Learn From Your Customers

Inside neuromarketing: Decoding the consumer mind

Thursday, 20 June 2024

We at Trustpilot understand the power of emotions in driving reviews. People are likelier to leave a positive or negative review when they've had a strong emotional response to a product or service. But what's happening beneath the surface? We wanted to delve deeper into consumer behavior and explore the neurological sources of these reactions.

Enter neuromarketing – the science of studying brain activity, eye movements, and skin response to understand how consumers react to brand messaging and experiences. To guide our exploration, we spoke to Katie Hart, a neuromarketing expert with a Master's in Applied Neuroscience from King's College London and a fellowship at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

Understanding the unreliable consumer with neuroscience

Consumers are indeed unreliable, but not always intentionally. In today’s retail landscape, the choices are endless, which means there’s always another option on the horizon for shoppers; Oracle’s Decision Dilemma study found that out of 14,000 people in 17 countries surveyed, 72% suffered from “decision paralysis” due to the amount of information and choice available to them. 

“The problem is that, as individuals, we are unaware of 95% of what goes into our daily decisions. That is because the information that drives our behaviours and choices comes from below our conscious threshold,” says Katie. 

So, how do businesses stand out and help unreliable consumers make better decisions, or perhaps decisions more directed towards their offerings?

According to Katie, Neuromarketing could be the answer. 

Neuromarketing is the application of neuroscience (essentially, knowledge of how our brains work) to marketing functions. When you understand processes such as how perception happens within the brain, how attention is captured and held, how memories are created, and how decisions are made, marketing can be approached more intentionally. 

The benefits: More effective marketing

If marketing aims to speak the customer's language, we may first need to get into their heads, and businesses are catching on to this idea.

Automotive giant Hyundai went on a unique mission in 2018 – to uncover the color that sparks joy in consumers. 

Participants in a blank room were bathed in various colors while hooked to EEG (electronic machines monitoring brain activity). Biosensory tools even tracked heart rate and sweat response, offering a detailed picture of emotional reactions. 

The surprising result? Blue emerged as the happiest color. Hyundai's data revealed it triggered feelings of stimulation, energy, and comfort. Since then, subtle touches of blue have become a signature element in their vehicles. 

But the benefits, explained Katie, go beyond just changing the paint color. “By adopting neuromarketing techniques, we can explore the subconscious realm and better understand and predict how our audiences will behave.” 

This allows us to:

  • Reduce overall marketing spend, as results become more predictable with less ‘wastage.’ 

  • Launch new products and services with greater success, as the likely consumer response is better understood.

  • Customer loyalty increases as customer experience fits more with customer expectations.  

Neuromarketing techniques: Unveiling the brain's secrets

Techniques like Hyundai’s EEG tactic and digital analysis tools like eye tracking and heat mapping are becoming more prevalent in data gathering for marketers. 

The only downside to visual tools like heat mapping is that while they demonstrate user actions, they don’t always explain their why. According to Katie, combining neuromarketing techniques can help unlock the reason behind customer engagement. 

“Neuromarketing techniques have enabled neuromarketers to gain significant insights into how our brains work and how we can enhance the effectiveness of the materials and messages we create.” 

These techniques include: 

  • Skin conductance changes: Measuring electrodermal activity - EDA

  • Eye-tracking: Seeing where participants' eyes fall and fixing their gaze within their environment.

  • Measuring electrical brain activity: Through the use of electroencephalography – EEG

  • Measuring changes in blood oxygen levels within the brain: Through the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging – fMRI

How can we support consumers when making their final decision? 

When it comes to paralysis of choice, how can marketers offer a helping hand to consumers when they’re stuck? “Although neuromarketing insights can benefit all aspects of the marketing process, three areas perhaps have more to gain than others: product development, campaign testing, and pricing,” notes Katie. 

How neuromarketing transforms pricing optimization

When it comes to pricing, a 2021 study found that overall, in-store and online shoppers are influenced most by price/deals, with loyalty programs being the least influential.

Thanks to neuromarketing, we know that when price is perceived within the brain, specifically in the part of the insula that controls risk-reward behavior, involuntary functions like heart rate and pain pathways become activated. 

“This area is usually associated with the sensation and experience of pain, reinforcing how ‘painful’ it is for most of us to part with hard-earned resources (money). Studying the extent of the activation has become a strong predictor of participants' future purchasing behaviour, thus helping neuromarketers identify the optimum price point for organisations to adopt,” explains Katie. 

Turning social proof into pricing confidence 

So, how can we create more positive reactions if prices trigger a ‘pain’ response within our brains? 

“One of the best ways is to harness the power of social proof. Essentially, this refers to how purchasing decisions can be altered by the reviews and recommendations of people who have purchased before us. From case studies and endorsements to online reviews and awards won, each signifies a way to differentiate organizations from their competitors and help potential customers feel confident about their purchasing decisions,” notes Katie. 

Of course, not all reviews are equal. Some have more power and hold over us than others; in most cases, the difference comes down to authenticity. The more genuine and believable the review is, the more it will be trusted. 

The promise of Neuromarketing

Obviously, neuroscience isn’t a cure-all for marketers. Human beings are still human, and with that comes the freedom to choose. “None of the techniques neuroscience provides will make someone purchase something they are not interested in or do not like,” says Katie. 

The benefit of using neuromarketing is that it helps shape products and services that customers want and need based on cold, hard data.

 A study conducted by NeuroFocus found that neuromarketing methods achieved a remarkable 77% accuracy rate, surpassing traditional methods such as surveys and focus groups, which only achieved 57% accuracy. 

“There is no coercion [in neuromarketing],” says Katie. “Just science-backed methods that can help businesses stand out from the competition.”

“It is a very exciting and interesting time to be involved in neuromarketing. Technologies are making more and more studies possible, exploring people’s responses in their natural shopping environments and even from the comfort of their sofas at home,” says Katie. 

To learn more about Katie and her work, check out her website here


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