The last decade there has been an increased interest regarding to how our brain works and how the implicit processes in our brain influence our behavior. Many books have been published about the brain such as ‘The tipping point’ of Malcolm Gladwell, ‘Buyology’ of Martin Lindstrom, ‘Thinking fast and slow’ of Daniel Kahneman and ‘We are our brain’ of Dick Swaab and many more. Also on television we are faced with programs about the brains such as Brain Games on National Geographic. We get to know more and more about this small intelligent organ. Some people like neurologist Victor Lamme state that we will be able to read our minds within a couple of years. Wouldn't it would be interesting to use this knowledge about the brain to learn about what really gets the attention of our brains and in this way find out how brands will be noticed and remembered in the flood of messages? In this blog you find out about what the implicit processes are in our consumer behavior.  This blog is the first in a series of blogs about neuromarketing and answers the question what the implicit processes are behind our consumer behavior. Enjoy!

As smart as marketeers are, they thought they could use techniques such as FMRI, Eye tracking, EEG and insights from neurology and social psychology and translate this to the businessfield. By using these techniques we know what is going on in the brain when a consumer shows a certain behavior and get insights in what really drives us and defines our behavior. This is examined by measuring where and when there is brainactivity in the brain and how the brain reacts to a curtain stimuli. When a person for example acts, sees or thinks, some areas of the brain are activated. In this way marketeers can find out what a customer really thinks and are able to actually read the mind.

These insights can help companies to address more specifically to the latent customer needs and this way create better products and reduce costs. It is important for marketeers to understand these implicit processes because, if marketeers know what drives the consumer, it may be possible to predict consumer’s behavior. In this way marketeers can create methods that influence this behavior precisely so that no money is wasted anymore. How nice would it be to know exactly what is going on in the mind of the consumer and in this way be able to predict consumer behavior? In this way we can be sure that our marketing strategy really pays off to get the most bang for your buck.

Three important components regarding consumer behavior

In general three components are measured: emotional attachement, attention and memory. By observing if a certain area of the brain is active, we know what kind of emotion a consumer experiences at that moment. Furthermore it can show that if a consumer pays attention to a certain message and the message is consequently stored in the short or long term memory. Besides it can measure if a consumer experiences a negative or a positive emotion such as joy, fear or disgust if he is faced with a certain stimuli.

The magical processes in our brain

To be able to know how to respond to implicit processes of a consumer, I want to introduce you to what happens in the brain when you choose for a certain brand and what areas in the brain play an important role resulting in a specific consumer behavior. First, the reward system (Nucleus Accembens) plays a major role in our buying behavior. This area of the brain is activated if we experience positive emotions such as joy, lust, empathy, relevance and trust. The reward system reflects desire for a certain stimuli. If the reward system is activated when a consumer is faced with a certain brand this can result in a positive buying decision. This results in the creation of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This chemical substance stimulates your reward system and makes you feel happy.

The insular cortex is on the other hand activated when we experience negative emotions such as pain, disgust, anger and loss. If this area of the brain is activated this may lead to a negative buying decision. Pain is also related to spending money. If a consumer considers an object as very expensive, this area of the brain is also activated. So spending money literatelly hurts the brain. Marketeers already respond to this by promotions and using mentally attractive prices such as €99,95 instead of €100,-. If a consumer experiences positive emotions regarding a brand and thinks a brand has a high added value, this leads to approach behavior. If a consumer experiences negative emotions regarding a brand, this leads to avoidance behavior.

The decision process takes mainly place in the prefrontal cortex. You can can imagine this area as a referee between the reward system and the Insula. The prefrontal cortex(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prefrontal_cortex) is associated with the knowledge regarding brands and what buying decision will be made in the end. Furthermore this area is involved in cognitive and emotional functions such as planning, decision making, moderating social behavior, personality expression and comprehending information. This amazing brain region has also been implicated with the regulation of emotions and impulse control.

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ventromedial_prefrontal_cortex) plays an important role regarding brand experience, brand reputation and the control of emotions. The role the ventromedia lprefrontal cortex plays in our buying behavior, is nicely reflected by the world famous research on the brand perception of Pepsi and Coca Cola. This research shows that as long as people do not know what brand they drink, they like Pepsi best, considering the strong response in the reward system using a FMRI scanner. However, if they do know what brand they consume, the brain activity changes radically. Especially with regard to the consumption of Coca Cola, a strong activity in the hippocampus (memory) and the reward center is observed. The interesting thing is that if people know what they consume, Coca Cola emerges as favorite. In this example it becomes clear that brand reputation and brand experience influence our buying behavior and brand preferences significantly.  

Finally, the limbic system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limbic_system)  plays an important role regarding motivation, emotion and memory. The limbic system includes the hippocampus and the amygdala. These brain areas are responsible for the storage of messages in the brain. All information that enters through the senses, will be linked by the amygdala to emotions. So if you experience something unpleasant, the object or event wich you regard as unpleasant, will be linked by the amygdala to a negative emotion. Subsequently, the hippocampus ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocampus), which is responsible for the storage and retrieval of memories, will receive this information from the amygdala and ensures that an emotion - that is linked to an event or object - will be stored in the memory. In this way the emotion a consumer experiences regarding a brand, is stored in the hippocampus. Campaigns often anticipate the fear and loss (which is detected by the amygdala) by letting consumers think: ‘If you do not purchase a product or service of a particular brand, you will miss something important and you will be unhappy’.

Why we choose for a certain brand?

So now you know what happens in the brain when we choose for a brand, It's time to know why you choose for a certain brand. Our brain is full of algoritms and ‘somatic markers’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somatic_marker_hypothesis) that link certain events or objects with a certain emotion. For example, if you have burned your hand once to a hot oven, you found out that it hurts when you touch a hot oven. While experiencing this pain, you created a link in your brain between a hot oven "and "do not touch otherwise it hurts." That link ensures that you associate the hot oven with danger and the negative emotion pain.

In this way you created millions of similar algorithms in your brain that you made during a particular events. These algorithms will make sure that we can make a decision on autopilot at a rapid pace. In this way we can make 500 million decisions daily. These algorithms ensure unaware that we purchase something that we think it gives us the most. You can compare the brain with Google. The brain is based on similar algorithms as Google. The more popular and more relevant is the brand, the sooner the consumer chooses the brand. The brain selects and chooses in this way the most relevant and reliable products and services. If your product or service is linked to a number of positive emotions such as trust, happiness or social status you get a better chance to be chosen. In this way we choose the brand that has the most value. When a consumer associates a brand with positive emotions and your brand is regarded as most valuable, this leads to a positive buying decision.

So how then respond to the unconciousness of the potential customers and ensure that the customer chooses you instead of the competitor? This question will be answered in my next blog together with some nice examples of how companies already apply neuromarketing!