Alumni Stories: Dr. Kimberly Rose Clark ’04 on Advertising & Consumer Neuroscience Research

Interested in using her understanding of human behavior in a business setting, Dr. Kimberly Rose Clark ’04 co-founded Merchant Mechanics, a market research firm that draws on the fields of behavioral psychology and neuroscience to observe how consumers respond to test elements in a real world context. Dr. Clark is an established author of research-based articles for prominent industry trade and academic journals with cover articles featured in both Chain Store Age Magazine and Neuron. She maintains a presence in academia as an educator, collaborator, consultant and mentor; she frequently serves as speaker or panelist at industry and academic events.

Check out how Dr. Clark describes her work and what advice she would give to current Dartmouth students:

Position: Chief Research Officer at Merchant Mechanics, Inc.

Short description of what you do: 


I oversee all aspects of research design, implementation and analysis for Merchant Mechanics’ national and international clients. In this role, I direct the development and execution of original qualitative and quantitative research initiatives for numerous blue-chip clients, including: United States Postal Service, Campbell’s Soup, Coca-Cola, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Levi’s, McDonald’s, The Home Depot.

1. What is most satisfying about your current work?

Prior to co-founding Merchant Mechanics, my career path was aligned with academia. I’d hoped to become a professor with a focus on psychological and brain science research.  In coming to understand the vast disconnect between academic theories and real world use of those applications, I co-created the consumer research firm with a fellow grad student in the PBS Department. Application of knowledge from our team’s respective academic backgrounds enables us to apply a unique understanding to our client’s concepts, or prototypes, allowing us to successfully predict their efficacy in real world contexts. The best part of this job–five things come to mind:

1) Tackling each client’s specific question is very much like generating an academic dissertation.  A hypothesis must be generated, theories must be tested and findings must be explained. However, unlike the academic path, I’m afforded breadth in research topics by the very nature of our diverse client types.  In other words, I must become an expert in several realms.

2) I love serving as an ambassador of quality research, and I will always be indebted to my Doctoral advisor, George Wolford, for his emphasis on generating good data and questioning all data.

3) I still get my academic fix through ongoing collaborations and guest lecture spots with Dartmouth colleagues.

4) Our firm uses state of the art technology in consumer neuroscience (aka “neuromarketing”) research [note: I am *not* a fan of that word!] and I enjoy keeping comprehensively current in the field.

5) I am able to serve as an active mentor to many undergrad and grad students, which is of critical importance to me, as a caring business owner and one who has had wonderful life mentors of her own.

2. What’s the best way to enter your field? Any essential elements of preparation?

Consumer Neuroscience, or “neuromarketing” as some call it, is currently in a state similar to the Wild West.  Many of the current “new” technologies of neuromarketing have actually been used for years in medical and academic applications of Psychology and Neuroscience. In those contexts, use of such methods is careful and bound by standards.  That isn’t the case at this time in the private sector.  That said, irrespective of the hardware/software used to answer a research question, I’d promote a firm understanding of statistics and research design to those who are interested in pursuing consumer neuroscience. A strong foundation in statistics is key to career success in this field.

3. What advice would you give to others seeking opportunities in this field?

Contact me!  I’d be happy to discuss case studies.  The paths to this field are so diverse, that there’s not a recipe of success that I could convey across students of different disciplines/areas of study.

4. How has Dartmouth supported you in your career development?

Mentorship. Friendship. Caring network of colleagues.

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