Traditional metrics (like clicks, shares, and scroll times) can tell you a lot about campaign performance, but they can’t measure how customers feel about your brand. That’s where neuromarketing comes in. As a supplement to more standard marketing performance metrics, neuromarketing can help you analyze the emotional response to your campaigns.
Neuromarketing tells us what colors, pictures, music, or messages resonate the most with audiences. Your team can use this data to identify customers’ ad preferences.
Take a deep dive into how neuromarketing works for popular brands.
Let’s turn to P&G for a real-world example of neuromarketing at work.
In partnership with marketing firm Dentsu Data Labs, P&G designed an experiment to find mobile ads that emotionally resonated with their audience. During testing, the company worked with Sticky, a webcam eye-tracking tool by Tobii Pro, to measure engagement of on-the-go users.
What they found was intriguing — the time spent watching video ads on social media was not equal to the time they spent focusing on the ads. Social platforms’ impressions and watch rates did not correlate with real customers’ engagement.
Moreover, Sticky detected which video ad details triggered a desire to interact with the brand. Eye tracking data became actionable insights, highlighting content P&G should change to retain audience attention.
The big takeaway: Knowing what the brain actually resonates with is more important than knowing what people say they like or how much time they spend watching ads.
To grab your customer’s attention, make them feel something and compel them to act. Marketers need to focus more on neuroscience and less on web metrics and in-person interviews.
Neuromarketing research commonly uses either brain-scanning technology or physiological measurements to assess consumers’ subconscious preferences. This can help inform advertising, product development, or marketing materials.
Neuromarketing is typically done through brain scanning — either with fMRI or EEG technology — or physiological tracking, including eye movement measurements, facial coding, or body temperature and heart rate measurements.
fMRI and EEG technology have different strengths.
“Normally we use EEG to measure dynamic stimuli, like video, TV shows, commercials, online user experience. In such cases, it is interesting to see the brain responding moment-to-moment,” Dr. Roeland Dietvorst, Lead Behavioral Scientist at NN Investment Partners, told the Neuromarketing Science and Business Association. “We use fMRI mainly for static stimuli, like packaging design, campaign slogans, pay-offs, outdoor messaging.”
Measuring physiological tracking is typically much easier to do. Many tools are available in the marketplace, including FaceReader by Noldus, which measures facial expressions, or the eye-tracking software mentioned above.
However, even though leveraging neuroscience to inform your marketing strategy is an exciting opportunity, the tactic still seems more suited for a time when Black Mirror storylines are a reality.
In fact, people often ask, “Is neuromarketing even ethical?”
Below, let’s dive into that question.
While neuromarketing aims to determine how consumers respond to brands or campaigns – a rather innocuous study – not everyone is convinced that it’s ethical.
The book “Towards Ethical Neuromarketing 2.0 Based on Artificial Intelligence” addresses ethical issues such as, “Will algorithms predict future behavior?” and “Is neuromarketing immoral?”
In and of itself, neuromarketing isn’t unethical. However, companies must hold themselves to a high standard of ethics when studying their consumers.
For instance, brands shouldn’t intentionally promote anything harmful, deceptive, or illegal. Additionally, you shouldn’t study minors to figure out how to get them hooked on a product.
Neuromarketing should be used to create effective ads and eliminate ads that just don’t work, and that’s all.
The main ethical questioning has more to do with your product or service and less with how you market it. If you’re ever in doubt, ask yourself if the product or service is good for the customer.
In actuality, neuromarketing has already permeated the content space.
Advertising agency BBDO collaborates with Immersion to use smartwatch biometrics — including heart rate — to predict the success of their ads. One of Immersion’s studies correctly identified which BBDO’s ad would produce the largest sales bumps with an impressive 83% accuracy.
To help you envision a world where neuromarketing is widespread, here are eight practical ways you can refine your marketing efforts with the help of neuroscience
1. Brands can tell more compelling stories.
In 2019, Renault released the newest version of their CLIO hatchbacks. To celebrate, the company released a commercial to highlight the car’s 30 years in development. The ad followed the love story of a lesbian couple that also took place over 30 years.
The world split into two camps. Haters were sure that the couple’s story had nothing to do with Renault as a brand. Other marketers praised the campaign for its boldness, originality, and the strong emotions evoked.
Neuromarketing settled the argument. The video ad reached very high likeability and brand recognition compared to other commercials, according to Alpha.One’s EEG and eye-tracking study.
“From 31 participants in our EEG and Eye-tracking study who viewed the commercial in a large reel of other commercials, 30 correctly identified the commercial as belonging to Renault,“ wrote Dietvorst on LinkedIn.
The audience’s emotional response peaked when the couple expressed happiness and affection. They developed compassion, becoming invested in love story’s ups and downs.
The audience’s emotional response to this ad suggests that telling great stories — chock-full of conflict, surprise, and emotion — triggers the release of oxytocin, the empathy chemical. You emotionally engage your audience and, ultimately, make them care about your brand.
Pro tip: When creating ad copy, develop stories about overcoming adversity and how that journey changes people to trigger an emotional response.
2. Businesses can focus on ads that boost sales.
Bolletje, a food company that makes healthy cereal, created two TV ads promoting the same product to the same audience. Yet, two campaigns brought drastically different results — one generating 250% higher sales.
The company sent questionnaires about both campaigns to figure out why the skinny jeans ad led to more sales. Surprisingly, the result showed almost identical numbers of likeability, brand recognition, and overall grade.
So what caused a 250% sales difference? A neuromarketing study using fMRI technology explains.
Eye-tracking and MRI technologies detected the specter of emotions the two ads aroused. As it turned out, the ad featuring aqua yoga elicited negative emotions. Viewers felt disgust, danger, and fear, which distracted them from the product.
Meanwhile, the ad featuring skinny jeans activated positive emotions like value, surprise, and expectations.
Pro tip: Before launching your next campaign, make sure it evokes positive emotions like sympathy, trust, value, or compassion. This prevents negative associations with your brand.
3. Companies can host more engaging conferences.
At a major global conference in Houston, Immersion Neuroscience put INBands on attendees and measured their immersion during certain presentations. They discovered that concise, energetic talks generated the most emotional engagement.
On the other hand, longer talks needed to revolve around a strong narrative, or they couldn’t hold an audience’s attention. Additionally, they realized the brain responds well to multimedia-heavy presentations due to the high variety of stimuli.
What we like: Tracking attendees’ emotional engagement during presentations can help companies refine their conferences by cutting out boring talks. Instead, provide attendees with relevant, compelling presentations.
4. Brands can design more effective ads.
The main goal of neuromarketing is to gain insight into what would make an ad more effective. That includes where ads are placed.
For instance, a recent neuroscience study revealed that positioning of display ads influences buying decisions regarding high- and low-calorie foods.
In a nutshell, researchers asked 57 participants to rate food images that appeared on the center, top, bottom, left, or right side of the screen.
Participants evaluated the desire to eat and buy, their liking, and willingness to pay for each image.
The study results uncovered that a banner for high-calorie food is more likely to draw attention and conversion if placed on the bottom right side. In contrast, ads for low-calorie food are most effective when placed on the top left side.
Pro tip: Leverage neuromarketing to find the ads that resonate most and where to place them.
5. Brands can sell more by using FOMO.
The fear of missing out, otherwise known as loss aversion, is a widely used tactic in marketing and sales.
In fact, 62% of consumers in a study from peer-reviewed publication Science were more likely to gamble their money than lose any money.
Here’s the scenario consumers were given.
If you were given $50, would you rather:
Gamble it, with a 50/50 chance of keeping or losing the whole $50.
When the experimenter posed that question to the subjects, 43% of the subjects chose to gamble.
Then the options were changed to:
Gamble, with a 50/50 chance of keeping or losing the whole $50.
With that slight change, there was a 44% jump in the number of people who gambled.
When more studies were done like this, 100% of subjects gambled more when the other choice was framed as a loss.
A 2021 study from University College London also revealed that urgent language leads to sales. Phrases such as “The #Sale is ON!” and “Only a few left in stock” on Facebook ads increased overall memory for advertisement information. In contrast, ads with no FOMO triggers performed worse.
The neuromarketing takeaway is that framing will greatly impact people’s behavior. And people are loss averse.
Pro tip: You can implement this method by changing the language of your ads. If you can pose the outcome of not buying your product or service as a loss, then you can sell more.
6. Brands can ensure their packaging is effective.
Brands might consider using neuromarketing to measure viewers’ emotional reactions to different packaging designs and determine which packaging option evokes the highest level of position emotion and engagement.
Let’s see how Alpro, a Belgium company that markets plant-based milk products, applied neuromarketing to build barista-preferred packaging. Working with neuroscience company Alpha.One, Alpro leveraged eye-tracking to measure engagement.
A change in color scheme and adding a cup with latte art led to a 3.6% growth in logo recognition. These slight changes held the audience’s attention more than the previous packaging.
What we like: Small changes in color and more straightforward communication through images can evoke a better reaction from the target audience and result in a sales boost.
7. Businesses can determine the right price for a product or service.
Pricing is all about psychology.
For instance, University of Florida marketing professors Chris Janiszewski and Dan Uy wanted to evaluate whether consumers will truly evaluate a product as more fairly priced if it’s $19.95 rather than an even $20. They conducted a range of experiments and found people “create mental measuring sticks that run in increments away from any opening bid, and the size of the increments depends on the opening bid.”
Or, put another way: If you see a product priced at $19.95, you might wish it was $19.75 or $19.50, but you’ll be thinking in terms of nickels and dimes. However, if you see a product priced to the nearest full dollar — such as an even $20 — you instead might wish it was priced at $19 or $18, moving the range further away from the actual price.
Pro tip: Rely on neuromarketing to evaluate consumers’ subconscious reactions and determine the right pricing. Just asking a focus group if your product is priced fairly, can lead to groupthink and obscure the truth. (Check out the Lays pricing study below for more.)
8. Brands can evaluate website performance.
That’s exactly what Taskworld did to boost its site conversion rate by 40%.
To figure out if the site was effective, Shiv Sharma, Marketing Consultant at Taskworld, used heatmaps to see where new visitors clicked when signing up. What fields are they struggling to fill out? What question in the sign-up form causes leads to drop off?
Thanks to heatmaps, Sharma discovered crucial glitches in the sign-up form that took only five minutes to fix. Those minor changes increased their website conversion by 40%.
Companies that Use Neuromarketing
Some world-known brands tested out neuromarketing years ago, ranging as far back as 2009. However, we’ve compiled a list of new neuromarketing case studies so you can gain insights and learn from each of these examples.
Frito-Lay worked with Neurensics, a neuro market research company, to understand the impact of a price increase of 0.25 Turkish Lira on Lays chips in Turkey. The prime question: Would a price change lead to a decrease in revenue?
To find out, Neurensics used both an EEG to study brain responses to the updated price and a standard questionnaire. The results showcased that what people say can strikingly differ from what people actually think, proving that buying decisions are often made unconsciously.
First, participants answered questions about the likelihood that they would buy a bag of chips after the price increase. Second, the same group answered the “expensive” or “cheap” questions about the same Lays products while an EEG device measured brain activity.
The difference in results of the two methods was staggering. According to the traditional questionnaire, Lays should have lost 33% in revenue. The EEG results showed only a 9% drop in sales.
Once applied, parent company PepsiCo experienced only a 7% loss in revenue from the price change.
Pro tip: Asking people for their opinion on prices, packaging, or ads can lead to incorrect predictions. Instead, you can rely on neuroscience and unconscious behavior to measure changes.
Philips wanted to select packaging for an ultra-light iron that appealed most to buyers and increased purchases. They designed two visuals with left and right hands holding the iron.
With Neurensics, Philips tested out both visuals to determine which one caused a positive emotional response.
The fMRI study showed that participants found the left-handed packaging disgusting and dangerous. The familiar, right-handed image activated attention, trust, and the same level of expectations. But why?
The Neurensics team explains this phenomenon as a mental simulation: “An unconscious process where the brain simulates using the product or experiencing a situation.”
An iron held with the left hand is a more difficult mental simulation to conjure when 90% of the population is right-handed. This leads to feelings of disgust.
With this new information, Philips pivoted to the packaging with the right hand holding the iron.
3. Steereo and Spotify
Can you use neuroscience to predict the next record-breaking song? Steereo, a platform that plays new music exclusively for rideshare drivers, posed this question to Immersion.
Immersion tracked subtle changes in listeners’ heartbeats to gauge emotional responses to music. The study accurately predicted hit songs with 92% accuracy.
They also estimated the numbers of super fans and followers for those songs on Spotify with 67% accuracy.
Compare this to traditional survey analysis of songs’ likeability, which resulted in no correlation to real hits.
Use Neuromarketing in Your Business
We live in an age of data overload where you can measure almost anything. But Google Analytics will never be able to accurately gauge the most important element of your marketing campaign — its ability to make your audience feel something.
Fortunately, the neuromarketing space is rapidly evolving, and this technology is becoming more affordable and practical for marketers today, leading to its mainstream use tomorrow.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
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