How Neuroscience Can Improve Your Marketing Strategy

Even though the human brain is considered our most complex organ, our understanding of what each part does and how it functions is still a work in progress. But thanks to recent developments in neuroscience, scientists and researchers now understand more and more about how the brain and the mind work. One added benefit for us marketers is that these new learnings are fueling advancements in our understanding of consumer behavior, giving us another tool to motivate consumers to purchase and become loyal brand advocates and yet another new word: Neuromarketing.

What is neuromarketing?

Neuromarketing overlays the scientific techniques of neuroscience on measuring the effectiveness of a product or marketing message to motivate consumer behavior. Typical consumer marketing research, like in focus groups, relies on people themselves to self-report their feelings and reactions, leaving much room for error. Since human brains process over 90% of information non-consciously, neuromarketing provides deeper and more valid insights into the emotional aspects of human behavior via techniques such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), electroencephalography (EEG), biometrics, facial coding, eye tracking and other technologies.

Who is using neuromarketing?                                                                                                           

The cost and complexity of neuromarketing testing have relegated its use to large companies including Coca-Cola, Google, Campbell’s Soup, Gerber, and Frito-Lay amongst others. Within the entertainment industry, major studios and networks have used neuromarketing tests to measure responses to movie trailers, as well as to test the effectiveness of ad saturation and ad placements.

Mercedes-Benz used neuromarketing to measure the effectiveness of a campaign in which the fronts of cars simulated human faces, which was found to be linked directly to the pleasure center of the brain. Sales increased 12% in the first quarter based on this campaign.

In many instances, consumer packaged goods companies use neuromarketing to measure consumer response to packaging design choices like colors, fonts, images, and text size. Campbell’s Soup redesigned its soup cans with the assistance of neuromarketing, while Frito-Lay switched from shiny bags to matte based on its own neuromarketing tests.

In another example, scientists used MRI to measure the brain responses of adolescents while listening to songs from largely unknown artists. They then tracked record sales for the songs over the next 3 years. When comparing sales against the brain scans, researchers found that the songs with higher brain activity correlated to higher sales:

“These results suggest that the neural responses to goods are not only predictive of purchase decisions for those individuals actually scanned, but such responses generalize to the population at large and may be used to predict cultural popularity.”

What are the key takeaways for marketers?

Though many small and medium-sized businesses may not be able to afford neuromarketing testing, it is possible that they can learn from and apply the results from other tests. Here are 15 key takeaways for marketers, including:

  1. If including human faces in static creative, ensure the eye gaze of the individual faces the product and call-to-action, rather than looking outward to the viewer.
  2. Less is more. Providing too many offers or primary messages causes analysis paralysis and dropping conversion rates.
  3. People are motivated by loss as much as gain. So try framing your messaging as what the consumer will miss if they pass up your offer.
  4. Speed is important to consumers and activates purchase triggers. In one example, PayPal found that consumers reacted more positively to messaging saying how fast and convenient PayPal is, versus how safe and secure it may be as a payment method.
  5. Loyalty and repeat usage can result when consumers are given rewards that activate dopamine and pleasure centers in the brain.

Are there any downsides to neuromarketing?

There are a few criticisms of neuromarketing to keep in mind. Firstly, some argue that the current scientific tests and knowledge are not sufficient to draw real conclusions when connected to human behavior. Another more ethical point of view argues that measuring consumer brain response can in effect provide advertisers the ability to take away a consumer’s free will to make purchase decisions by taking advantage of “buy” triggers. In The Seven Sins of Neuromarketing, one researcher outlines additional critiques, including the limited number of peer-reviewed studies and academic research proving the effects of neuromarketing.

With all of this in mind, it’s important to remember that the field of neuromarketing is only a bit more than a decade old and new techniques and advancements continue to provide more insights and applications, for scientists as well as marketers. Essentially, marketers should think of neuromarketing as another tool in our marketing toolbox and look for opportunities (and budget!) when testing via this approach makes sense and can provide actionable insights where focus groups and Big Data fail to deliver.

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