Mind Control 101: A Neuromarketing Primer, Part 1

This post also appears on Wearable.ai, a news summary and intelligence gathering service for the emerging wearable computing industry. For inquires, please email interviewer and publisher Mark Brooks.

Neuromarketing may sound like the latest in science fiction mind control, but research has increasingly shown that the human brain responds to particular stimuli in very distinct ways that may surprise you. 

For the budding startup business looking to connect with customers, knowing how to tap innate responses can make all the difference. Wearables makers should also take note: As more companies seek to study the phenomenon, wearables will become an important tool in gathering the necessary data to inspire the desired reaction from a target audience.

I spoke with author and neuromarketing expert Darren Bridger, who shared some insights into the opportunities this form of marketing can bring with it—and the large roles that elements like neuroaesthetics and neurotesting can play. 


Mark Brooks: What is neuroaesthetics?

Darren Bridger: Marketers are often thinking about their designs (ads, packaging, point-of-sale materials etc.) at a high level: i.e. their meanings, cultural references, injecting humor or style.

However, a lot of lower-level elements can be missed. Things like the complexity of the image, its level of colorfulness, and compositional elements (like symmetry or where text is positioned in relation to images) can all play a crucial role in how effective the design is.

Since classical times, artists have been interested in figuring out the rules of aesthetics but the effects of design are only just being discovered thanks to our increasing understanding of the brain, and new research tools at our disposal. Some of the most powerful effects of designs occur within a second of seeing them and are non-conscious (hence people find it hard to describe their reactions to the design). 


Darren Bridger

MB: Could you give us some examples relevant to marketers and designers?

DB: A couple of examples of this that marketers need to pay closer attention to are first impressions and visual saliency. Webpages are a good example of first impressions. Web-users tend to be impatient and fickle: often clicking on a page and clicking away again within seconds. Research shows that people form a first impression of a page within 0.05 of a second, too fast for them to consciously process the detail of the page, and the impression formed strongly biases how they view the page in general.

The first impression effect is largely influenced by the simplicity of the design, or its lack of clutter. Secondly, visual saliency is a property of an image that makes it grab our eye: something crucial to print ads or package design. Putting some attention on good old fashioned design elements that draw the eye—for example, color contrasts, large and/or clear text—is often overlooked but can be critical to the success of a design.

MB: How do you use neurotesting to find optimal pricing? What are the indicators?

DB: A range of prices can be displayed paired with a product image or logo and there are neurotests, usually implicit response or EEG, for finding which pairings feel most natural to the consumer. You can also test different ways of expressing a special offer or price reduction to measure which is most emotionally appealing. 

The Future Of Neurotesting

MB: How do you think neurotesting will be done in 20 years? What new technologies are being considered?

DB: Shoppers will increasingly be carrying web-connected devices, giving marketers access to far richer, real-time, real-world data on shopper behavior. This explosion of data will demand neuromodels to understand behavior in order to yield understanding and insights.

One scenario is that tech/software companies “disrupt” the traditional market research industry by gathering, modeling and predicting shopper behavioral data in far more direct and sophisticated ways. For example, this could include factoring in data from cameras on people’s facial expressions and eye-movements, and perhaps even physiological data from wearable devices, like smart-watches, on people’s real-time emotional reactions.

In terms of technological developments: The main story is likely to be the existing technologies becoming cheaper, faster, and more sophisticated. Our growing understanding of neuroscience and research companies developing their own databases and increasing computing power will likely drive this. Equally, I see a growth of the use of computational neuroscience: software models based on the human brain that can analyze things like images and videos and predict their likely real-world performance.

One possible new brain-scanning technology that could be in wider use in 20 years is fNIRS (Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy). This is essentially a cap, like an EEG cap, that shines near infrared light through the skull then uses sensors to measure the diffusion of light through the brain to figure out which parts of the brain are “working harder.” Currently, if you want to measure activity in the deeper regions of the brain you need to use an expensive, and uncomfortable fMRI scanner. These scanners will likely improve in affordability and comfort in the coming years but fNIRS could be an even cheaper, more portable, and less invasive alternative. 

For more, including the opportunities of neurotesting in the Internet of Things and wearables, check out part 2. 

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Lead photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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