Tracking neural signals, measuring pupil dilation, and assessing respiration rates among consumers. On the face of it, methods used in studying the effects of marketing on people’s brain activity might look like a sinister practice, however, when used ethically and efficiently by marketers, neuromarketing is quite the opposite, and can personalize and enhance the customer experience.
By definition, neuromarketing is the merging of neuroscience and marketing to predict and influence consumer behavior. According to the US National Library of Medicine, neuromarketing techniques and tools identify advertising components that trigger positive and negative feelings towards products and brands. These techniques take various forms and, when implemented, can produce invaluable insights for companies to develop marketing strategies, design packaging, and tweak and refine products so that consumers get exactly what they want.
Today, marketing and design professionals embrace neuromarketing not only as a means to understand what makes their customers tick, but to truly impact their shopping behavior.
How neuromarketing helps you tap into your customers’ emotions
If you’re venturing into the world of neuromarketing, consider some of the following tactics to include in your clients’ marketing strategies and understand how each one will add value for their customers.
Eye-tracking technology measures visual focal points and excitement correlated with pupil dilation, revealing a consumer’s emotional response to marketing and advertising campaigns. Eye-tracker systems can include software like heat maps and gaze plots, and the data it produces can help improve campaigns and brand assets such as website design, creative advertising, and product packaging.
Consumer healthcare company GSK goes all-in on this technology. In its London-based Shopper Science Lab, researchers monitor shoppers with eye-tracking technology while they interact with products in a simulated shopping experience. It analyzes extended fixation (viewing an item for longer than usual) and repeated fixation (reading or viewing an item more than once) to evaluate branding qualities like product description readability and packaging focal points.
Similarly, beauty brand Smashbox utilizes a lower-maintenance digital eye-tracking application to detect which products users direct their attention towards and gauge the effectiveness of CTA placements. The app, which taps ModiFace’s augmented reality app, MAKEUP, can help online stores and businesses create more impactful and higher-converting web pages.
2. Color usage
Consumers make a subconscious judgment about products “within 90 seconds of initial viewing and that between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on color alone,” according to research by Colorcom,
In his TEDx talk on neuromarketing, Terry Wu explains that Google tested over 50 shades of blue text to see if it affected clicks as part of its research into user engagement with Google ad links. Its subsequent change in text color to a purplish shade of blue resulted in an additional $200 million in revenue.
Not a bad return for a simple neuromarketing tactic. It’s a lesson for agencies developing websites for clients to think about color schemes and the shades used in CTA buttons.
3. Emotion response analysis
Facial coding uses webcam technology to analyze consumers’ facial expressions, measuring their emotional response to content and branding. Using data that detects key emotions such as anger, contempt, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise, marketers can tweak campaigns to achieve their desired results.
One company using emotion response technology as part of its marketing strategy is packaged goods giant Mars. The company uses its Agile Creative Expertise (ACE) to analyze viewer reaction to video content – anything from short online adverts and social media stories to longer-form TV commercials. The results have helped the company understand the content that resonates with consumers in an attention-strapped world.
Facial recognition software and emotion response analysis have also become widely used in the world of UX, helping developers determine people's emotions as they navigate a website or app. It can produce valuable results when testing websites and producing user journey maps for your clients.
4. Psychological triggers
Psychological triggers that create an emotional response are cost-effective neuromarketing methods that influence consumer decision-making. One of the most powerful methods is social proof – the idea that people will conform to be liked by, associated with, or accepted by an influencer or society.
According to a Frontiers in Psychology study, neuromarketing has “demonstrated the relevance of the so-called social influence in social networks: users tend to imitate the behaviors of others.” Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is one psychological trigger closely related to social proof.
A simple but potent way for an agency or brand to trigger some of these emotions is to demonstrate high demand for its products or services. For example, San Francisco-based digital design agency Clay has a dedicated page showcasing its impressive client list. The message is simple: Who wouldn’t want to work with an agency boasting clients like Facebook, Google, Slack, and Amazon? Below its list of clients is a carousel of glowing testimonials – the social proof, FOMO-inducing cherry on top.
5. Brain imaging
Brain imaging technology represents the biggest – and most expensive – advancements in neuromarketing. It's a process whereby a consumer's neural activity is scanned the moment they are exposed to a product or marketing material. The primary tools used to conduct this research are Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Electroencephalography (EEG), with functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) representing a more mobile and affordable offering.
This technology allows companies to gain an accurate, scientific response to products, concepts, and services – the kind that consumers can’t always effectively communicate. Harvard Business Review cites examples of predictions made using brain image technology. In 2012, an Emory University study found that “activity in a specific brain area, measured by fMRI while people were listening to music, significantly correlated with a song’s future popularity as measured by sales data three years later”.
Meanwhile, in a Northwestern study, two neuroscientists used EEG readings of test audiences viewing movie trailers to predict future box office success. Their method predicted sales with 20% higher accuracy compared to traditional methods like focus groups.
Make neuromarketing work for you
While all of these neuromarketing tactics might not be readily available to marketing professionals and agencies, as technology advances, software in the field is becoming much more accessible. That means you don’t have to be Google or Disney to get in on the neuromarketing act.
What is important is that you utilize the tools that are right for you, that the technology and research are used ethically, and that, ultimately, the customer will benefit. As Sam Usher recommends in his TEDx talk, the use of neuromarketing should be limited to consumer brands and products, “not on political campaigns, not on controversial topics, not on voting matters, and definitely not on propaganda.”
So consider which neuromarketing tactic might better inform your marketing strategy and test the water. Whether or not you make an additional $200 million like Google depends on where you take it, but, at the very least, it will help you get inside the minds of your customers.