Neanderthal Neuromarketing

The results are in! The science of human decision, on which neuromarketing is based, shows we choose what we buy pretty much the same way a caveman would. So pick out your favorite neanderthal outfit and settle in as we take the guesswork out of why.

But before we go there, let’s take a brief look at the difference between traditional marketing and neuromarketing. Traditional marketing asks people what they want. The problem is that they don’t always know what they want, and even more seldom know specifically why they want it.

Enter Neuromarketing, where people in funny white lab coats hook a bunch of other people up to all kinds of sciency toys. These scientists gleefully rub their hands together while waiting for results that include neurometrics, biometrics and psychometrics.

Here is what they found.

When making decisions, we humans use the reptilian of our brain. Scientifically known as the amygdala, this is the oldest layer of the human brain and it is mainly concerned with 3 things.

  1. Food
  2. Fight or Flight
  3. Sex

While the new part of the brain, or, neocortex, reasons and the middle brain feels, it’s this old brain that decides. Even if we think, as many of the test subjects did, that we make our choices based on logic, the subconscious reptilian brain dominates. While we are carefully considering options, the amygdala is in overdrive processing the only 6 stimuli that can trigger it.

  1. Self Centered fulfilment
  2. Contrast – It is hardwired to spot differences. 500 million years of understanding the difference between prey and predator will do that.
  3. Tangible – scanning for this avoids time thinking
  4. First and Last – The brain will be more alert in the beginning and the ending of interaction.
  5. Visual – The optic nerve is 25 times faster than auditory and is connected directly to the old brain. It takes 2 milliseconds to order movement at the sight of a snake, but 500 milliseconds to recognize it actually is a snake
  6. Emotion – A powerful stimuli that requires no reasoning

So by understanding this information, neuromarketing narrows the primary focus when presenting to a potential customer. The idea isn’t to trick the customer into buying, but rather to deliver to the old brain stimuli to attract interest.

The reptilian brain is also extremely curious, so once it is engaged, the neocortex is also activated to justify decisions being made by the old brain. Patrick Renvoise made a presentation at TedX well worth watching titled “Is There a Buy Button Inside the Brain?” that explains this in detail.

When applying this information to marketing, there are several principles we use as guidelines for ensuring all the elements are in place to accomplish the desired outcome in your digital marketing.

The first is one we have written at length about previously in this series called “Cialdin’s 7 Principles of Persuasion”.

In application it looks like this:

  1. Reciprocity: Give people free tools, downloads and goodies they benefit from
  2. Commitment: Use small, easy actions, such as asking for name or email, before asking for more complex or personal information. Small commitments make larger ones easier.
  3. Social Proof – Express impressive numbers if you have them (Used by over 160,000 people helped!) Validation based on others let’s a potential customer experience trust.
  4. Authority- Show up as the authority, but if possible, also include well known figures
  5. Liking – People trust people they like. Make sure your “About Us” is well executed
  6. Scarcity – Show that quantity or time are limited, only if authentic
  7. Unity – A newer principle that focuses on creating a sense of belonging

Another model that encourages paid behavior is The Fogg Behavior Model. This focuses on the convergence of 3 simple principles that help the reptilian decision making process.

  1. High Motivation – Increasing motivation is even more powerful than reducing friction. It triggers the primal part of the brain to essentially say, “I want to do it”. Creating motivation is swimming upstream, so focus on increasing motivation that brought the visitor in the first place. We execute this by focusing on 3 factors.
    1. Pleasure/Pain – Use copy and imagery to clearly address
    2. Hope/Fear – These are characterized by anticipation of an outcome.
    3. Social Acceptance/Rejection – Coincides with Cialdini’s principle of unity.
  2. Peak Ability – When our brain is thinking “It’s easy to do it”, we are experiencing peak ability. This factor is even more important than motivation and it’s much easier to control.
  3. Trigger – Once the old brain is satisfied with the first two factors, answering the call to action is the next logical step. If your CTA is not converting, the culprit likely lies in one of those 2.

The 2 neuroscience tools described above are in a long list of techniques that can be used.  A few others include Focussing Effect, Context Dependent Memory, Self-Generation Affect Effect and Affect Heuristic

In practice, executing these methods involves placing the design and copy elements addressing the decision making layer, in a way the viewer will scan the site. Eye tracking studies show the top left corner of a page will get attention first.

The Gutenberg diagram breaks it down even further to help determine where specific elements should be placed based on eye tracking studies. This includes your CTA. Most designers focus primarily on size, color and messaging of the CTA, but placement is also key. Placing it outside of “The Terminal Zone” creates missed opportunities.

CXL Institute conducted a 3 part study showing even perceived value based on image size consistently varies between product type categories. Some of the results are surprising, and go against conventional wisdom. 

While complex in application, neuromarketing simplifies the process of decision making. Speaking to the old brain does not assume the logical neocortex does not play a part. In fact, there is strong evidence that both play key roles. 

Still, true to the scientific discoveries, our inner caveman will be the first to notice what we want, and there at the end to make the decision.