How to Use Neuromarketing in Your Business: Predicting Success

pros and cons of neuromarketing

Neuromarketing is a relatively new marketing tool used to make strategic decisions and guide marketing strategy. NeuroMarketing is part of a marketing philosophy that examines marketing from the perspective of biological responses to marketing efforts. The appeal of Neuromarketing is its relationship to hard science, where experimentation leads to concrete answers. Alternatively, when organizations ask consumers what they like their answers are filtered through biases and need

Image courtesy of Retail Minded

to provide answers that fit societal norms.

According to Wikipedia, NeuroMarketing:

studies consumers’ sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective response to marketing stimuli. Researchers use technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure changes in activity in parts of the brain, electroencephalography (EEG) to measure activity in specific regional spectra of the brain response, and/or sensors to measure changes in one’s physiological state (heart rate, respiratory rate, galvanic skin response) to learn why consumers make the decisions they do, and what part of the brain is telling them to do it.

Marketing strategy is NOT science

The notion of neuromarketing comes from some very smart people (including Crick, one of the founders of DNA structure and how it contributes to observed traits) who view all human behavior, thoughts, and feelings as having a biological basis in brain chemistry. While it’s easy to debate whether this is true, especially considering consumer decision-making is heavily influenced by external factors such as stimuli in the environment and peer influence, the use of neuromarketing for developing a deeper understanding of how consumers respond to stimuli like advertising and packaging, offers insights companies can use to predict successful communication.

There are a number of sites if you’re interested in the science behind Neuromarketing. You can try this blog site, the Wikipedia site where I got the definition, or this post from Public Broadcasting (PBS).

I’d like to talk about the Marketing aspect, especially using Neuromarketing as part of your marketing strategy.

Neuromarketing uses

By tracking the response of consumers to various stimuli (usually images such as pictures or other visuals and sounds such as music or words), firms can tell when the stimuli aroused the consumer. If fMRIs or EEGs are used, firms can estimate the degree of interest aroused by a particular ad (by how brightly it lights up the brain when scanned) and even estimate which emotions are generated by the ad (by observing which parts of the brain light up — some centers are more cognitive, some more affective or emotional). Galvanic skin response, heart rate, and respiration rate are the classic elements of a lie detector test used, in this case, as a surrogate for brain processes because they correlate with brain activity. Below is an image showing some of the most common tools used to study the neurological aspects of consumer behavior.

neuromarketing tools
Image courtesy of TechTarget

Eye movements, while not strictly part of Neuromarketing, are also sometimes used to track biological responses to stimuli either alone or in conjunction with measures of brain activity. Firms might attempt to assess how long a consumer views an object, such as an ad, or get more specific details by looking for eye changes, such as pupil dilation, that signify arousal. Armed with information about where the eye looks when exposed to a website, a TV screen, or a print ad, helps businesses better construct their layout to glean more attention that hopefully translates into better conversion rates. For example, putting the CTA (call to action) button on a portion of a webpage that attracts more attention might increase the number of clicks the button receives. By the same token, a brand can monitor which color attracts the eye.

Here are some contexts where neuromarketing might be used:

  • Advertising Testing – increasingly, neuromarketing is used by advertisers to test alternate advertisements
  • Movies – testing might be used to assess interest in actors, decide between alternate endings of a movie, or select movie sequences to include in the movie trailer.
  • Brand testing – neuromarketing might help in selecting brand names that resonate with consumers, as well as how strongly they feel about a brand and whether their response to a brand is cognitive or emotional.

Despite the promise of such insights, marketers are wary of using this testing tool. One reason for this is that most marketers tend toward a behavioral evaluation of human behavior, rather than believing that behavior, attitudes, and decisions are a forgone conclusion based on brain chemistry. Academics decry the use of devices to measure complete human decisions as either useless or failing to contribute anything unique to existing understandings of consumer preferences.

This skepticism is declining over time. In part, the declining skepticism is a function of more brands using the technology to improve performance. A recent article in Forbes contained the following statement:

According to research, 85% of consumer decisions are not made consciously. Neuromarketing offers access to this territory for a deeper analysis of consumer preferences and behavior.

Of course, there’s still the hurdle posed by the cost of machines to assess human brain responses to stimuli, as well as the skills necessary to accurately interpret the results. Add to this the challenges involved in getting consumers to trust researchers with such invasive technologies and getting studies past human subjects committees that view the use of fMRI and EEG as requiring enhanced scrutiny. Marketers face serious hurdles in employing neuromarketing.


That brings up the topic of ethics when it comes to this type of research whether for academic or practitioner goals. Here are some ethical considerations:

  1. Informed consent is critical to ensure participants understand what you will study and the value they’ll receive from taking part in the study.
  2. Every effort must be made to ensure the privacy and security of any data collected from participants.
  3.  Transparency is also important if you wish to gain and retain the trust of consumers.

Warnings about using neuromarketing

  1. First and foremost, human brains are not computers and buying decisions are not based entirely on measurable brain activity. Other aspects impact consumers’ buying decisions including elements of the marketing strategy, such as pricing. Shopping pals — friends you go shopping with — also impact decisions by giving you feedback as you shop and some decisions may not be based on your own preferences but may reflect the preferences of family, co-workers, roommates, and others affected by product choice.

    pros and cons of neuromarketing
    Image courtesy of TechTarget
  2. Learning affects buying decisions. Hence, while the brain may respond in a particular way to stimuli, the consumer may not have the same response when they encounter the product in a retail environment. Subsequent stimuli may have modified the original response to the brand or the original response may not be remembered. For instance, the consumer may not recall the commercial or their response to it when they are shopping later for products.
  3. Even MRIs lack a certain element of specificity so it’s difficult to determine the meaning of brain responses to stimuli.


Neuromarketing may offer some insights into human behavior that can help organizations with some marketing choices such as:

  • product design testing;
  • user experience testing;
  • A/B testing to compare the effects of similar ads;
  • optimizing a call to action, such as “Visit our website”;
  • assessing the neural impact of images in an advertisement; and
  • rebranding campaigns.

However, the cost and ethical considerations involved in using this tool might outweigh any benefits achieved through careful studies.

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