What does your audience think of your ads? What does your brand evoke within them?
These are questions most companies have struggled with before. But as neuromarketing tools are becoming more accessible, any company can now understand consumers through the power of neuroscience.
Many agencies and top brands are using neuromarketing for growth hacking and customer insights. In fact, the global neuromarketing market size was valued at USD 2,493 million in 2021 and is expected to reach USD 21,218 million by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 8.9%.
This article will help you understand the foundations of the field, and it will teach you how neuromarketing boosts advertising performance and can grow your business.
Let’s dive in.
What is neuromarketing?
Neuromarketing is a growing field of marketing that combines cognitive neuroscience, economics, and psychology. It involves measuring brain activity, and neural and biological signals to understand customer responses, motivations, and decisions to improve creative advertising, packaging design, product experience, brand experience, and other areas of marketing.
Neuromarketing is not only about measuring advertising performance, but also to reveal the effectiveness of consumer touchpoints and consequences of every single step of the consumer journey, from initial brand exposure to the consumption and repeated use of a product or service.
"We are not rational in the traditional sense. Our choices are mostly driven by the unconscious.”
- Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy
Neuromarketing applies neuroscience tools like eye-tracking and brain scanning (EEG) combined with other technologies like machine learning and AI to measure, understand, and influence customer engagement and choice. As a large part of consumer behavior is driven by unconscious processes, a better understanding of the human mind can often provide a more accurate account of why consumers behave as they do and ultimately increase your ROI.
What is neuromarketing used for?
By better understanding audience reactions, knowing what catches the attention of customers, and revealing the unconscious factors of decision-making, companies improve brand experiences and optimize performance like conversion rates effectively.
Some of the ways companies use neuromarketing are:
- A/B testing design concepts and visual assets
- Measuring brand associations
- Brand, product, and packaging design
- Optimizing conversion rates
- Improving user experience
- Improving shopping experiences
- Gaining insights for consumer research
What drives our decisions?
When it comes to making decisions, we might think that we are in control, but the truth is that our choices are mostly driven by our unconscious mind. This is where implicit cognition comes into play - stimuli and processes that affect or drive our choices without our awareness.
Our unconscious mind operates in two forms:
- The unconscious state: for example being in deep sleep out or in a coma.
- Unconscious processes: even when we are awake, some of our mental processes are not something we have access to but still affect our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Recently, the term nonconscious has been used in the market research industry (particularly in the US). Regardless of the terminology, it's clear that our unconscious mind plays a crucial role in our decision-making.
How is neuromarketing different than consumer neuroscience?
Neuromarketing is the commercial application of neuroscience to understand customers' preferences and decisions, while consumer neuroscience is an interdisciplinary academic field that draws from psychology, neurology, and economics to study how the brain influences consumer behavior.
Neuromarketing provides high-quality consumer and market insights, while consumer neuroscience contributes to marketing research by providing a deeper understanding of consumers' decision-making processes.
Benefits of neuromarketing
Neuromarketing tools measure complex processes like attention, cognitive load, emotions and memory. It offers a layer of depth and clarity that traditional methods simply cannot access.
Some of the benefits of neuromarketing are:
- Understanding what attracts and retains customers. Neuromarketing offers the ability to quantify complex processes within the brain such as emotions. This helps to detect the specific stimuli like ad elements and scenes that evoke positive or negative feelings.
- Increased engagement for companies using neuromarketing. When companies are able to better measure customers and understand emotions, they also have more options to create engaging experiences and influence the customer.
- Better predictions of market reactions. New methods like predictive models can now predict where people will look when they encounter an advertisement, for example. This is creating a whole new wave of plug-and-play neuromarketing solutions that combine consumer neuroscience with big data and artificial intelligence.
- Brands can empower customers. Neuromarketing helps brands provide the tools their audience needs to make informed decisions. This includes providing clear product information, avoiding friction in the customer journey, and making it easy for customers to find what they're looking for.
- Reducing commercial noise & technostress. With its powers of efficiency, it can help companies cut through the clutter and eliminate wasteful marketing efforts. This not only benefits companies but also their customers, who can enjoy a more streamlined and stress-free experience, with less commercial noise, confusion, technostress, annoyance, and other negative effects.
How is neuromarketing different from traditional marketing?
Traditional marketing research methods measure conscious experiences and surface-level interaction. They rely on self-report data, such as surveys, focus groups and interviews to understand customer behavior.
These traditional methods suffer from self-report pitfalls and are unable to capture the subconscious mechanisms that drive persuasion.
On the other hand, neuromarketing offers granular data on behavioral responses, and it can track customer responses as they unfold over time.
This allows neuromarketing to provide a more accurate picture of how customers are really reacting to any marketing stimuli from messaging through commercials to customer experiences.
The neuromarketing toolkit: main techniques & methods
There are several different tools that are widely used in neuromarketing, including:
Eye-tracking is used to measure key aspects of eye movements. Eye-tracking attention metrics include:
- Time to first fixation
- Total fixation duration
- Fixation count
- Fixation order
Eye-tracking can also measure emotional arousal and cognitive load, since changes in pupil dilation reflect changes in emotional states. In fact, pupil dilation correlates with arousal.
The above metrics are useful for understanding how people process visual information and for testing the effectiveness of visual marketing materials.
Eye-tracking comes in three forms:
- stationary infrared
- glasses-based infrared
- webcam based (PC and phones)
The two former are considered the higher resolution, while webcam-based eye-tracking is considered less accurate and precise compared to infrared eye-trackers.
Eye-tracking is one of the most widespread neuromarketing tools because it is accessible and provides valuable insights into consumer behavior. Eye-tracking is also often used in combination with other neuromarketing tools like brain scanning. Combined eye-tracking and EEG offer novel insights for market research. We can now understand how people feel second by second while they interact with a piece of content or use a product.
Eye-tracking heatmaps are the visualizations of eye-tracking data. Heatmaps show important aspects of visual behavior and reveal what elements draw and maintain customer attention.
2. Brain scanning (Electroencephalography or EEG)
EEG measures brain activity by detecting the electrical discharges as they happen in the brain on a millisecond scale. This can be used to understand how the brain processes different types of stimuli like marketing campaigns.
EEG signals can be processed in many ways. The most typical is to look at how different frequency bands occur across the scalp, and how they are related to emotional and cognitive processes. Another method is Event-Related Potentials, in which the signal is aggregated through repeated exposures. Other and more recent methods include the analysis of connectivity between brain regions, and even the “noise” (entropy) of the brain during rest and active tasks.
Brain scanning is used in neuromarketing research to measure cognitive processes. It is a neuroscientific technique that can collect data on brain activity using sensors placed on the subject's scalp.
It is often combined with eye-tracking, which allows a better coupling of how people respond to when they are looking at specific things. Researchers also use EEG to track emotions as they unfold over time.
3. Facial coding
Facial coding involves analyzing facial expressions to understand emotions. However, more and more academics and industry leaders are calling into question the reliance of facial coding.
Unlike eye-tracking or EEG, which captures real-time responses directly from the source, facial expression analysis suffers from biases, lack of consistency, and, most importantly, limited association with real emotions.
Many companies that have neuromarketing research labs, such as Nielsen and Microsoft, have already phased out this method. Facial coding is no longer included in their ad testing toolkits marking a shift in focusing more on technologies that are supported by decades of scientific consensus.
4. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a neuroimaging method used in neuromarketing to get a better understanding of which regions of the brain that are active during certain types of consumer behavior. As such, it is more used in academic than commercial research. fMRI detects both conscious and unconscious responses from the surface to the deeper regions the brain.
The most used fMRI method is called BOLD fMRI (Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent) and it works by measuring the magnetic signature that oxygen-rich blood has. As a brain region is more active, it receives more oxygen-rich blood.
The technique has also been used to study human creativity.
5. Physiological measures
In neuromarketing, several psychological measures are used to assess people's emotional and cognitive responses to advertising and product-related stimuli. These measures include:
- Galvanic skin response, which measures electrodermal activity that reflects the intensity of participants' emotional reactions
- Pupil dilation, which reflects cognitive engagement and emotional arousal
- Heart rate, which can indicate levels of emotional arousal or stress
- Respiration is also used to measure physiological arousal and emotional responses
6. Implicit measures
Consumer behavior is not a completely rational cognitive process but also involves automatic and unconscious, so-called implicit processes of the mind.
The availability of new implicit measures has raised interest in understanding the unconscious mental processes. The role of automatic processes in human behavior has attracted psychological and psychophysical research, and Reaction Time (RT) has served as one of the more used indicators of implicit (automatic) processes.
Response Time (RT)
Response Time or Reaction Time (RT) refers to the time it takes for behavioral responses to occur during a particular task. RT is affected by emotional and cognitive processes, thus allowing it to be used as an index of unconscious emotion, motivation, and cognitive processing.
Implicit Association Test (IAT)
IAT is a psychological test that measures the strength of associations between concepts and evaluations or stereotypes. It is often used to assess implicit biases that people may have towards certain groups or concepts.
Fast Response Test (FRT)
FRT is a widespread scientific method for measuring unconscious processes and to collect real responses on people's implicit cognition and attitudes.
Overview of neuromarketing techniques
You’ll find an overview of major neuromarketing techniques in the below table:
How are companies using neuromarketing? (With examples)
Companies are interested in neuromarketing because it reveals how customers respond to specific ads, packaging, and campaigns. Businesses can collect valuable information on marketing assets and test image and video ads before launching them live.
Neuromarketing also helps brands understand decision-making triggers, motivations, and preferences in order to boost sales and grow their businesses.
Here are some examples from companies that use neuromarketing:
Meta uses neuromarketing to improve human experiences from online ads to VR. Facebook has built its own neuromarketing division to increase advertising revenue growth.
Meta commissioned Neurons to examine the cognitive and emotional responses of participants while they were having a virtual chat with an Oculus headset compared to a traditional face-to-face conversation. The study showed that VR conversations produced almost the same level of emotional engagement as in-person talks.
TikTok is actively using neuromarketing to measure attention and the effectiveness of the short video format that became key to the platform’s success. Partnering up with Neurons, TikTok has found that when coupled with other channels like TV and streaming services, TikTok ad performance is bolstered by preceding content.
For this study, neuromarketing experts measured attention and brand recall after participants saw brand ads on TV, a streaming service, and TikTok. The results suggest that brands can compound success by combining these channels into a fluid video marketing strategy.
Google ran a series of neuropsychology experiments to test the value of brand colors. The experiment became known as the 50 Shades of Blue study, which involved showing some Google users' search results links in a particular shade of blue and then measuring click metrics during the trial. The test concluded that an additional $200mn in revenue could be attributed to the color change.
Coca-Cola has used neuromarketing in quantitative ad performance projects, focusing on touching on all five senses in their ad campaigns. A neuromarketing study was conducted to compare customer preferences between Pepsi and Coke, as well as an in-store eye-tracking study to investigate customer behavior.
Frito-Lay has used neuromarketing to evaluate the efficiency of brand commercials and product packaging. They have also used it to measure how people react to the Cheetos brand and uncover the reasons why people like the Cheetos products.
Monotype, the world’s largest type foundry used neuromarketing to measure the emotional impact of typefaces on consumers. Partnering up with Neurons, Monotype proved the branding value of typography and found that type choice can make a word appear 13% more relevant to messaging, spark a 10% increase in how memorable it is, and bring a 9% increase in trustworthiness.
The neuromarketing findings also helped Monotype boost their brand in the world of design and typography. Monotype's brand campaign, Why fonts make us feel, leveraged the study's findings to evoke audience participation, resulting in more engagement and dialogue than any other Monotype campaign before it.
When Spotify was about to launch their solution to a billion potential customers in India, they wanted to find the right tune for brand activation ads. Spotify commissioned Neurons to help identify the exact tune that resonates best with the new audience. The end result helped significantly boost Spotify sales in India and lead to a successful product launch in a new market.
Lowe's Home Improvement in-store shopping behavior using neuromarketing tools. Using eye-tracking glasses, researchers measured participants' visual attention and emotional responses toward a specific product. The results showed that prior ad exposure broadened the participants' attention to the product and deepened their emotional responses, leading to a change in purchasing behavior.
IKEA collaborated with Neurons to test customer reactions to new, more sustainable business models. The team used high-resolution EEG headsets and eye trackers to measure consumer reactions to concepts like a new home solar offering that would enable customers to generate their own renewable energy. This allowed IKEA's head of sustainability innovation to create successful new business models, including home solar offerings and a shift to renewable plastics.
What can neuromarketing reveal about consumers?
Neuromarketing can help the understanding of the customer journey in four phases. It reveals whether ads:
- Get attention
- Appeal to viewers
- Are clear and understandable
- Make a lasting impression
This is also known as the '4 Power Model' for advertising success. It is proven blueprint developed by Neurons with Stanford University.
Questions it helps answer:
- Is your ad seen or ignored?
- Does it make people stop in their tracks?
- Does it retain attention long enough to generate a reaction?
- Will customers find your package on the shelf?
- Do people recognize your brand or notice the product description when they look at your product?
Building brand awareness is a key strategy for brands that want to grow. Ferrero, the renowned chocolate manufacturer, knows how to captivate its audience, especially during Valentine's Day. They achieve top-of-mind brand awareness through various neuromarketing strategies.
Ferrero places their logo prominently in every scene within the first 10 seconds of their Ferrero Rocher video ad. They use colors and themes that complement their brand elements. They combine a simple narrative with a visually appealing story to keep viewers engaged.
They also place the product in the center of the video's key scenes, making it the focal point of the entire video. The ad is also balances visual information well, avoiding complex and cognitively demanding scenes. This ensures that viewers are aware of the brand throughout the story.
The videograph below the video shows Focus and Cognitive Demand scores for each video frame. High Focus means that single elements draw attention. Balanced Cognitive Demand scores indicate that viewers see and are very likely aware of the brand.
The videograph is generated by Predict AI, which learned how to track the brain's capacity to process shifting visual information.
Questions it helps answer:
- Do people understand your ad's message?
- Is there a strong connection between your ad's story and your brand?
For example, abrupt changes or distractions in a visual narrative limit the chances that viewers will remember key details of a commercial.
We sometimes forget what we were supposed to do after a distracting event or by just simply walking from one room to another. This phenomenon is called conceptual closure or the doorway effect.
Studies show that when we walk through "doorways", the brain resets, and we quickly lose our train of thought. The same happens when a scene shifts abruptly in a visual narrative, in a commercial.
McDonald's “distractingly good deals” ad does not fall prey to the doorway effect because the commercial keeps its narrative simple and keeps Cognitive Demand relatively low.
The Cognitive Demand score below the video shows how much information there is on a video frame at any time. The videograph is generated by Predict AI. The higher the score, the more demand, and the more likely it is that the viewer will be overloaded with information and will have a hard time remembering the ad.
Emotions & feelings
Questions it helps answer:
- What reactions does your advertising, packaging, or product create when people look at it?
- Does it create engagement, a concrete need, or is the reaction neutral?
The combination of EEG and eye-tracking tools help measure responses like attention, emotion, motivation and memory. The results of such behavioral tests allow brand to make data-driven decisions to help ensure that every single scene in the ads resonates as strongly as possible with the viewers. It also helps evaluate campaign potential before a launch.
Questions it helps answer:
- What do people remember from your advertisement or product experience?
- Do they remember the ad but not your brand?
- Have they had a bad experience that gives them bad associations with your brand when they see it again?
96% of viewers are not going to see your brand if it’s in the bottom-right corner of your ad. This area, also known as the Corner of Death, only receives 4% of viewer attention.
Placing important elements here is one of the worst ideas for brand building. A brand logo or call-to-action (CTA) in this area can lead to decreased saliency and visibility.
But still, about 50% of all ads use brand logos in the bottom-right corner.
You can boost brand memory by experimenting with different logo and brand placements.
Is neuromarketing ethical?
Participants in any type of study, including those in neuromarketing, are concerned about their privacy and how their data will be used. People taking part in studies want assurances on confidentiality and that their information will be used exclusively for scientific purposes.
While it is true that neuromarketing can provide companies with a deeper understanding of customer behavior, it is important to use this knowledge ethically and transparently.
Neuromarketing should not be used to deceive or manipulate customers, but rather to create better products and marketing campaigns that meet their needs and preferences.
However, it is up to companies and researchers to ensure that neuromarketing is used ethically. This means being transparent about the methods and techniques used, obtaining informed consent from participants, and respecting their privacy.
Principles for transparent neuromarketing include:
- An open book model — all methods and metrics have to be grounded in scientific journals (and if possible, contribute to knowledge creation)
- Transparency is key — clients should be able to have access to raw data to double-check and validate findings at their convenience
- Textbook science — all methods and metrics need to rely on well-established knowledge from neuroscience and neuropsychology — experimental metrics should be classified as “experimental”
What is the future of neuromarketing?
The future of neuromarketing looks bright, with many experts predicting that it will become an increasingly important part of marketing and research in the coming years. As technology continues to advance, neuromarketing will likely become more sophisticated and able to provide insights into customer behavior.
Neuromarketing and AI
One area of growth for neuromarketing is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Neuromarketing and AI have a powerful connection that can generate explosive results. AI can be used to predict customer behavior with great accuracy, simulate human vision and consumer attention, and revolutionize the field of marketing. With the emergence of AI, some limitations of neuromarketing will disappear as AI allows affordable means to predict behavior and generate validated data.
Neuromarketing is the bridge that connects businesses to the mysterious workings of the human mind. The field will only continue to grow, shaping the way we connect with brands and make purchasing decisions.
Neurons offers three tools to help you understand consumer behavior & improve marketing performance:
- Predict, an attention prediction AI that predicts customer responses in a few clicks;
- Explore, a remote testing tool that collects real responses from your target audience;
- Research, a bespoke neuroscience solution with EEG & eye-tracking for full-scale studies.
Learn more about Neuromarketing
⇢ Free neuromarketing course: An Introduction to Consumer Neuroscience & Neuromarketing
⇢ Advanced neuromarketing course: Advanced Neuromarketing
⇢ Podcast series on the latest neuromarketing trends: The Brainfluence Podcast