Have you ever wondered exactly how the human brain could impact the effectiveness of your marketing strategy?
Hadley Hirsch, Manager of Marketing and Business Relationships, and Seth Viebrock, Founder and CEO of O8, discuss how neuromarketing works and how it can, and should, be a critical part of your digital marketing strategy.
Hadley Hirsch: Let's start at the beginning, what is neuromarketing?
Seth Viebrock: Neuromarketing, in a sense, is really just using what we know about the brain to do better marketing. There are the research and testing components, which could be a totally separate talk, using things like EKG measuring devices that track galvanic skin response, such as facial expressions. We don't always understand what's going on subconsciously for a given study, such as having human subjects come in to give their responses about a website or a new product or a prototype, that's something totally different. Right now, let's focus on using the theory behind the brain as it relates to marketing.
Hadley Hirsch: So this sounds pretty complicated, but how does it work? Can you break it down so that someone without a scientific background, like me, would understand it?
Seth Viebrock: There's this thing called the primal brain, which we share with animals. We can instinctively react to and run from a lion just like a gazelle can. This part of the brain moves fast, and it's actually situated lower inside of the head than this rational brain that we humans and some mammals have grown through evolution. But this primal brain reacts strongly to six stimuli, and these are six stimuli that anyone can take and apply to their marketing. There's personal, contrastable, tangible, memorable, visual, and emotional. So let me explain each one a little bit.
Personal: We already know about personalization. It’s important because the primal brain reacts to me. I need to survive. It doesn't have patience or empathy. It doesn't have concern for its’ well being. It scans for threats before it attends to pleasure, and vigilance drives the speed and nature of its response. So really, things that are about me react strongly to this primal brain.
Contrastable: The primal brain is sensitive to “before” and “after”. Think of those weight loss programs. If you only show the person after they’ve lost weight, but you don't show the before picture, the marketing response is going to be way less effective than if you show the before and after. Things like risky versus safe, have/have not, slow/fast, these contrasts allow the brain to make quick, risk-free decisions. Otherwise, the brain has to slow down and process.
Tangible: The primal brain is always looking for something familiar and friendly, that can be recognized quickly. You know, something that's simple, concrete, and just easy. Otherwise, you have to go into this higher-level brain to expend calories, when the brain actually wants to save calories and save energy. So that's why simple messages and value propositions are so important. Because, otherwise, this primal brain can't process complexity without slowing down and using a lot of effort from the higher up, or rational brain. If you want to read a book about it, Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is the de facto book on that.
Memorable: The primal brain remembers very little. But putting the most important content at the beginning and repeating it at the end is super important to a memorable message that gets from your primal brain all the way up into your memory-storage, or rational brain. What you say in the middle of your message or delivery should be brief and convincing. This primal brain really loves stories as well because a good narrative is a pattern that we can easily process. It requires fewer calories, so to speak, to process a good narrative, and that makes it easier to remember.
Visual: The primal brain is visual, that's why we see hero images on websites, you know, the family holding their kids. The brain processes this stuff really quickly without any effort. You don't have to think, “Oh, maybe I should have a nice warm feeling about the family with their kids.” That's all automatic, and that's why that imagery is so important.
Emotional: And then finally, you have emotion, which the primal brain is strongly triggered by. If there's not some sort of emotion, you think about the visual response to that family. There's one aspect, which is the visual response, but then there's also the emotional response giving you that “Aww,” feeling that you don't have to think about that. It's a primal reaction to that imagery.
So with all of these six things together, the goal is to engage. It’s kind of like a slide. In conversion optimization research, there's this persuasion slide theory of “How do you get someone to take an action”? Whether it's “contact us”, buy the product, or whatever that CTA is, you have to start with some of these six primal stimuli to get your user to perform the desired action. So it sounds complicated, but if you can distill it into these six things and then these six things are evaluating your messaging, your website with the imagery, your ads...all of these things you need to use to move people towards action. That's really what we're doing here, the bottom-up effect, and then getting that boost to activate things like engagement and retention of a marketing message.
Want to see how we make neuromarketing a part of our holistic digital marketing strategy?
Hadley Hirsch: There has been some criticism of this concept. Some people might say it's an invasion of privacy, or perhaps manipulation. What's your thought on that, or how would you respond to that?
Seth Viebrock: Of course, we want to be ethical in the way we go about communicating messages. But really, again, it's about not ignoring what we know about the brain. It's really just a way to do better marketing, but there's the research aspect of things which has its own set of guidelines and ethical standards. Beyond common basic ethics, I really don't personally think there's anything wrong with just looking at the brain and how we make decisions. It's really being more empathetic and personal and looking at things like emotion. So I don't think there's a problem with it.
Hadley Hirsch: How are businesses using this science, or how should they be using this science?
Seth Viebrock: A lot aren't, so one of our goals is to have businesses look at the data. Sometimes that's step one. But even when you get into the A/B testing, for example, and test a different version of the homepage and see which one increases conversions, you should at least have a theory before you do that kind of scientific experiment. And this is a really nice framework for guiding A/B testing. Let's use what we already know about the brain, rather than just making a guess about what version would be better for the A/B test. It's a very powerful tool to use in informing everything that you're doing here, but I really don't think a lot of businesses are using neuromarketing to the full extent. I really do think it's an important thing for folks to be paying attention to because it can be the difference in an ad campaign that flops, or a homepage that doesn't lead to conversion.
Hadley Hirsch: It sounds like something that can be used both for inbound and outbound strategy, is that correct?
Seth Viebrock: Absolutely. For inbound, your whole customer journey is kind of a bottom-up effect, and maybe you do trigger retention and memory of your marketing message. But maybe it's not an instantaneous thing. It might be twenty touches before you get someone to actually convert, to choose an action to engage with you. This is definitely a way to think about that journey. And then outbound is similar, it's just messaging. It's just using what we know about the brain. So it really can be applied to everything— marketing, politics, everything where there's a message.
Hadley Hirsch: I'm fascinated by this, but I don't know if I have the confidence that this is something I could execute myself. So where can I go to learn more? And is this something that I could hire an agency for?
Seth Viebrock: I really want to give a hat tip to the originators of this field, the folks at Sales Brain. There's a book called Sales Brain, and they’re a company as well. So go check out that book, and also The Persuasion Code, which is their latest iteration on the literature. The “Thinking, Fast and Slow” book that I mentioned is another. But of course, that's just kind of the neuromarketing component. To weave your neuromarketing into your ad campaign, web design, homepage, or messaging, they're not necessarily going to be able to do that. It might be able to teach you some things, or guide you through some research studies, for example, if that's what you're looking for. But if the DIY doesn't work for you, then definitely contact an agency like us who understands it. It is a critical portion of a holistic digital marketing strategy, but as you probably can tell, it's really complex and it's hard to apply across that holistic digital marketing strategy.
Hadley Hirsch: Absolutely. I feel like that should become a qualifying question businesses ask now when they're interviewing agencies, “What do you understand about neuromarketing and how do you apply it to your efforts”?