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What is neuromarketing?

Relevant topics Neuromarketing Fundamentals, Archive

Chances are you’ve come across the term neuromarketing many times by now. Maybe you heard about people conducting research to analyze what makes an advertisement successful, or that some companies like to use techniques to make you subconsciously buy a bunch of things you don’t need.

Let’s take some time to focus on what neuromarketing really is, how it’s used by companies, and the impact it has on the field of marketing. Neuromarketing as a term was first introduced in 2002, but interest in the human brain for marketing purposes was already present in 1900.

It was around this time that researchers working for companies like Coca Cola investigated neural activity and analyzed brain scans when consumers viewed advertisements or interacted with products.

The promise of having a look inside people’s brain to see what makes them buy was, and still is, a highly desired prospect for researchers and marketers alike. But what is neuromarketing exactly?

How neuromarketing works

As it’s a broad field of science, neuromarketing doesn’t ‘work’ one certain way. Rather, it’s about both understanding how a consumer’s mind works, and learning to act on that. The field of neuromarketing aims to bring the field of neuroscience, psychology and marketing together. It stands at the cutting edge where marketing meets science.

But the minds of consumers work in complicated ways, and how they work is often not a matter of ‘how’ but ‘under what specific conditions’. Simply put; there is science behind what people do and think and neuromarketers aim to know how to use this to their advantage.

But to do use neuromarketing effectively, marketers need either knowledge about these things, or the ability to gather this knowledge themselves. Luckily for most neuromarketers, they don’t have to be fully tied to the latter option.

Neuromarketing research techniques

Neuromarketing research techniques vary greatly, but they all focus on understanding the same thing: how our mind works. There are contemporary means to gather neuromarketing data like neuroimaging methods (EEG scans, fMRI scans), eye tracking or more psychological techniques like facial coding.

EEG and FMRI scans measure brain activity and can be used to actually peek into the consumer’s brain when viewing or using certain products. Eye Tracking is used to track consumers gaze and see what gets their attention, and facial coding can measure consumers’ emotional responses that surface on the face.

Note that a great benefit of all of these measures is the fact that consumers don’t have to try and verbalize answers; and neither can they lie about them.

As the field of neuromarketing grows, more and more academic research is conducted on consumer choices, decision processes and much more. This information is generally available to the neuromarketers through access in journals.

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From research to practical marketing

The key process of neuromarketing is translating the results of such research articles into actionable insights. By doing this, neuromarketers can better understand consumer behavior and adjust marketing accordingly. Of course, most neuromarketers also conduct some of the research themselves.

Let’s say a company wants to launch a new product. To do this, questions about things like the packaging and a marketing campaign arise.
While some of these questions can be answered by traditional marketing research, say using a survey, it can be more effective to measure what people truly think and feel, without asking them.

While the consumer is shown a bunch of different packages, researchers could choose to measure their brain activity and see whether they get excited or not. Maybe they will use eye tracking to study which parts of the product got them the most excited or not. This is but one application of neuromarketing, but as you can imagine, the possibilities are endless.

How do companies use neuromarketing?

Neuromarketing insights can be applied to a broad range of contexts. Either in stores or online; in restaurants and in television commercials. In the purest sense, ‘doing’ neuromarketing would mean conducting research into how the consumer’s neurological system responds to marketing stimuli.

In a broader sense, it means applying evidence-based insights from all branches of research relevant for consumer behavior.
Besides conducting some research of their own, as mentioned earlier, companies using neuromarketing insights as a strategy can do so in many other ways.

For example, a retail store might take advantage of previous research on consumer behavior by not making use of vertical signage; since it has shown to be displeasing for shopping consumers.

A restaurant might choose to promote healthy items on the left side of its menu, since research has shown that people choose these items more easily when they are on the left. Or maybe they decide to use smells to trigger certain memory effects within their guests.

In addition to the usage of sensory marketing such as scent, touch and sounds and color, which are more biological factors, there are other uses of neuromarketing that focus more on psychological factors. For example, the strategic use of relatable models in commercials instead of famous celebrities is in some contexts a smart thing to do.

The list of examples goes on and on. To stay on top of the latest neuromarketing insights, be sure to subscribe to New Neuromarketing.

How neuromarketing has changed marketing

The footprint that neuromarketing has left on the field of marketing as a whole is undeniable. As many success stories have sprouted from the strategic use of neuromarketing, more and more companies are starting to see the benefits of using neuromarketing techniques. But there are those that are more skeptical.

This criticism is not new. Since the early years of neuromarketing, people feared corporate power and control of consumers without their consent. Of course, having a look inside consumers’ brain to see how marketers can make you buy until you’re broke seems quite scary.

And while it’s true that neuromarketing could potentially cause unwanted and unethical influence on consumers, it actually influences consumers in a way no different than regular marketing.

Many forms of traditional advertising and marketing have been used with the purpose of bypassing rational decision processes and hitting the ‘buying buttons’ of the brain. Mostly, they are certainly meant to be just as persuasive as neuromarketing techniques.

While neuromarketing does make this process more accurate and reliable, it does not transform consumers into mindless zombies buying everything they come across.

Nonetheless, it has made people realize there are certain ethical aspects that should be considered. Issues with the ethical aspect of neuromarketing should be just as much applied to conventional forms of marketing. The question what makes marketing ethical should get as much attention as what makes it effective.


Further Reading

  • 5 Neuromarketing techniques every marketeer should know about

    In modern day neuroscience, it’s easy to get confused over all the different neuromarketing techniques out there. While virtually all of the techniques used in the field can be valuable to marketing, it’s good to understand the difference between them and how they work.

    In this article, we’ll have a closer look at five regularly used neuromarketing techniques to see how they work and in what kind of context it’s most suited: eye tracking, brain imaging (EEG and fMRI), facial encoding, sensory marketing and psychological techniques.

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