go without staying, but it’s necessary to have a particular, quantitative goal to prove the value of neuromarketing. Such a radical change is certain to be controversial within an organization, so results that can be attainable and quantified are a must. Recruit pundits to give feedback while goals are being outlined in order to anticipate and counter potential criticism when results are presented.

Like all new methods that push boundaries and are on the cutting edge, neuromarketing is controversial. Since studies show that at least 95 percent of human behavioral decisions occur subconsciously, if we want to truly understand what drives our player’s decisions, we need to understand what drives their subconscious mind when they make them. The clear way to get at that is by using neuroscience—not by asking the player, but by measuring brain activity. Neuromarketing empowers us to view the unconscious brain—the most important driver—of the player. People rationalize choices after they are made—which means the reasons they provide for a given choice are often not the true drivers. This is why survey and focus-group data often sends us in the wrong direction, and it’s why neuromarketing holds the key to making better business decisions that increase profits and reduce marketing expenses. Are you bold enough to try it?