Are The Marketing Gurus And Branding Experts Peeping Into Your Brain?

If I could stack up all the items which were direct results of my impulse buying till now, it might be more than two-story high! But on that same thought, is there really any concept as “100% rational buy”?

Our purchase decisions are mostly never rational! Yes, you heard me right. No matter how much you try to focus on the points that you made to support your decision but deep down you always know, there is some other sub-conscious thought process or connection, that has driven your decision. Even Gerald Zaltman, Emeritus Professor at Harvard Business School also validated this by saying in an interview that more than 95% of our decisions are made by the subconscious – including purchase decisions.

But what if you could peep into that segment of your brain or subconscious that drives these decisions? Or think about what it would mean if you could explore the same for your customers?

Marketing has always been nothing less than a science that drives and influences human buying behavior. Whether it be the interactive ads and contests that keep you hooked to a brand, create a habit-forming pattern, and later influence your buying decision. Or the “limited” discount or sale season that made most of us fall for at least once in life. Marketing has always been about influencing consumer thought processes or hitting the consumer’s subconscious without much effort or their explicit knowledge.

But the concept of “neuromarketing” takes it to another level. In simple words, it is exploring the real science behind the ’marketing science’.

It is the proven scientific discoveries that explore the depth of one basic question “what drives a consumer’s behavior?” According to the Neuromarketing Science and Business Association, “Neuromarketing uses neuroscience to reveal subconscious consumer decision-making processes. Neuromarketers study brain- and biometric responses, as well as behavior, to understand and shape how consumers feel, think, and act.” It’s the process of rationalizing the consumer’s behavioral patterns towards certain stimuli of a brand or product that connects with their cognitive decision process and influences their actions. As found in one of the works of Nobel Laureate Francis Crick, who termed it the “astonishing hypothesis”, he formulated the idea that all human feelings, thoughts, and actions—even consciousness itself—are just effects of the brain’s neural activity. And, for marketers this becomes an exciting land of promise as the idea of neuromarketing can reduce the uncertainty and speculation that traditionally hamper their efforts to understand consumer behavior.

Many neuro marketers use medical technology like functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and EEG (electroencephalogram) to explore the depths of consumer behaviors by studying the human brain’s responses to marketing stimuli and exploring the parts of the brain which are involved in the decision making process. These research data then help the marketers in testing their marketing strategies and understand which particular element influences the necessary responses in the human brain and thereby explore more in-depth about the consumer preferences.

There are biometric sensor providers in the market as well who help brands in analyzing the brand’s or product’s physical aspects before they take any big production decisions, like in terms of creating visually appealing packaging. There are sensor providers who specialize in “eye tracking” technology which gives you a snapshot analysis of the customer’s “visual attention capture” towards your packaging designs. Most of the consumers today take more than 62% of their shopping decisions at a store, so grabbing the customer’s attention in a store filled with choices is a tough task for brands in the same segment. Enter, “eye tracking” technology to test out various packaging designs and select the best one that grabs the most “eyeballs” as they say it. These help brands to create visually appealing packaging designs that capture consumers’ attention and influence their buying patterns.

Traditional marketing research methods of focus group study or field surveys etc. might not always give you the perfect analysis of user preferences towards a brand/product as these interactions might be guided by not so honest reviews or answers from the audience. But the success rate of deciphering the effectiveness of marketing messages through neuromarketing is always many notches higher as it involves analysis of the brain or sensory responses of the human which can never deceive.

The concept of neuromarketing is not a new age theme but something that major brands have been using for over two decades now. Yes, it has evolved over the phases and has got more technology-oriented and more in-depth in today’s world.

Here’s my pick of the Top 5 brands that are taking this concept of neuromarketing to the next level

Starbucks tapping into the human trait of Reciprocity

It was almost a year before the viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that was drawn on the same lines of reciprocity, Starbucks’s special team of neuromarketers tapped into this human trait of reciprocity and started their “TweetaCoffee” campaign which eventually helped them reach $180,000 in sales.


The psychological trigger of giving back to someone who has done you a favor was at the core of this campaign as it allowed consumers to tag their friends whom they want to gift a coffee through their tweets. In return, the brand offered a free cup of coffee for the friend at any of their outlets.

More than 54,000 customers used the program and as a part of this, they had to link their Twitter accounts with the Starbucks platform, which in turn gave Starbucks a huge lead database. In terms of sales, almost 34% of users bought multiple gift cards for their friends and nearly 32% of the total purchases occurred on the first day itself. This skillful implementation of neuromarketing research helped them not only gain many leads and sales but also reach millions in terms of brand awareness and visibility. And this was a time (almost 7 years back) when a viral social media campaign was not an everyday affair, so you can understand how much the content reciprocated with the audience to give the brand $180,000 in sales from just this campaign alone.

IKEA’s way of neuromarketing to explore new business models, products, and brand positioning

Over the years the sustainable wing of IKEA has been coming up with the latest steps towards a more sustainable business model, introducing innovative products like the home solar offering that enables customers to generate their own renewable energy, or the shift to renewable plastics to say a few. In their latest commitment, this world’s biggest furniture retailer announced plans to use only renewable and recycled materials in its products by 2030.

But all this started with the power of neuromarketing and a group of executives at IKEA who began considering large-scale global challenges. Their disruptive ideas for taking IKEA towards being one of the pioneers in sustainable living and positioning as a highly sustainable focused company had challenged the existing business models of IKEA.

So Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy’s team at Neurons (one of the premier institutes specializing in neuroscience), was entrusted with the job of analyzing the potential opportunity and testing the sustainability-focused business models. High-resolution EEG headsets and eye trackers, were used to test the customer reactions at IKEA stores in Poland and Netherlands, to understand their reactions to new sustainable products before mass scale launch, like the new home solar offering that would enable customers to generate their own renewable energy. They analyzed and together with the team IKEA zeroed down on the business model structures that tested high in stimulating consumer purchase behavior. In three years they tripled their sales in just the sustainable products segment, signifying a high acceptance rate of their new business model.

Even their latest award-winning campaign, called “Steps” where they focused on the neuroscience research on consumer traits of “sustainability is not just about what you purchase” and the urge of the newer breed of consumers to be role models in the sustainability segment to their peers and community. They installed posters across the cities to showcase the direction to the nearest IKEA stores along with the “number of steps” to that store. Thereby, it showed the people the greener medium of reaching the store. So even today, their product positioning and company business models are defined on thorough neuromarketing research and they have been among the early adopters of this technique on a large scale.

Airbnb – Striking the right chords in everyone’s hearts

If neuromarketing is all about analyzing the behaviors of consumers and finding the right connection with them, then Airbnb is one of the masters in this. As they focus on one of the most important findings from neuromarketing i.e. “emotional connection can be your biggest driver for influencing consumers, sometimes even more than pricing or features”.

Airbnb releases a string of videos of Airbnb hosts or travelers from across the globe on their youtube channel called Airbnb Citizen. They define the channel as “a community of hosts, guests and other believers in the power of home sharing to help tackle economic, environmental and social challenges around the world.” These videos are about the personal connection with the stories that their potential customers have when they see them. From sharing their best Airbnb stories to their life-changing journeys to just simple fun-filled moments, these string of videos just play with the right balance of human emotions and provide the customers with the right stimuli for taking an action, like being part of their community, being part of something bigger. In all the videos the focus is always on the host or the guest and their story, while they subtly keep the brand’s life-altering values at the center of them.

When they entered New York City, this TV Commercial for Airbnb touched the hearts of many NewYorkers. It was a simple yet heart-warming story of an average New Yorker Carol and how Airbnb changed their lives and helped them out of a tough financial situation due to the loss of her previous job.

It not only connected with the average American population of New York but also made them believe in something bigger, a community that supports, something that every NewYorker wanted to believe in.

Not just that, they also skillfully tapped the raw emotions of solo travelers, the fear, the confusion, and the thrill in their video called “Never A Stranger” where they showcase a solo female traveler’s monologue to a stranger (Airbnb hosts in other cities across the globe) and how she overcame her fear, her societal concerns to be free and experience the world with her extended family of the hosts and their communities. It showcased her feeling of gratitude towards the hosts for sharing their world with her and making her feel at home. The ad had the right proportions of warmth, experiences, thrill, beautiful locations, and the community feeling that almost makes you feel like you belong there or you instantly connect with the narrator’s feelings. These are raw emotions that Airbnb has skillfully tapped into for years now and at the heart of it all has been the power of “neuromarketing”.

Pepsico Frito-Lay’s journey to guilt-free packaging with neuromarketing

Neuromarketing is not only just about advertising but can find its importance in the product packaging as well. Pepsico Frito-Lay has been changing its product packaging over the years but the most striking changes were drawn from neuroscience research. Sensory stimuli are connected and most of the time, it was found that having the image of the food item like potato chips on the packaging stimulated their taste senses as well, and hence created more impact in driving sales. Similarly, they discovered that shiny packages featuring images of potato chips activated the cingulate cortex, a brain area producing feelings of shame and guilt. However, matte packaging with the same pictures of potato chips didn’t activate the guilt or shame senses in the consumers. So they shifted their packaging to matte packets with potato chips images on the main area, this boosted their sales multifold.

They aced their packaging even more with the “Smile with Lays” edition in the recent years, where each packet was having a printed smile of a real consumer and this was connected to a social cause towards the brand making a donation on each purchase to Operation Smile, an international charity that helps young people who need surgery to correct cleft conditions. They even asked their consumers to go to their website and submit their smile photos for a custom-made packet.

So whether it be emotional connect or personalization or community building, they covered a lot of aspects of consumer connections through this packaging while still maintaining their previous decision of matte packet with the potato chips image on the front. All these were masterstrokes that still drive their sales multi-fold and the brand’s belief in neuromarketing was rightly paid off.

One of the pioneers of neuromarketing, Coca Cola – connecting with you emotionally

How many of you have felt thirsty after watching a Coca-Cola ad at the interval time in a movie theater? That pop sound of the opening of a Coca-Cola bottle’s cap, the fizz of the coke pouring over the glass filled with ice, hasn’t that for once made you thirsty? Well as the neuro research goes, it was aimed to do exactly that. Our sensory stimuli are all connected and the audio-visual senses of this ad were targeted toward driving the taste buds of viewers and hence, that thirst feeling.

You can never cover neuromarketing without the mention of one of the pioneers of this technology and its usage in stimulating its consumers. Coca-Cola as a brand has been using neuromarketing since the early ages when even the proper definition of this wasn’t available, i.e. as early as the 1990s. It’s said that it all started with their brand’s color “red” and its significance in the association of the brand with warmth and happiness or as some might say the connection of it with one old bearded guy in the red suit who drops by the chimneys for delivering gifts in the festive season. And it doesn’t stop there, their product packaging changes over the years or product taste variations, and even their taglines, all were guided by neuromarketing research.

They have been acing this for a long time, whether it be striking the personalization stimuli of consumers with the 2012 “Tweet Your Wish” campaign, where they made their audience’s Christmas time, extra special, by giving them a chance to have their tweets displayed on its enormous neon sign in Piccadilly Circus, London in real-time, and people can see the live stream of it from their home as well.

Or be it satisfying the human need for connections by creating a platform for increased interactions, ice-breaking amongst strangers, and community building with campaigns like “Open a coke. Open a friendship.” They designed the coke bottles in such a way that each consumer had to find a fellow coke bottle owner, join their caps together, and open both bottles. This was an instant hit at college campuses and soon their sales amongst teens increased multi-fold.

Their implementation of neuromarketing in their campaigns, ads or products has enormous examples and can be various case studies for the market to understand the implications of this technique even further.

Neuromarketing is a vast area covering the most important psychological traits that drive consumers across the globe from the nostalgia factor to creating necessity out of exclusivity (limited edition offers) or targeting the fear of losing out on offers among consumers and many more. Brands across the globe have been utilizing them quite efficiently in connecting with the psychological traits of their target audience. As the future goes towards a more digital structure, we will see advances in this segment even more, with features like augmented technology or AR-VR technologies and even blockchains coming into this segment for making marketing campaigns more appealing to the subconscious of the consumers.

So what do you feel drives your buying decision as a consumer? And how will the neuromarketing channels help your brand in the future? Let’s discuss.

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