What Can Neuroscience Teach Us to Improve Marketing?


What goes on in a consumer’s mind? The answer to that question can have a strong impact on marketers. If we can understand why a consumer takes a specific action, we can help companies better position themselves to reach their desired outcome with the consumer.

Very few marketers would say that their profession is “brain surgery.” But looking at discoveries and ideas in neuroscience can help better understand the human mind.

That means being better able to persuade consumers to take interest in your brand.

According to leading neuroscientists, 95 percent of all thought, emotion, and learning occur before we are even aware of it.

In essence, human beings act in certain ways because they’re wired to do so. The mind’s cognitive biases and inclinations play a role in the marketing process. When it comes to buying behavior, here are some tips from the world of neuroscience that can help improve your marketing.

  1. The brain processes images faster than text.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

This isn’t news. And any marketer knows that images are one of their greatest marketing assets.

That’s because the brain processes visual content faster than text.

Successful marketers take advantage of this fact by amplifying their visual content. Powerful product images and graphically-driven websites tap into this neurological insight.

  1. Our minds associate the color blue with trust.

Designers will tell you that blue is a cool and soothing color. Neuroscience backs this up, as studies have found that our brains associate the color blue with those things that soothe us: trustworthiness; security; fiscal responsibility; and dependability.

Think of websites and brands you might use every day that lean heavily on blue in their design or logos. Facebook is one of them. Blue Cross Blue Shield is one of them.

Blue Cross Blue Shield

Visa, Microsoft, Boeing, GM, American Express, Web MD, Bankers Trust, and Bank of America are just a few of the many who lean into blue as a design choice.

An entire branch of psychology focuses solely on color and the emotions it stimulates.

As you begin selecting color for your marketing pieces, it’s important to remember that not all brains are the same. That means color doesn’t have a universal impact on all minds with culture and context being factors to consider.

  1. Utilizing the power behind words.

Marketers already know that words have a strong impact on an audience. But understanding why those words create those emotions gets into the world of neuroscience.

Some common examples include:

You – connects with customers because it is personal, people like seeing their own name.

Free – Testing shows people love free stuff so much it will influence their choices. Word of caution–use it only when it makes sense. Some free items will attract more people, but they may not be the right people. Free catalogs, information or courses can go a long way in attracting people interested in your product.

Because – According to psychologist Dr. Robert Cialdini, “A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have a reason for what they do.”

Instantly – Our brains have a trigger for immediate gratification. Reminding customers that someone will be in touch quickly, or that they will receive their product quickly, will go a long way.

New – This holds power in sales and marketing because people are curious about innovation. It is important to note that there are two tribes of people—those that don’t like routine and those that resist change. People that embrace change might camp out at the Apple store for the latest and greatest iPhone because they love new things. Then there are those that resist change, like the Coca-Cola loyalist that did not embrace the “New Coke” recipe. It is important to understand your customer and use those insights in determining how and when to introduce new products or services.

Words that build trust are especially important for influencing decisions by reducing anxiety on high-ticket items. A few trust-building words:

  • Authentic: Authenticity has a ring of truth and power.
  • Certified: Something that is “certified” has some level of endorsement, presumably by a neutral third-party.
  • Guaranteed:According to Kissmetrics, “60 percent of consumers feel at ease and are more likely to buy a product that has the word ‘guaranteed’ associated with it.”
  • Loyal: Loyalty is seen as a virtue and therefore something valued in a product or service.
  • Official: This word promotes buttoned-up processes and dependable people. If it’s official, it’s more likely to be trusted.
  1. Once a brain says “yes,” it is more likely to do so again.

One “yes” leads to another “yes.”

Neuroscientists find that getting an agreement to an initial or “smaller” request will have a cumulative impact on future requests, even those that would’ve been seen as too much of a commitment previously. The small yes creates a bond with the requester and affinity for future yeses.

If you can get a customer to say “yes” to a small request, such as an email sign up, then you can probably get him or her to say yes again—perhaps to a trial or product purchase.

  1. The first number seen will affect the customer’s evaluation of the price.

Anchoring bias in decision making is when people rely on the first piece of information that they see when faced with a decision.

If a customer sees the price of a new grill for $699 their mind will associate that number as the price of grills. When they later see a similar grill priced at $479, they feel like they are getting a good deal.

According to psychologist Daniel Kahneman, “If you can walk into a negotiation and be the first one to say a number or offer a price, you’ve gained an advantage. Likewise, if you can help the customer on your website to anchor [his or her] expectations on a certain price, you gain a powerful advantage.”

  1. Every decision is an emotional decision.

Some decision-makers like to think of themselves as rational, but neuroscience shows every decision is impacted by our emotions.

Humans makes decisions based on the input of various cognitive functions, with both rational and emotional factors coming into play during decision-making. Thoughts (motivation) and feelings (emotions) play a major role.


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  1. Invoke the reciprocation principle.

Reciprocation is another factor for marketers to consider. Researcher Robert Cialdini found that when someone did something for someone before asking for the same in return, that second person was more likely to reciprocate and that the favors didn’t even need to be equal in magnitude.

The Nielsen Company’s infamous marketing strategy of mailing a dollar bill when asking for their prospects’ time completing a survey offers a great example of this idea.

Timing on the favor is important – the moment immediately after a favor is granted is the most effective time to ask for one.

Wrap-up

Neuromarketing can benefit your business. The more you know about the mind, the better you will be able to market your business.

But it’s not psychology alone that can improve your marketing, it’s the specific psychology of your target audience. Every niche is different. Something that works for one group may backfire on the next.

Because of that, the best insights also come from your target audience. Research, learn, test and take action based on the results.


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