Insights from “The Buying Brain: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind” (Book Review)
The five major areas of neuromarketing practice at Nielsen NeuroFocus are brands, products, packaging, advertising and in-store marketing. NeuroFocus has developed three primary NeuroMetrics (they measure measure Attention, Emotional Engagement, and Memory), three derived NeuroMetrics (Purchase Intent / Persuasion, Novelty, and Awareness / Understanding / Comprehension), and one summary NeuroMetric (Effectiveness). Another more general methodology that they use is called Deep Subconscious Response (DSR).
These are the foundational elements underlying the work and insights that Dr. Pradeep shares in his book: The Buying Brain: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2010). The 252 pages are structured in 2 parts (Introducing the Buying Brain and Engaging the Buying Brain) and 18 chapters with insights backed by neuroscience research conducted at NeuroFocus.
Dr. A. K. Pradeep gives an interesting definition to neuromarketing: “Neuromarketing is to marketing as the Hubble telescope is to astronomy: a quantum leap forward toward far greater knowlege and insights attained with scientific precision and certainty.” He says that if we want the best data, the best solution is to ask the brain for it, as consumer’s subconscious is the ultimate arbiter of product selection and purchase.
The author states from the beginning that an 80% failure rate of new products in the market place give us evidence that if we only listen to people’s articulated reports of what they like and don’t like, we may well be led astray. Advertisers need to uncover the key emotional triggers their product inspires and pinpoint them in their message. As much attention is being paid to the advances that neuromarketing is making in today’s marketplace, Dr. Pradeep explains this marriage of science and marketing. The basic lesson is that human brain process much of their sensory input subconsciously. He also gives details on the cortical geography, as this is the base of neuromarketing and as the author considers, “the brain is really an incredibly complex and interwoven series of neural networks”. So combining neuroscience with digital technology, neuromarketing seems to perfectly cover the challenges of traditional market research methodologies.
As the subtitle states (“secrets for selling to the subconscious mind”), The Buying Brain is full of insights, so I will highlight below some of them:
- The brain can’t ignore:
- novelty (the single most effective factor in effectively capturing its precious attention);
- eye contact (particularly important to a social species such as ours; activating challenge or empathy, depending on its depiction, displaying eyes is a certain way to gain the brain’s attention);
- pleasure/reward images (they are irresistible to our brains; the trick is to find out exactly what those are, and exactly the best ways to present them to each consumer group).
- Be interesting. The brain loves puzzles and humor.
- The “ease of processing” of your message is very important to the brain. A complicated ad that requires cognitive resources will likely be ignored by the brain. So as you (all advertisers) balance the complexity of an ad with the ease of processing, lean toward ease.
- When dealing with products or messages that have an indispensable place in consumer’s lives, provide clutter-free, clear, accurate directions for finding and obtaining the goal. In advertising, packaging, and in-store merchandising, use active, direct verbs and dominant imagery to tell the brain “What you need is here”.
- Sensory integration creates a richer degree of engagement with the consumer if you activate multiple senses that are synergistic/make sense together.The book explores each of the body’s five senses to learn how best to use them to invite the Buying Brain in:
- About 70% of the body’s sense receptors are in our eyes, so we understand our world mainly by looking at it. Interestingly, vision does not happen in the eyes, but in the brain. As for the visual elements, you should emphasize clean, clear lines delivered at eye-level. Use the “cathedral effect”: when entering a cathedral, our eyes are drawn upward within the structure; for signage, outdoor and print ads, place the object of interest at the top of the ad. Also, use puzzles that are easily solved to draw in and delight the brain.
- Although 1% of the brain is devoted to the smell, our olfactory bulbs are, in fact, part of our limbic system (the deepest, most primitive part of our brains), and stimulate vivid recollections. They are separated by only two synapses from the amygdala (the seat of memory and emotion), and six synapses from the hippocampus (the brain organ responsible for storing memories). So smell is the most direct route to our emotions and memory storage. Carefully consider and create the scent that will be forever linked to your offering. Although different, smell and taste share a common goal and often operate in synchrony.
- What we hear is specialized and tuned to what interests us. The Buying Brain will easily ignore distracting or disturbing noises (along with any messages that accompany them).
- Taste stimulation is one of the senses most easily set off by the Mirror Neuron system, as it is one of the brain’s great pleasures. Anytime you display an appetizing product, be sure the consumer can see it being enjoyed by another. This is the key to stimulating desire, and, most importantly, to moving to purchase (as this involves the mirror neurons).
- As for the touch, the most sensitive areas of your body are your hands, lips, face, neck, tongue, fingertips, and feet. So products that touch those areas should be sensual, pleasant, soothing, and inviting.
- Old Brain vs. Young Brain. The amygdala (the brain area devoted to primal emotions like fear, anger, and happiness) in young people becomes active when they view both positive and negative stimuli. New studies report that the amygdala in older people is active only when they view positive images. They’ve learned to overlook the negative, at least when it’s not impacting them directly. On the flip side of this positive bias is an interesting quirk of the aging brain – a tendency to overlook the negative. It’s called “preferential processing,” and several studies have highlighted it. They indicate that, when presented with a negative message (as you might find on a warning label or some ad messaging), older brains can “delete” the NOT and remember it as a DO over time. So, “do not take with juice” might be recalled as “take with juice” after several repetitions, even if those repetitions are processed with relatively high attention. So craft messages for older brains in positive, not negative terms (say “remember” the brand, not “don’t forget” it). Another memory deficit that comes with aging is the tendency to consider familiar information to be true information. The way the brain interprets familiar information is, “I’ve heard that before; so it’s likely to be true.” On the other hand, we develop the frontal lobe well into our 20s, and frontal lobe development enables contextual processing. So, because teenagers and young adults’ brains are still developing until their 20s, greater care must be taken to develop brands and brand messaging that take that malleable state of mind into full consideration.
- Comparing the typical male brain to the typical female brain, she has four times as many neurons connecting the right and the left brain (collectively, they’re called the corpus collosum). This superior connection between the two hemispheres makes the female brain the most highly-attuned multitasker of all time. She accesses both sides of her brain quickly and easily, moving with remarkable dexterity between analytical and emotional processing. Emotional memories are paramount in her decision making and in her relationships. Because women remember stressful and negative experiences more than men do, do not disappoint or disillusion her. The female brain is designed to multitask. She will pay attention to information that helps make her job easier, and to material that celebrates her individuality and her mastery over the many critically important “little things” she gets done. Very recent studies show that females have a much larger and more integrated Mirror Neuron system. These special neurons allow her to excel at what’s called the gift of putting oneself in another’s shoes. Women also feel events that happen to others as if they were happening to them. Men have highly functioning Mirror Neuron systems also, they just focus more on repeating an action observed. Her larger, more connected Mirror Neuron system also gives women superior recall of emotional events, partly because their amygdales are more easily activated by emotional nuance, which in turn leads to far greater memory encoding by the hippocampus. As Dr. Pradeep says, the short story is: Tell stories to your female consumers. Don’t be terse. While men appreciate “just do it,” women appreciate the story of an athlete and how she came to get “it” done. Also, use emotions to reach out to consumers, especially women, and provide networking opportunities through your brand, product or environment for female consumers. NeuroFocus performed many tests and noticed distinct gender differences across the studies.
- In neurological testing for insurance, they found that women reacted much more strongly than men to the character of the spokesperson, while men reacted to the price.
- In lighthearted ads for snack foods, men reacted to slapstick humor, while women ignored it.
- In automotive ads, men were all about the performance and women were interested in storage capacity and safety factors.
- The Mommy Brain. Neuromarketing studies that NeuroFocus performed for baby care products websites report that visuals should be reoriented so that images are on the left, and semantics on the right; the number of placements of the logo on individual pages should be reduced, key graphics should be replaced with imagery that includs pop-outs; feature mothers using the product and sharing the experience, support networking. Around the world there are aprox. two billion mothers. They are 80% more likely to buy a product from a company that recognizes the multiple roles she plays in her life. Emphasize safety in a positive emotional context, not through fear tactics. Their instincts border on the supernatural. Be honest, humble, authentic, and direct in your every communication with her. That’s the only way to win a position in her active, multitasking brain.
- The Emphatic Brain. Activating the Mirror Neuron System is one of the most effective ways to connect with your consumer, offering them the chances to see and feel things as others experience them. Show products being consumed. Mirror Neurons operate in your subconscious. They absorb the culture, experiences, feelings, and actions of those around you – and you are changed. At the same time, your actions and emotions feed and change those around you – and they, too, are changed.
- Why products fail. The six reasons products fail (as NeuroFocusencountered using neuroscientific analysis) are:
- the concepts were chosen based on articulated intent rather than consumers’ deep subconscious responses
- the appropriate trade-off between novelty and purchase intent was not made.
- the deep emotional benefits of the product were not successfully articulated through the campaign
- the loss of concept innovation in the process through to execution
- product features and packaging did not present a substantive competitive barrier, which in turn, enabled launch of competitive products
- the product or service was emotionally disconnected from the brand.
- Patterns of eye movement. Placing imagery, iconography, semantics, and branding elements in a pattern that naturally facilitates a curvilinear eye gaze path is superior to those that are strictly linear across the package.
- Product reveal. Packages that reveal (sight, sound, taste, smell, or touch) the actual product perform better than packages that do not reveal the product. Packages that enable a sensory interaction with the actual product performed better uniformly in NeuroFocus studies.
- Humans engage with the shopping experience in seven dimensions: information, environment, entertainment, education, simplicity, self worth / social worth, and community. These are all critical for a superior shopping experience.
- Screens and Social Media. Dr. Pradeep gives some advices based on his research: Use traditional TV for more emotion-based messaging. Mobile and Internet platforms are well-suited for fact-based messaging. Faces are fundamental—but they’re not nearly as effective on small screens. Mobile platforms are particularly suitable for new product launches.
This was a great read, and I recommend it to anyone passionate about neuromarketing (and marketing) or interested in neuromarketing research. The Buying Brain explores many areas that use neuromarketing and provides examples from research conducted by NeuroFocus.