Marketing to 95% of the Brain

I just finished reading Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing, an interesting book by Roger Dooley, who has written the  Neuromarketing blog since 2005.  The book explains how to apply neuroscience and behavior research to market more effectively to consumers.

Neuromarketing uses technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (EEG), steady state topography (SST) and/or sensors that measure changes in a person’s physiological state (heart rate, respiratory rate, galvanic skin response) to learn why consumers make the decisions they do, and what part of the brain is telling them to do it.

Marketing has long used a stimulus-response model to show how people respond to different stimuli.  But neuromarketing examines what happens in our brains and other parts of our body to explain why we respond to stimuli.

In the book, Dooley says he prefers “a broadly inclusive definition of neuromarketing that includes behavioral research and behavior-based strategies.  Neuromarketing is all about understanding how our brains work, regardless of the science used, and employing that understanding to improve both our marketing and products.”  The central premise: The vast majority (Dooley pegs it at 95%) of thoughts, emotions and learning occur before we are aware of it, but most marketing efforts are focused on the rational, conscious mind.

Brainfluence looks at numerous studies related to areas of branding and marketing including price, product, promotion, consumer preferences, shopper experiences, media, etc.  From  the research findings Dooley extrapolates how marketers might use the findings in their work.

In some cases, the recommendations are well known but the reasoning has been turned on its head.  For example, everyone knows you should price a product at $499, not $500.  The conventional thinking is that the consumer would believe the $499 price was substantially lower than $500.  However, Dooley cites a study conducted by marketing professors at the University of Florida that indicates that the $499 price is preferred by consumers because it seems more precise.  Another study on real estate showed that oddly priced houses ($494,500) sold at a price closer to the asking price than houses priced at rounded numbers ($500,000).  So regardless of whether your product is priced below ten dollars or in the hundreds of thousands, Dooley recommends you use precise pricing.

Like all research, there is a conundrum posed by Dooley’s book: Research conducted in the lab is artificial under the best circumstances.  In trying to control all the variables, you create an environment that is not like the real world where variables are changing all the time.  For the few studies Dooley cites that are more realistic it is unclear what other variations took place that impacted the results.

The book also raises the issue of whether it is manipulative to market to the subconscious mind.  Dooley’s take is neuromarketing can result in better products, more effective marketing and happier customers.  He acknowledges it can be misused but claims any marketing technique can be misused.   If nothing else, people concerned about being manipulated should read this book to see how companies market to their subconscious mind so they are not as susceptible to these techniques.

Dooley cites numerous neuromarketing studies that would be difficult to track down on your own, he teases out the salient findings and he shows how they could be applied to branding and marketing.  But in the end, Dooley’s suggestions are just that: Suggestions.  And sometimes one suggestion seems to conflict with another (people like the familiarity of well-known brands but they also like surprises).  You need to decide which ideas to apply to your marketing and how you would apply them.  This is the key role of the marketer.  If you apply any of Dooley’s suggestions, test them in sample groups to see how the idea works compared to other marketing techniques you are using.  You don’t want to bet the farm on an idea that seemed reasonable from the research but was not practical in real life.

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