How the brain fools you

Why neuromarketing is a real challenge for your PIM
Christmas is in the air! It’s the best time to give your products or brands an emotional appeal. Many companies are investing in neuromarketing: shop windows that look like something out of a fairy tale, festively decorated web shops, glittering packages and touching Christmas commercials are all meant to appeal to customers’ emotions. It’s not mere facts that drive your customers to buy. The idea of the “homo economicus” – someone entirely focused on his economic well-being – has become obsolete and most people won’t shed any tears over it. Findings in neuroscience suggest that there are no purely rational processes in the brain. The image of the well-informed and critical consumer is a delusion. Neuromarketing is becoming a major trend.


But how do consumers make decisions? In fact, brain researchers have learned more about the brain in the last ten years than in the 100 years before. For marketers it’s important to know that there are two independent modes of brain activity working alongside during the purchase process: an implicit and an explicit system. “Explicit thinking” processes information, performs a cost-benefit analysis, makes plans for the future and carefully weighs up factors like size, price, quality and material of a product to arrive at decisions. On the other hand, “implicit thinking” is highly efficient, fast in making decisions and goes largely unnoticed. Implicit processes, such as perception, learning and integrating and assimilating a brand’s image are automatic and subconscious, but they have a significant impact on how customers perceive products. The key is to galvanize the customer’s emotions and create an emotional affinity with the product.

“Creating an emotional affinity” with a product is easier said than done! Many companies know exactly what they want to communicate to their customers. Unfortunately, quite often they don’t know how to appeal to their customers’ emotions with their product. Supplying your customer with enough information about the product is not enough to trigger a sale. An example: Learning that some ski boots are red and that the required size is available will not convince a customer to buy. What about you? You would probably only feel compelled to buy if you could see how the product looks like in a picture – or two or three; if you could view the boot from different angles.

360 degree view at SportScheck

360 degree view at SportScheck

But wouldn’t it be great if you could also read a review or watch a video clip about how the boots look like on the piste? Just to see the boots in action! Another possibility is to appeal to emotions by associating the product with “opinion leaders”, i.e. well-known figures. Does your favourite athlete wear these ski boots? If you saw him on TV just after winning a race – wouldn’t you automatically feel drawn to the boots? Wouldn’t you then also be convinced of its good quality and performance? The probability of you buying those boots would increase significantly – perhaps you would even buy the matching skis?
Smell, lighting conditions, feel and sounds can also activate the implicit system. Just think of the typical “smell of a new car” or the rustling-crackling sound when opening a potato chips bag. With these tricks, products can be associated with emotions. It’s exactly these types of emotions that are perceived and processed by the implicit system and that drive purchasing decisions – without the consumer being of aware of it.

Prominent testimonials for Salomon

Prominent testimonials for Salomon

The question is how to convey a message about a product touching on an emotional need so that the product is encoded automatically or implicitly into the brain’s longterm memory. Let’s have a closer look at some key factors discussed in a book by Gerhard Raab et al.: Neuromarketing. Basic Principles – Findings – Applications. The first aspect that is mentioned is personal relevance. A product should suit your customer’s needs and personality. If your customer doesn’t ski in winter, he won’t need ski boots. Sounds logical! Secondly, you should appeal to your customers’ emotions with your product. For your customer it’s not just ANY boot; if it reminds him of beautiful days in the mountains with his friends and family, it will strike an emotional chord. Whether it’s positive or negative: you can be sure that he will remember the product.

Another key factor is surprise. The point here is to emphasize special features. Consider, for example, ski boots with electric foot warmers. As a cliché, this aspect will appeal especially to women with cold feet. Automatically, a story takes form in the mind of consumers: of a ski boot that wins every race, that is comfortable and, on top of that, keeps your feet warm. All of these factors help to encode the ski boots in the consumers’ longterm memory. Of course, not all emotions are the same and every target group is different. Not every customer will be delighted at the sight of a snow rabbit on a product packaging, but it’s human nature to be driven, once in a while, by emotions.

Adventure and group building: Fjällräven builds long-lasting emotional connections and brand loyalty through group tours.

Adventure and group building: Fjällräven builds long-lasting emotional connections and brand loyalty through group tours.

For some target groups and products it’s definitively easier to use emotions to strengthen the consumers’ perception. Consumers are more likely to be influenced by emotional stimuli when buying low-involvement products such as sporting goods, fashion and cosmetics. Consumers who are interested in high-involvement products, such as financial products or real estates, will not only be guided by their emotions. The higher the risk, the more important will the role of the explicit system be. In this case, customers will rather be persuaded by traditional methods, i.e. Information about the product. Costs and benefits should also be assessed. Costly neuromarketing is probably all the more worthwhile, the higher the margin.

It’s easier to implement neuromarketing strategies using images. Many current Christmas campaigns, such as Edeka’s or Apple’s Christmas commercials, demonstrate how positive emotions can be associated with a brand.

SportScheck takes advantage of the positive connotation of a Christmas market to promote their winter cloth-ing.

SportScheck takes advantage of the positive connotation of a Christmas market to promote their winter clothing.

Including neuromarketing techniques in your marketing strategy will increase demands on data management. On the one hand, implicit messages and means to convey them have to be defined. To this end, it is definitively not enough to store information in a PIM system. You need to use this information: Either to generate more concise and more emotional texts with this high-quality data; or to distribute, at the right time, content to the relevant channels, using attributes that are salient to specific target groups; or to acquire a good reputation with explainer videos and events. For your PIM this means that it has to be able to map complex meta-information and relationships. Processes and internal perception must be designed for neuromarketing. If the groups in which customers are segmented are too large or too generic, neuromarketing strategies too will tend to be too generic and will not hit their target. Your PIM, CRM, target group analysis and your shop have to be consistent and perfectly concerted technically. Only then will you be able to define specific customer groups and align the content with their needs. A consistent IT infrastructure is essential in order to efficiently map information internally and to effectively present it to the customer.

Imke Hornung