By Meredith Barrett published November 12, 2014

Brain-to-Brain Marketing: Creating Content with Consumer Science in Mind

Brain-To-Brain-MarketingAs consumers, we exert free will and believe in our ability to make informed decisions. As content marketers, we appreciate how advertising strategies and social marketing influence consumers’ purchasing behaviors and decisions. But how do we develop the right content marketing strategies and tactics to effectively influence consumers? Enter the world of consumer psychology, which studies thought processes, emotional reactions, reasoning, and selection between various competing alternatives (e.g., brands, products, retailers), according to Consumer Psychologist. Competitive companies use consumer psychology to understand the conscious and unconscious factors influencing consumer-purchasing behaviors. They harness that power to successfully develop and adapt their content marketing strategies and campaigns.

Even they don’t know

Research into the unconscious mind demonstrates that people eat faster when they hear energetic music and walk slower when a store uses small floor tiles. Advertisements during movie previews are less effective when people munch on popcorn. As for the cherry on top? Consumer psychology research reveals that a strawberry placed on top of a cake leads people to believe it has fewer calories than it does.

What we see

Review this eBay screenshot to see all the visual prompts to guide consumer purchasing. Words such as “free” and “limited quantity” are used to entice bidders.

Barrett - Consumer Psychology - EBay screenshot (1)

Studies demonstrate that the visual aspect of a product is the primary influencing factor to taking an action. Subconscious judgments are made within the first minute and a half, with up to 90% of the judgments based on color. The influence of color is complicated. Red is often presented as an action- oriented color and used to encourage consumers to make decisive purchasing choices. A Psychology Today experiment attempted to determine how the color of an online button would influence the number of completed health applications. Users who clicked the red button had a 34% greater sign-up rate than those with a green button. However, the red-button consumers progressed quickly through the information and forms, suggesting more impulsive decision-making behavior.

How we feel

Science tells us that consumers rely more on personal feelings and experiences than on static information such as brand facts and features when making brand decisions. Scientists found that the emotional response to a television commercial is three times more effective on someone’s purchase decision than the spot’s actual content. In print ads, that emotion-to-content effectiveness was two to one. It is the brand’s likability and emotional connection with the consumer that lead to brand loyalty above and beyond the product’s attributes and features.

What our bodies reveal

Technological advances are pushing the field of consumer psychology forward in exciting new ways using innovative neuromarketing techniques. Researchers can now monitor and study consumers’ cognitive and affective responses to various marketing stimuli. Glasses can track eye movement to evaluate how well signs or products grab consumers’ attention. A consumer’s excited or anxious response to stimuli also can be detected by galvanic-skin-response systems that measure bodily secretion of sweat. In addition, researchers can measure the brain’s reaction using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

How we buy

Consumer behavior in supermarkets demonstrates that consumers make decisions regarding food much more quickly than larger purchases like a house or a car. Thus, food-product marketing strategies aim to be short, concise, and eye-catching. Instead of poring over a busy, wordy food-product package (or bypassing it altogether), consumers are reassured by a simply packaged product because the visual marketing matches their buying-behavior process. So why do we choose certain alternatives when presented with multiple options? It’s the theory of relative thinking, where decision-making is influenced by the context, including presentation of alternatives. Consider this supermarket scenario: Product A has a shelf price of $6, but a shelf tag offers a special – $4 after $2 rebate. Competitor Product B has a shelf price of $3 but no additional tags or signage. Most consumers will buy A because they perceive it is a better deal. Conversely, if only the final costs were shown, most consumers would choose B because they see it as the less expensive.

Who we think we are

The concept and influence of social identity – how we identify ourselves (e.g., young, old, conservative, liberal, environmentalist, capitalist) – influence our receptivity to and level of persuasion by marketing campaigns. Effective marketing must be memorable, but what is memorable to one consumer is forgotten by another. Therefore, persuasive and memorable marketing strategies are most effective when targeted to “self-identity” or one’s “social identity.” For example, a marketer for a blood-pressure drug that targets middle-age adults will be more successful using a spokesperson of similar age. The targeted audience identifies socially with the spokesperson more than it would with a teenager. In fact, marketing campaigns that poorly match the level of social identity can lead to “unmemorable” marketing attempts or, even worse, negative reception by consumers as the same self-identity research shows.

What we said

Customer feedback is a direct channel that allows content marketers to understand consumer psychology. Collecting and analyzing this data allow content marketers to fine-tune strategies based on conscious factors influencing consumer-purchasing behaviors. Yet customer feedback is often riddled with emotional reactions of consumers who had a negative brand experience. Emotionally charged consumers are the ones motivated to leave unprompted feedback (e.g., through a survey online or social media accounts). Companies will be at their own peril if they make strategic decisions based on the loud voices of a few.

Conclusion

Advances in consumer psychology research will grow in their contribution to content marketing. As consumer experiences become more and more targeted, companies may be able to use what they have learned from consumer psychology to know what we want to buy before we are even aware, with our choices being coaxed and steered at a subconscious level. Want to know more about the science and the art of content marketing? Check out the diverse CMW sessions available through our Video on Demand portal.

Cover image by George Hodan, Publicdomainpictures.net, via pixabay

Author: Meredith Barrett

Meredith Barrett has a master's degree in Social Work from Wilfrid-Laurier University, Ontario. She has worked as a clinical social worker and as a published researcher for Correctional Service Canada, and currently resides in Québec City with her bunny. She is interested in psychology, criminology, social sciences and mental health.

Other posts by Meredith Barrett

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  • Mary Jane Kinkade

    Terrific insight! Thanks for posting…

  • http://www.3rhinomedia.com/ Don Stanley

    Love this Meredith! I think understanding how we see, feel and engage with content on a psychological and neuro level is very, very under-appreciated and/or misunderstood. Thank you for sharing these useful insights. It makes the neuroscience geek in me very happy 😉

  • http://robertgibb.me Robert Gibb

    Two things:

    1) The color red does work. But like you mentioned, it can lead people to make rash decisions,

    Informed decisions – not rash ones – create great customers down the road. A customer that makes a rash decision is more likely to become a “problem child” or mess up your monthly numbers by joining you, then leaving you shortly after.

    In a nutshell: Persuade by educating, not by tricking the human mind. That just ain’t cool (unless you’re using a red button to prompt the download of an informative whitepaper, case study, etc. – not a free trial. Hmmm, now we’re onto something …)

    2) When I see a price slash on an expensive product, I’ll buy it – even if it’s still more expensive than a very similar product. Why? Because I believe that more expensive is better, even if it’s not.

    For instance, you can tell me over and over again that inexpensive wine can be better than expensive wine. And maybe I’ll believe you for the day, but after I sleep on it, I’m going to wake up with my old thinking: Expensive wine is probably better because it’s more expensive.

    Put a price slash on that expensive wine … that expensive jar a spaghetti sauce … and I’m going to buy it. I’m a consumer, baby, and I love it.

    Want to know one of my favorite facts? Perception is more powerful than fact (head spins).

    Thanks Meredith!

  • paulhasselsmonning

    Well phrased indeed. Emotion for some foggy reason remains underestimated and underused by B2B marketers and salesprofessionals. In order to win the prospects’ and customers’ minds and hearts a new approach is imperative, a blend between inbound and customer psychology.

    This very insight brought me to write ‘Brainbound Marketing, new online sales strategies in B2B’ (Van Duuren Media, November 2013 – in dutch only in 1st edition). The sneak preview of a neuromarketing study conducted in collaboration with NeuroSpire can be found here (full details in the book): http://www.slideshare.net/dutchmarq/neuromarketing-b2b-online-video-survey-sneak-preview #b2b

    An english summary of the book can be found here: http://www.dutchmarq.nl/en/whitepapers/managementbook-digital-marketing-sales-b2b/ #book

    What great examples do you know of B2B companies already leveraging the power of emotion in their prospects’ & customers’ buying journey?

  • Danielle Kane

    Great post. Very updated and documented. There are still a lot to say, but you pointed the basics very well.Thank you.