Neuromarketing: Using Neuroscience to Supercharge Results

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Advertising legends such as David Ogilvy, Claud C. Hopkins and Leo Burnett understood the power of neuromarketing. Back then, they just didn’t call it that. They vigorously tested strategies for appealing to their target audience, driving more sales and generating greater results. They knew down to a science what worked — and what didn’t.

Like these advertising giants, some marketers today are using neuroscience to supercharge results. And so can you.

But how?

The brain is at the core of every single decision that customers make about your products and services. When you crack the code, unprecedented visibility is granted into customer behavior. But what specific strategies are marketers using?

Neuromarketing: The Nuts and Bolts

Neuromarketing is the study of consumers’ sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective response to marketing stimuli. It digs deep into customer behavior to provide insight into what customers think about your products and services. For example, if people aren’t purchasing your new product, could changing something simple, such as the packaging, color, or size of text make a sizable difference?

Marketers test responses with real people in real time using a variety of strategies, but here are a couple of popular methods.

MRI. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the body uses a powerful magnetic field, radio waves and a computer to produce detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Marketing researchers us it to track the brain’s flow of blood as a person responds to a variety of visual and audio cues. With this method, researchers are usually examining the deep parts of the brain typically associated with pleasure.

EEG. An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test that detects electrical activity in your brain. This method attaches electrodes to the scalp (sometimes the electrodes are placed in a cap that fits the head tightly) and is cheaper than the MRI. The EEG allows the participant to move more freely, which makes the process more comfortable than the confinement of the MRI. Electrodes measure electrical waves produced by the brain and allow researchers to track emotions, such as anger, excitement, and sadness.

You might well be thinking “That sounds great, but our B2B marketing team doesn’t have a budget for an MRI or an EEG.” There are a few powerful actions that you can still take (more on that in a minute). But first, here are a few examples of companies that use neuroscience that might inspire your efforts to add neuromarketing to your arsenal.

Brands That Use Neuromarketing

Because the brain is hardwired to respond to certain factors in a specific way, major brands have used neuromarketing to generate greater results for several years. For example, marketers who want to understand why customers are purchasing less of a product can gain greater understanding through neuromarketing. Here are a few examples:

Frito-Lay: Uncovering Unexpected Information

Frito-Lay hired a neuromarketing company to better understand the popular snack food Cheetos. It selected a group of customers and scanned each participant’s brain. The goal was to measure the responses to different attributes about the popular snack food.

The results were surprising. The researchers discovered that the sticky, yucky, orange dust that covers customers’ fingers when eating the snack was actually desirable. Yes, you read that right. They liked having their hands turn into a glowing, grimy mess. What’s more, the company leveraged this new information to overhaul its existing advertising campaign. In fact, NeuroFocus, the company that helped them, actually earned a Grand Ogilvy award (awarded by the Advertising Research Foundation) for its research.

Frito-Lay also uses neuroscience for other types of products. For example, they wanted to test women’s responses to Lay’s® Oven Baked Potato Crisps. Findings of their studies shaped an ad campaign that focused on new single-serving packaging.

Key takeaway. Customers may love attributes about your products that you weren’t expecting. Research can help you discover this information, so you can tap into it and drive great results.

Coca-Cola: Measuring Emotions

The soft drink giant uses neuromarketing to gauge customer emotions about its products. Unlike the MRI or EEG approach, the company uses a technique called “facial coding” that records facial expressions. The process is as follows:

“The technology is seamlessly integrated, and with the participant’s permission, it simply records their face while they watch ads within a normal survey environment, automatically interpreting the viewer’s emotional and cognitive states, moment by moment.”

Basically, facial coding slows down video of subjects to find those fleeting, true emotions that register for only a fraction of a second yet are caught on video.

In this specific instance, customers are exposed to a piece of product packaging and their responses are recorded and categorized as positive, negative or neutral. This strategy is used in conjunction with an interview to identify impact points to change. For example, the company found that color, imagery, and even text size made a serious impact.

Key Takeaway: Expensive equipment isn’t always required to uncover the feelings and emotions that customers have about your products. Partner with an agency that decodes customers’ facial responses to your products and services using less complex, yet accurate methods.

PayPal: Uncovering Unexpected Messaging Opportunities

For many years, PayPal’s messaging focused on safety and security. Since it sold financial services, it was natural to assume that people were primarily concerned with these benefits. Yet once the company started using neuromarketing, they uncovered an even more powerful message.

Customers did want safe and secure services, but they also wanted something more – speed and convenience. Customers wanted to send and receive money quickly and easily. Once this was discovered, the company took a new approach to marketing and leveraged these appeals.

Key takeaway. Use neuromarketing to look past obvious features and benefits. Hidden appeals are very powerful, but you have to dig to uncover them.

A Few More Examples


Google partnered with Mediavest to conduct a biometrics study to determine the effectiveness of YouTube overlays versus pre-rolls.

The results were interesting. They discovered that the overlays were more effective, so the company began leveraging this option to drive greater results.

The Weather Channel

The Weather Channel used EEG, skin response tests, and eye-tracking to measure different viewer reactions to three various promotional pitches for a popular series.


The car manufacturer gave participants EEG caps and asked them to examine a prototype car for an hour. Hyundai carefully studied their responses and used the data to make changes to the car’s design.

4 Easy Tips for Success

Do you want to use neuroscience to start generating results now? If so, here are some basic tips you can deploy for success.

1. Keep fonts simple.

A study conducted by Hyunjin Song and Norber Schwarz at University of Michigan discovered the impact of fonts on the brain. If you need a customer to complete a task, use large font. A good example of this is the startup instructions you receive with a new computer or printer. Notice the font is very large. This isn’t a mistake. Large fonts help customers remember and simplify tasks.

2. Use scarcity to generate greater response.

The brain is hardwired to react when it feels scarcity. For example, let’s say a website has a limited-time offer, featuring a great price. Customers who think they can’t come back later must make a decision. It speeds up the sales cycle.

3. Leverage congruent attitudes.

Nick Kolenda, author of “Methods of Persuasion,” coined the term “congruent attitude” to explain a powerful psychology principle. He explains the principle below:

“It’s an attitude that you develop after performing actions consistent with that attitude.”

Sound confusing? Let’s look at an example. When somebody makes a small request and you comply, you are more likely to fulfill the next request. Why? Because not complying would counter your initial attitude.

For example, Upworthy has a clever email opt-in. They ask if you agree with the following statement, “It’s nice to be reminded of the good in the world.” You can respond either “I agree” or “I disagree.”

Naturally, most people will say, “I agree.” Now you’ve complied with the first request. Then the company goes on to say, “We think so too,” then asks that you sign up for their blog. Brilliant, right? If you think so, try setting up something similar on one of your calls to action (for your newsletter, perhaps?) and measure results.

4. Wake up the brain with unexpected words.

The brain is wired to predict what comes next. For example, if somebody says, “The cow jumps over the BLANK,” you say moon. If they say, “It’s like a needle in a BLANK,” you say haystack.

Somebody once said that Americans will always buy the biggest version of something that they can afford. And we’ve always thought that bigger is better, especially for ambition: “Think big” has been a mantra for decades.

In the late fifties and early sixties, this was exemplified by the cars we drove.

No Smart cars need apply! Until the ad agency DDB confounded those knee-jerk expectations with the world-changing ad campaign it did for Volkswagen.

Your takeaway? Wake up the brain by plugging unexpected word choices into tired old sayings.

Maximizing Awareness, Generating Results

In the end, the brain is seeking solutions that will solve its pain points. But awareness is key. Take the time to understand customers’ thought processes on an entirely new level and understand their needs. Apply a few (or many) neuroscience marketing techniques to gain that understanding or optimize your findings, then communicate in a way that serves customers better to drive unprecedented results.