Neuromarketing: what it is and how to use it to your advantage


Neuromarketing is the branch of neuroscience research that aims to better understand the consumer THROUGH HIS COGNITIVE PROCESSES... to perfectly construct marketing campaigns based on the human brain's response.

-International Journal of Marketing and Technology

The term neuromarketing refers to the use of modern ~*brain science*~ to measure the impact of marketing and advertising on consumers.

So to understand neuromarketing, you must first understand neuroscience. Stay with me, it's not as scary as it sounds.

Simply put, neuroscience is the study of how the nervous system develops, its structure, and what it does.

Neuroscientists focus on the brain and its impact on behavior and cognitive functions (aka why you do the things you do). Using a variety of tools, techniques, and technologies, neuroscientists are able to directly observe what’s going on in your brain. 

Neuromarketers use these same scientific tools to view the brain's responses to marketing stimuli and determine the consumers' thoughts and feelings. They can then turn the results into actionable marketing recommendations. 


3 ways you can use neuromarketing to your advantage:

1. better understand consumer preferences

Traditional marketing research relies heavily on self-report methods like surveys, which provide researchers with information direct from the consumer,  providing valuable insight into their opinions, and experiences.

But if you're like me and never grew out of the "why?" stage, a simple answer like "I chose this product because I like it" isn't enough. 

No matter how thorough or determined a survey and its taker may be, it would be incredibly difficult for a respondent to explain their subconscious motives or the emotional reasons underlying their decisions

And this my friends, is where neuromarketing comes in!

Take a look at the adorable puppy on the right. Right now the pleasure center of your brain is lighting up like the Fourth of July.

And if you were hooked up to an fMRI, it’d look a little something like this:  - fMRI scans which measure brain activity by looking at blood flow. Performed by Dr. Zoran Josipovic of NYU. - fMRI scans which measure brain activity by looking at blood flow. Performed by Dr. Zoran Josipovic of NYU.

So even if you decide to lie and say that you don’t like adorable fluffy puppies, the researcher can see the scan and discern not only your true physiological and emotional reaction, but the underlying causes for that reaction as well! 

Real-world example:
In the now famous 2004 Coke vs. Pepsi experiment, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine used an fMRI machine to examine the brains of participants during both a normal and a blind taste test. In the blind test, brain activity in a sensory information-associated area predicted which brand the participant would choose. But when participants could see that they were drinking Coke, their emotion and memory circuits sprang to life. This reveals that our brains use independent systems to incorporate both sensory and cultural information into our decision-making.



― Martin Lindstrom, Brand Sense

Take a moment and think about a fragrance, it can be a perfume, a cologne, the smell of crisp autumn air, a favorite candle, etc. What does that smell conjure for you? 

When I was in middle school, Britney Spears was–and still might be–the coolest person on the planet. She had just come out with the perfume 'Fantasy' which had top notes of  cupcake and vanilla extract with a lovely finish of white chocolate and fairy dust. Needless to say it was amazing, and I doused myself with it every morning. 

I recently reencountered the saccharine scent and was instantly transported back to 2005. It's the first day of 7th grade, and I nervously look down the long, fluorescent-lit hall lined with blue metal lockers. I pick up my sweet new Hollister bag, throw my shoulders back and do my best attempt at Tyra stomp-walking. I am ready to take on the world in my glitter eyeshadow.

How is it possible that over a decade later, this memory and all its complex emotions were triggered by one smell? Because odors are highly effective (more than any other sense) in triggering vivid, emotional memories.

  The structures of the  limbic system  are involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory

The structures of the limbic system are involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory

Neuroscience Breakdown:

Incoming smells are first processed through the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and has direct connections to two brain areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory: the amygdala and hippocampus. Interestingly, visual, auditory (sound), and tactile (touch) information do not pass through these brain areas. This may be why olfaction, more than any other sense, is so successful at triggering emotions and memories.
-Penn State College of Medicine

So how can you, a savvy business person, use this knowledge to your advantage? The answer is simple: make them smell you and they'll never forget you. 

The average person is exposed to approximately 5,000 ads a day. If you want to stand out and leave a lasting impression, take advantage of olfaction. Anyone with a broken heart and an ex's t-shirt can attest to the power scent has on memory and emotion. 

According to Martin Lindstrom, best-selling author and branding expert, only 3% of Fortune 1000 companies have given thought to using smell in their marketing or branding, despite the claim that 75% of our emotions are generated by what we smell

By associating your brand with a scent, you are creating indelible associations in the minds of your consumers.

Every time they encounter that scent, they will be automatically reminded of your brand and all the emotions, memories, and associations they have about it. 

And when you have a positive association with a brand, you’re more likely to choose it over competitors. (See: Marketing Mind Control: The Unconscious Side of Branding)

This is because consumer decisions are driven by emotional instincts and unconscious needs rather than rational, conscious thinking. Smell in particular is effective in bypassing conscious thought and creating associations with memories and emotions. 

And the more senses you can appeal to, the better. 


3. get better results with less money

From the lowliest unpaid intern to the C-Suite execs, every businessperson is faced with a common challenge: to generate the best results at the lowest cost.

By utilizing relatively simple and inexpensive neuromarketing techniques, you can create marketing efforts that are not only specific to your customers, but scientifically designed to be effective. Thus, saving money!

An example of one such technique is eye tracking

As Neil Patel explains in his article, 8 Powerful Takeaways from Eye Tracking Studies, "eye tracking measures where people look on a screen and for how long...You can find out what the user considers to be the most interesting part of the screen and how long he or she looked at certain areas."

This allows marketers to optimize their content and direct viewers' attention based on how the human brain processes visual information.

A study by Think Eye-Tracking found profound effects by simply changing where the model was looking in the advertisement.

In the image where the model was looking straight ahead, only 6% of participants looked at the product. But when they photoshopped the ad so the model was looking at the product...84% of viewers looked at it!

The eye tracking map also shows that viewers engaged more with the ad; they paid more attention to the package, the slogan, and the logo at the bottom. 

Try it for yourself. Where does your eye go?

sunsilk think eye tracking eyetracking advertisement facial coding neuromarketing neuroscience comparison photoshop research consumer experience cx marketing

Other examples of accessible neuromarketing approaches: using specific colors to amplify your message, behavioral experiments, analyzing facial expressions, and applying findings from published research.


By using neuroscience, you can save time and money. Skip the guesswork and finger-crossing and create marketing campaigns that you know are going to effective and make a lasting impression.