Neuromarketing explained [key concepts and recommendations]

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Neuromarketing explained: By applying neuroscience-based principles, you’ll be able to create marketing messaging and visuals that better connect with your target audience

As the name suggests, neuromarketing means the application of brain-based research to the discipline of marketing in general and digital marketing in particular. It involves the use of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), the measurement of brain electrical activity, or other technologies used to measure people’s responses to marketing creativity, such as copywriting, product descriptions, pricing, packaging, and advertising.

For example, researchers may find that a particular stimulus causes a response in the brains of test subjects that’s correlated with a desired behavior (e.g. the release of a ‘feel good’ hormone). Obviously, as a marketer, you’d want to know these cause-effect relationships so that you can apply the principles to your creative, and thereby drive improvements to your key conversion metrics.

While neuroscience has been around for decades, it has only been applied to marketing since the mid-2000s. Here’s how we transitioned from ‘user-centered’ to ‘brain-centered’ design.

From emotional design to neuromarketing explained

Donald Norman, director of the Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego, in his 2003 book Emotional Design, triggered the digital design community to move beyond traditional usability and towards persuasive, motivational design. He described how humans interact with interfaces on three levels: behavioral (interactions), visceral (‘gut’ reaction), and reflective (‘looking back’ reaction), and how these impressions affect our motivation to interact with brands in a shopping context.

Next, Robert Cialdini shared, in his great book Influence, the several psychology-based principles of persuasion, which include things like reciprocation, social proof, liking, and scarcity. Lieberman’s book Social took this discussion to the next level by demonstrating how deeply social interactions drive our behavior. Then came writings from neuro-based thought leaders including Jonah Lehrer (How We Decide), Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational), Renvoise (Neuromarketing) and Martin Lindstrom (Buyology). They shared many studies that proved how we humans make most of our decisions based on instinct rather than rationality.

However, it’s the work of Nobel Prize-winning Princeton economist Daniel Kahneman, as documented in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, that’s most interesting and actionable to marketers. By bridging psychology and economics, Kahneman’s work systematically integrates these two worlds, and thereby unlocks the secrets to human decision making. Since this framework is ‘core knowledge’ for a discussion of neuromarketing, allow me to take a brief aside into brain science.

Our three brain parts

Neuromarketing explained

As shown above, our brains have three main parts, which are:

  • Our instinctive brain, also known as the ‘old brain’
  • Our feeling brain, also known as the ‘mid-brain’
  • Our evolved brain, also known as the ‘new brain’, or ‘neo-cortex’

Our instinctive brain makes decisions instantly based on the four Fs: fight, flight, food or f*&k; these instincts are directly tied to our pleasure and survival. This area of the brain also regulates our automatic physiological functions like breathing and heartbeats.

Our feeling brain, mainly comprised of the amygdala and the hippocampus, serve as a ‘traffic cop’ between the old and new brain parts. Having evolved thousands of years ago, this region efficiently makes ‘snap’ decisions based on the hundreds of things we see and experience every day.

Our evolved brain is the ‘thinking’ part – it’s where our higher reasoning lives. If you’re doing the math to see if you can afford that new home, or reading this article, you’re using synapses and cells in this more highly evolved region.

Our two thinking systems

Neuromarketing explained

The core of Kahneman’s framework is the distinction between two systems of mental processes that drive our decisions and behavior. He calls these two systems ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’.

System 1 integrates perception and intuition. It’s always running ‘in the background’ of our brains. It’s super-fast, processes information in parallel is associative and slow learning. It was made for fast, automatic, intuitive actions without thinking. The most highly-skilled mental activities are based on System 1, such as a cardiologist interpreting an echocardiogram trace.

In contrast, System 2 is slow, works methodically and logically, and takes a lot of energy because it requires more effort. But this system allows us to make well-thought-out, deliberate decisions. It’s made for rational thinking.

The implication for you as a digital marketer is: by communicating in a way that evokes faster and intuitive System 1 responses, your designs and messaging can bypass your prospect’s slower and more judgmental System 2 thinking. This will enable you to drive more ‘impulse’ purchases which will, in turn, raise your top metrics revenue per visitor (RPV), average order value (AOV) and profit margins.

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