Why the brain matters: an introduction to neuromarketing techniques

What is neuromarketing and how does it work? In this post, we discuss neuromarketing techniques and which to apply to your digital marketing.

Pranita Tamang
5 MIN|September 11, 2018
Why the Brain Matters: An Introduction to Neuromarketing Techniques

As marketers, our goal is to understand the needs and desires of our target audience so that we can reach out with the right messaging. A basic understanding of human psychology has always been important. But now, new research in the field of neuroscience—the science of how the brain works—could help us understand exactly what goes on when people make buying decisions. What do these insights mean for how we do marketing?

What is neuromarketing?

In his TED Talk, “Is there a buy button in the brain?”, Patrick Renvoise defines neuromarketing as the “science of human decision.”

Neuromarketing brings together the worlds of marketing and neuroscience. Where neuroscience aims to understand how our brains work, neuromarketing is specifically interested in what is going on in our brains when we make buying decisions or when we react to different types of marketing content.

It might be one thing to accurately nail down your audience personas, but it’s another to figure out how they will respond to your content. Traditional marketers might have used focus groups and surveys to figure out how to best position a message to its target audience. But neuromarketing take a different tack, analysing at the physiological changes that happen in our bodies (primarily the brain but not exclusively) to understand what is really going on.

This is because people generally don’t know what they want, even if they think they do, because a lot of what goes into making a decision takes place in the subconscious. A whole gamut of subconscious drivers govern how we react to content – and most of the time we aren’t aware of them. Some neuroscientists believe that as much as 95% of the decisions people make when purchasing are subconscious and beyond their rational, deliberate actions.

So, the goal of neuromarketing is to understand what people’s subconscious drivers are, how these manifest and how marketing can benefit from these insights. But how does it work?

How it works: neuromarketing technologies

There are various ways to map and monitor changes in the brain that indicate activity, including:

  • Facial coding – which detects the slightest movements in muscles when people react to stimuli.
  • Eye tracking – this follows where people look when they engage in a piece of content. This provides heatmaps where people’s attention is fixed.
  • fMRI – functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measures oxygen consumed by the brains in various regions of the brain. This shows engagement in subjects and how the brain is reacting to stimuli.
  • EEG – an electroencephalogram (EEG) test measures the small electric currents that are sent between brain cells. The advantage of this over an MRI is that it is more portable, meaning that people can be tested in shops or cinemas for instance.

What does neuromarketing tell us about buying decisions?

So, what can we learn and how can this be applied to marketing?

The reptilian brain

Neuromarketing says that it’s best to think of the brain as having three parts. The rational brain, the emotional brain and the instinctual brain (often called ‘the reptilian brain’). Each of these parts play a different role in how we react to stimuli and the actions we end up taking. What is fascinating here is that traditional understandings of decision-making completely misjudged the importance of our reptilian brain.

The reptilian brain is one of the oldest part of the brain, having developed on the evolutionary chain millions and millions of years before homo sapiens walked the earth. Its features are as follows:

  • It functions incredibly quickly but is limited
  • It focuses on the present and has no conception of past or future
  • It’s always on, reacting to the world around it
  • It’s unconscious, controlling important bodily functions like breathing and digestion, but also our fight or flight reflexes
  • We have little control over it

The reptilian brain governs many of our responses to the content we see. It is home to the subconscious drivers that cause us to react to certain messages, images or sounds in ways that are beyond our control.

Other findings

  • Avoiding pain is a stronger motivator than seeking pleasure
  • Faces draw the eye better than other visuals
  • Content which customers can personally identify are received more positively
  • Prices with round number (e.g. £100) are processed more easily, but numbers like £99.99 are thought of as being a better deal

Certain colours are tied up with particular emotional reactions

Neuromarketing techniques to apply to your digital marketing

Neuromarketing research is still quite expensive to carry out – so it is very much a field in its infant stages and will surely develop as the technology required to test the brain advances and becomes more widely accessible. But there’s no doubt lots of potential. For now, here are a couple of neuromarketing techniques that you can try in your marketing.

Loss aversion

Research shows that the psychological pain of losing something is twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining something. Loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to be won over by the idea of not having to suffer this pain or loss.

A good example of this is FOMO, so infamously seen in the case of Black Friday. Shoppers flock to get the latest deals not because they need the items on sale but because they are made to think that they would be missing out – and they can’t bear to miss out on the deal. The same neuromarketing technique is used by Amazon when they list when an item is running low in stock.

But, how can this be applied to marketing? You could try out using language that emphasises the pain points of a customer rather than the benefits. All too often, especially in the world of B2B technology marketing, tech products or services are marketed to customers by relaying a long list of benefits. Why not try something different? Why not use messaging that focuses on your customers pain points and highlight how your product can help avoid the pain.

Decision Paralysis

People often find it hard to make buying decisions. The theory of decision paralysis explains why – when we are confronted by too many choices, our brains fall prey to overthinking and freeze into inaction or a state of choice-making paralysis.

In one famous experiment, test subjects were asked to pick a favourite jam. One group were made to choose between 24 different jams and they found it difficult to pick. The other group which was presented with less choice (6 jams) found it easy to pick their favourite.

The lesson to be learnt from this is that too much choice can spoil what you have to offer. This is especially the case for technology companies. Many managed or professional IT service companies have a wide range of offerings. Many choose to present these as a long and often complicated list for the customer, which is not only confusing but will bring about this state of decision paralysis. Finding a way to de-clutter the list of services you provide or grouping your offering into easier to digest chunks will get you better results. 

Get inside your customers’ heads

There’s a lot to learn from neuromarketing. Any further insight into your customers can help you ascertain how best to market to them. And, although, it seems unlikely that you can afford to set up your own fMRI or EEG tests, you can keep on track of the latest findings in the neuromarketing field and utilise these in your marketing efforts.

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