The real reasons you think neuromarketing is overblown

“The buy button”, “Buyology”, “mind-reading” – these are just a few of the terms used to describe the benefits of neuromarketing. But rarely have those benefits been reaped. It’s no wonder a prevailing perception of the neuromarketing industry is one of over-promise, under-deliver.

And the truth is, much of this perception is warranted – but not for the reasons you might think. It’s not because these benefits are not possible. Rather, organizational DNA and neuromarketing itself prevent the industry from full bloom.

First, the organizational DNA of most neuromarketing companies leans heavily towards one of its two component parts – neuroscience or marketing. Typically, companies have either been born from a lab and thus are adept at the science but not its marketing application; or they’ve been born out of an agency of some kind, in which case they’re adept at selling the theoretical applications of neuroscience, but lack the understanding of the science itself.

This prevents true unlocking of the power of neuroscience in marketing: science-minded brains cannot be properly translated into marketing actions, and marketing brains either don’t understand or can’t properly translate/apply the science. So the activation of the insights from the brain is incomplete.

To illustrate, consider the standard problem of marketing attribution. Marketing is a multitude of touch points operating in a dynamic system of competition and changing consumer and market environments. Quantifying the impact of all of these factors on the bottom line is the job of attribution modeling.

Marketing accounts for a certain percentage of the short-term sales of a business, which varies based on industry vertical. Within the marketing mix is a range of vehicles used to persuade and motivate consumers, like, say TV or in-store promotions, which account for some percentage of sales lift. If one has developed their TV creative using brain insights, the short term sales lift may be impressive, but hardly the systematic pressing of a ‘buy button’.

For TV is but one channel in a multitude competing to grab our attention and persuade us. Activation of brain insights must happen across all touch points – not just TV - and furthermore, the context within which a message is consumed is critical in driving behaviours. All of these factors must be considered – on top of competitive landscape and broader consumer behaviours - when going to market.

In our work with MEC around developing and optimizing associations around fantasy football and Coors Light, the brain insights were activated cross-channel with tremendous success. But that required complete understanding of consumer behavioural patterns, how media could be integrated into those patterns and properly leveraged, and deep knowledge of what messaging and context activated the non-conscious decision-making triggers of the target consumer. That required intimate collaboration between Brainsights and MEC, resulting in detailed understanding of the strategy, the insights and how they would be activated. The buy button can be found, but it requires intimate knowledge of marketing and neuroscience, and practitioners who understand how to activate across all brand channels.

The second reason you think neuromarketing is overblown is much more straightforward, but still very important – it’s actually neuromarketing itself.

Hear me out. One of the key principles of neuromarketing is simplicity. Simple, straightforward, elegant language and messaging wins over fluff and complexity everyday of the week. So, it would make sense that the neuromarketing industry itself seek to activate this core principle.

But think of the challenge of that brief: help marketers understand how they can apply learnings from the most complex organism in the known world.

The target audience – marketers - has notoriously short attention spans: if it’s not tweet-sized and to the point, it’s difficult to make time for it. The core product – understanding the brain and its role in decision-making – is incredibly complex. Simplifying that core product into a pithy statement is no easy feat.

And so what we get are “buy button”, “Buyology” and “mind reading”, creating expectations beyond what most neuromarketing firms can deliver (see first reason).

At Brainsights, we prefer talking about it in terms of ‘persuasive power” or “stickiness”, which recognizes the incredible value that neuroscience provides, whilst acknowledging the myriad factors competing for influence in a consumer’s brain, and the challenges of activating insights from a marketers’ perspective. Our organizational bilingualism – fluent in the languages of marketing and neuroscience – enables that approach and thus greater value for partners in leveraging neuroscience in their marketing.

Brain insights can help marketers develop persuasive communications that deliver considerable value. But it’s not as simple as pressing a button.