Neuromarketing: Searching Buy Button in the Consumer's Brain


Prof. Kunal Gaurav
Faculty Member (Marketing)
ICFAI National College

Traditional marketers may think that they can sell any product after putting best of their efforts on promotional activities irrespective of considering real needs and wants of the customer. But modern marketer learned that 'identifying and satisfying customer needs and wants' is the only key for success. Modern marketing begins with identifying needs and wants of the target market and ends with the customer's satisfaction. At the same time it is big challenge for marketer to identify the real needs and wants of the customer in order to develop and offer the most preferred products, services, and advertisement.

Approximately 95% thoughts occurs in the unconscious mind and these thoughts influence decisions of a customer, most of these factors are missed by traditional research methods like focus group & survey method. Marketers know that the only way for our products to be loved, as if they are designed to meet the customer's unconscious needs and the only way for the company to be loved, as if it supplies these products and conducts the entire customer experience with a matched concern & affection. Emotion is critical to effective thinking and decision making.

To serve the desire of customer & meet their expectation in best possible way marketer always try to find the answer of the following questions:

  • What in a product or advertisement will get a potential customer's attention?
  • What will make them strongly bonded with it, emotionally?
  • What will make a product want to be acquired by a customer?
  • What will make them love our company & eagerly anticipate our later product?

All those have buttons in Brain and marketers are struggling to know how to push those buttons? Now marketer can push those buttons because they have Neuromarketing.

Marketers are always intended to explore the roots of consumer's desire. Previously, they heavily relied upon taking words from customers regarding why a customer prefer one product (brand) in respect to another. While using focus group method and in-depth interview in test marketing, they realized that instead of telling what they really think, participants always tell what marketer want to hear?

It is a fact that hardly one out of 100 new products (launched after a thorough research) survives in the market place, even if it is launched blowing away millions of dollars. Frustrated with the quirks of human behavior, brand marketers have consistently tried to appeal to people's emotion using humour,sorrow,hate guilt,anxiety,envy,fear, suspense and so on. But most campaign fails because they can't feel the pulse of the consumer regarding decision making.

Instead of taking words for why a customer prefer any product, or why they starts loving a particular product or advertisements corporate are deploying the latest brain scanning techniques to reach the roots of the consumer's desire.


Neuromarketing uses a technology known as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging FMRI (FMRI is a medical based technology, frequently used to detect cancers that would otherwise be difficult to diagnose such as mesothelioma ) –  to identify the patterns of brain activity that reveals how a consumer actually responds and evaluates a product, service or advertisement. It seeks to understand how and why a customer develops relationship with product, brand & the company itself.

Neuromarketing was born at Harvard University in late 1990s when marketing professor Gerry Zaltman (Father of Neuromarketing) and his associates began scanning people's brain for corporate to decode the quirks of consumer behavior.

Meanwhile, the brains of the volunteers were scanned through state-of-the-art functional magnetic resonance imaging which measures blood flow to different areas. When images of the brain were analyzed they found that whenever a person saw a product they loved, the brain showed an increased activity (drawing a lot of blood flow) in the brain region called medical prefrontal cortex – above and slightly behind the right ear. They observed activity in different brain areas when people saw a product that promoted a negative response. Bright house, an Atlanta-based consultancy firm, pioneer in conducting neuromarketing research, opine that there is no way for their studies to reliably predict consumer behavior; neuromarketing only seeks to understand "how and why customers develop relationship with product, brands and the company"

The study that generated the most public attention involved Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the brands eternally at war in markets around the world. Neuroscientist Read Montague at the Bayer college of Medicine in Houston scanned people's brains using FMRI as they blindly drank either Coke or Pepsi and reported which tasted better. The result, showed that pepsi generally elicited more activity in brain indicates a sense of pleasure, regardless of the taster's stated preference.

However, the scenario changed when scientist disclosed what the volunteer were drinking. This time the medical prefrontal cortex lit up in the scanners. According to Montague, this shows that people make decisions based on their impressions rather than taste. Although they preferred the taste of Pepsi but they wish to purchase Coke due to the impression they hold about Coke. In other words, it suggests that a stronger brand image of coke outweighs Pepsi's more pleasant taste and the recognition is one of the most sought after things advertiser try to cash in.

How does it work?

Neuromarketer claim that the method is simple to use. FMRI is a technique for determining which parts of the brain are activated by different types of physical sensations or activities, such as sight, sound product, advertisement (Print & broadcasting advertisement).

The subject in a typical experiment will lie in the magnet and a particular form of stimulation will be set up. For example, the subject may wear special glasses so that pictures can be shown during the experiment. Then, MRI images of the subject's brain are taken. Firstly, a high resolution single scan is taken. This is used as a background for highlighting the brain areas which are activated by the stimulus. Next a series of low resolution scans are taken over time, for example 150 scan on every 5 second. For some of these scans, the stimulus (in case of moving picture/advertorial) will be presented, and for some of the scans, the stimulus will be absent. The low resolution brain images in the two cases can be compared to see which parts of the brain were activated by the stimulus.

After the experiment has finished, the set of images are analyzed. Firstly, the raw input images from the MRI scanner require mathematical transformation to reconstruct the images into 'real space', so that the images look like brains. The rest of the analysis is done using a series of tools which correct for distortions in the images, removes the effect of the subject moving their head during the experiment, and compare the low resolution images taken when the stimulus was off with those taken when it was on. The final statistical image shows a bright in those parts of the brain which were activated by this experiment. These activated areas are then shown as colored blobs on the top of the original high resolution scan, for interpretation of the experiments. this combined activation image can be rendered in 3D, and the rendering can be calculated from any angle.

Who uses it?

Several fortune 500 companies like coca – cola & delta airlines hired white house as branding consultant. Some of the high profile business houses like General Motors, P&G, Coca-Cola, Hallmark, Delta Airlines, Motorola, Nokia, Bank of America, and Kodak etc. are successfully using Neuromarketing to identify what compels consumer to purchase the product in order to develop and offer most preferred products, services & advertisements.

Prof. Kunal Gaurav
Faculty Member (Marketing)
ICFAI National College

Source: E-mail May 9, 2006


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