As much as some creative marketers would like to focus on the extent to which their work is artistry, everything they do is based on consistent principles that are only so flexible. We differ personally in many ways, but human psychology is fairly consistent across all demographics, and we can use what we know about how the brain works to produce more effective marketing.
This is what the growing field of neuromarketing is all about. By studying how the brain responses to different marketing stimuli, it reaches valuable conclusions about rhetorical power and what happens in our minds when we’re given decisions to make.
But if you don’t have an MRI scanner to use, you can still benefit. In this piece, we’re going to look at 6 things marketers can learn from neuroscience that will improve their ability to capture attention, drive interest, and produce conversions.
Asking for favors makes people like you
How do you get someone to form a positive opinion of you? How about doing them a favor to show that you’re a good person? After that, they’ll want to return the favor, right? Well… possibly. But it’s unlikely to prove as effective as asking them for a favor right away.
This is all due to what’s known as the Ben Franklin effect. If you ask someone to do you a favor, and they agree to do it (even if only in response to some cajoling), then it will somewhat confuse their mind. After all, for whom do you generally do favors? Your friends. Your family members. People you like and respect.
You may well be a stranger to the person who did you a favor, but their subconscious mind will group you with those other people to some extent, causing them to like you (even if they don’t really know why). So if you want to market to some strangers, ask them to help you out — if you can get them to do it, they’ll like you more.
We’re all afraid of missing out
You’ve probably heard of FOMO, or fear of missing out. It pops up when we feel that we’re in danger of missing something significant — a product that’s almost sold out, a discount that has almost expired, or a limited edition item. But even though it’s used regularly in the marketing world, you may not realise just how significant it is.
What neuroscientific study tells us is that the feeling we get when we’re worried about missing out — the same feeling that accompanies general social exclusion — inspires a bodily reaction similar to that resulting from pain. It isn’t just a matter of mild frustration, envy, or jealousy. It’s an often-brutal experience that can affect anyone.
Does this mean that marketers should ramp up their use of FOMO to better exploit this? I suppose that depends on your ethical principles! But it’s undeniable that it would be an effective (if upsetting) tactic.
Our minds snap to set neural pathways
We all know what it’s like to get into a routine. In fact, so much of everyday life consists of following routines. You have a routine for getting out of bed, a routine for getting ready for work, a routine for getting lunch, a routine for walking the dog. You don’t even need to think to engage in those activities — you’re on autopilot.
This is because of the way in which we form neural pathways. Think of it as traversing a forest and wearing in the most commonly-used routes. After a while, even if you think about maybe taking a different route, it seems like too much work. You’ve cleaned the old routes and removed all the obstacles. If you took a new route, you wouldn’t know where you were.
Because our minds go for economy of effort, they snap back to the paths of least resistance, those being our tried and tested habits. To use this for marketing, figure out your target audience’s habits and exploit them by putting everything important where they’re most likely to look first.
Contrast is essential for fast processing
Visuals are tremendously important for marketing copy — there’s nothing surprising about that. You may have heard that our brains process visual data vastly more quickly than they can process text, which makes sense, of course. Written language came about much later in our development than the need to make fast visual assessments.
And when you’re trying to grab attention using visuals, you need to be aware of the importance of contrast. This is because we’re not sure what to focus on when we see something new, and our brains feverishly analyze available data to identify the point of most significance. To show that a part of some content is the most significant, you must make it distinct from its surroundings — and for that, you need contrast.
This is why CTAs are typically bright and bold colors. If they don’t stand out, they might not be seen, and if they can’t be seen than they can’t be followed. And since there’s a decent chance that someone looking at marketing copy is going to be distracted to some extent, it’s even more important that you do absolutely everything you can to render the most important parts distinct.
Numbers can be too round
There are two main reasons why pricing structures tend to favor prices such as $99.95 instead of a round $100. Firstly, it’s useful for producing cash change (which was important in times before store cameras and modern payment tracking systems), and secondly, they can feel slightly cheaper than they are (under $100 is better than $100, even if it’s by the tiniest amount).
But there’s a third reason why you should avoid round numbers in any factual or statistical claims you make: because round numbers feel implausible. If you see that 400 people have endorsed a product, you can’t help but feel that it’s a made-up number, because you don’t believe it would add up to precisely 400. If you see performance stats that are all neatly rounded (imagine finding a large online business for sale with $100k profit over the last year, 30k customers, 60k products, and 40k monthly visits), then you’ve every reason to be suspicious
And if you see that the average rating of a product is exactly 5/5, you assume that there’s something questionable going on, because nothing is perfect and no product has zero bad reviews. So when marketers present their social proof and flattering stats, they should be careful which numbers they use, and if they have any round numbers, they should adjust them a little, even if they’re accurate — because they won’t feel accurate.
Emotion is a fierce motivator
Charity drives often bring in affecting emotional elements to bolster their points. They seek to make you feel sad at the plights of others, angry at the problems of the world, and hopeful enough for the future to want to invest in making it better. But despite this, general marketing can get a little generic — opting to play things safe and avoid seeming too forceful.
If a marketer wants to achieve maximum impact with their work, they have to bite the bullet and include something with an emotional impact. This is because our emotions are like mental cheat codes with access to our core systems. Think about it in the context of pre-civilization survival: when a threat emerged and inspired terror, those who ran immediately survived, while those who stopped think “What should I do about this ferocious mammoth?” didn’t fare so well.
Sure, not everyone will appreciate having their emotions played upon, but the purpose of marketing is to sell, not to provide relaxing experiences. And if you focus on positive emotions — inspiring joy and amusement — then you’re unlikely to receive any complaints!
We’ve covered 6 things that marketers can learn from neuroscience, but there are so many more to be considered. Every scrap of information that we glean from scientific study of the brain produces something new to be used by forward-thinking marketers. It’s just a matter of keeping up with the field!