The Business and the Brain: Three Ways Neuroscience Is Changing How Businesses Can Understand Customers Better

By Dr Simon Collister, Director of Unlimited Group’s Human Understanding Lab

It’s fair to say that across the marketing and communications industry uncovering behaviour-led insights and using data or insight to inform strategy or campaigns is table-stakes.

The unique fusion of science, creativity and strategic thinking to solve business problems means brands can benefit from results-driven campaigns based on the use of data, behaviourial or neuroscience in strategic planning. It’s conversion at the core.

A recent survey of UK CMOs found that 84% said they believed using neuroscience research was valuable for planning campaigns. Drilling down into the details, however, there’s a clear gap between the potential use of this technique and how it’s currently being used.

Only 24% of CMOs say they actually use neuroscience. This is a startling fact, given the potential benefits businesses can gain from using neuroscience to inform our marketing activity. Especially given that science shows the majority of human decision-making and behaviour operates below the level of consciousness.

To try and address this ‘say-do’ gap here are three ways we can put our understanding of brains to work in helping business.

Use research to get to the heart of consumer decision-making

We know that purchase behaviour is explained by our emotions, memory and recognition. But these are not metrics we find in typical market research, such as focus groups and surveys.

So, asking people what they ‘think’ doesn’t get the right insights, as it can’t capture consumers’ full emotional and motivational influences. By measuring and analysing the real, subconscious forces which influence decision-making we can confidently predict what factors help us stand out and deliver more effective marketing outcomes.

To do this, we need to deploy neuroscience approaches. This can include sophisticated techniques, such as EEG or galvanic-skin response, but there are much more accessible neuro-approaches. For example, eye tracking, facial coding or Rection Time Testing are all relatively cost effective and rapid tools to truly measure how unconscious emotional processes impact decision making.

Optimize the brain to increase purchases

It’s proven that consumers are four times more likely to purchase something they pick; 50% feel more emotionally elevated when touching a product.

This is great in physical environments, but we can apply this neuro-trigger in digital experiences too by tapping into the brain’s ‘mirror neurons’ which make us have similar feelings to those of a person we see.

So, dialling up depictions of senses in branded content can trigger the same emotions and feelings of desire as if the consumer were experiencing the sensation themselves.

This neuro ‘hack’ means brands should create sales and marketing content that shows customers engaging sensorily with products or services – touching a new car or seeing someone apply make-up in digital content helps create an emotional uplift and ‘primes’ consumers to make a decision. In fact, optimizing our senses to make consumer experiences multi-sensory can drive sales increases by up to 10%.

Use ‘cognitive conflict’ to boost brand recall

Finally, hot off the press from UNLIMITED’s recent ‘Brainy Bar’ research event we find that effective advertising is not just about what we see. Rather it’s about the process our brains undertake when engaging with creative content. And specifically new research suggests ‘cognitive conflict’ is a powerful driver of marketing success.

This suggests that having branded content that is surprising or challenges norms – think surrealism or visual trickery – that makes you do a double take is more effective than conventional content.

Crucially, new neuroscience research proves this is because our brains get satisfaction not from specific features of creative content, but from the act of information processing.

By forcing our brains to react and make sense of this cognitive conflict in our marketing content we can improve the key brand awareness and decision-making metric mentioned above: memory and brand recall.

So, to return to the CMO research – why are only a quarter of CMOs routinely deploying neuroscience research to boost effectiveness? Perhaps it’s the mystique of thinking about diving into the human brain; sometimes it’s because the perceived cost of utilising neuroscience; and sometimes it’s because understanding of the results is unknown.

What is hopefully shown above, is that there shouldn’t be any mystery. Using neuroscience in marketing shouldn’t be confounding – it has clear practical and tangible benefits for marketing, helping business understand customer decision-making. Moreover, it can often be used to deliver practical, everyday outcomes. In short its ‘conversion’ and the brain should be playing a much greater role in helping business’ grow.

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