Neuroscience helps us marketers understand customers' behavior by giving us deep insight into what works and what doesn't in persuading our customers to buy a product or service.

Neuromarketing, the use of neuroscience principles for marketing, can help to boost your efforts to achieve massive benefits for your brand or organization.

The following five neuromarketing principles, when put into practice, will boost your marketing and advertising campaigns.

1. Familiarity, User Experience, and Content

It's frequently said that familiarity breeds contempt; however, in user experience, it could be said familiarity breeds trust. The more familiar we are with a user experience, the more our cognitive processes recognize and respond positively to it.

In marketing, therefore, organizations put in a great deal of money, time, and effort into producing the best possible experience for users.

Organizations in this digital age often tend to prioritize Big Data and rational thought over creativity and emotion; however, those who truly understand consumer behavior recognize that consumers' emotions play an outsized role in driving their decision to buy—and that, eventually, emotion is what drives brand trust.

"Most neuroscientists would agree that well over 90% of our behavior is generated outside of consciousness. We are more slaves to our biology than we realize. Our rational minds represent a very small layer floating atop a vast well of unconscious drivers. Business leaders who understand biological programming and can leverage it possess an enormous advantage," explains neuroscience business expert Janet Crawford in an interview.

Marketers, through their content, can tap into the way humans are hardwired to react to familiar and emotional messages.

A good example is Coca-Cola's polar bear commercials, which activate the brain's object recognition centers, specifically the fusiform face area (FFA), the part of our brain that triggers face recognition. Coca Cola's marketers evidently understand that activating the FFA, particularly by displaying anthropomorphized bear family bonding in the video, can help consumers come to love the brand.

2. Reciprocity

People often feel obligated to pay back favors and debts, no matter how little, both because of societal norms and innate behavior. This phenomenon is termed reciprocity.

When somebody does something good for another, that other person often feels a desire to repay.

Applying this principle is simple: Give something of value to your customers without any stated expectation of getting something back.  

What can you offer to your customers or potential customers that will stimulate a sense of obligation and steer them toward action to repay you? You can provide exclusive information, free trials, free samples, or anything else that the recipient might view as valuable and useful.

If applied properly, this principle can help to significantly increase conversions and boost sales of products and services. For example, Cornell University research found that a free piece of candy after a restaurant meal on average increased tips 18%.

Other research has found that...

  • Gratitude generates short-term feelings of reciprocity that create an environment for building stronger relationships.
  • The propensity to reciprocate from gratitude decays over time, so mechanisms must be set up to take advantage of those feelings.
  • The feelings of gratitude are strengthened when the actions are viewed as benevolent and not self-serving for the company.
  • The feelings of gratitude are strengthened when the actions are perceived as coming from the free will of an employee (without any direct benefits for the employee).

3. The Scarcity Principle

It is typical of people to desire something they can't have. Similarly, when a product or service is in short supply, potential buyers feel a sense of urgency to buy it before it becomes unavailable. This principle works both when there's a supply scarcity and when a deadline limits access.

Research by Ratner and Zhu has found that when consumers have the impression that products are scarce, they discard their decision-making choices and gather more quantities of their favored product. However, when the consumer thinks that there's a surplus of each product, the consumer branches out, getting both a number of the favored product and a varied collection of other available products.

The idea is nearly a no-brainer: When you desire to fuel the purchases of a popular product, create an environment of scarcity; however, when you don't want the quick depletion of a product, offer a range of selections and create an environment that persuades customers to branch out with their purchases.

4. From Flattery to Liking

There's one thing that can regularly make the difference between a successful sale and a failed one: the liking effect. In short, people are more apt to say yes to a person (or to a product/service) if they like that person or offering.

So, how can you persuade customers that your brand or organization likes them?

One approach is flattery—using pleasing compliments—to persuade people to buy a product or service. The application of the concept can take various forms, but, generally, the idea is to guide a flattered lead toward a sale offer.

Flattery has been proven very effective in marketing. Elaine Chan and Jaideep Sengupta, professors of marketing at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, have found that even insincere flattery works in marketing.

5. 'Anchoring' for Boosting Conversion

Anchoring happens when people use an initial piece of information as the basis for making subsequent judgments. For your customer, the anchor is the point of reference against which all other products, offers, or prices are compared. Once the anchor is set, there is usually a bias toward that value.

An example of anchoring and adjustment as a sales technique would be if a used-car salesman (or any salesman) were to quote a very high price to start negotiations. Because the high price is the anchor, the final price will tend to be higher than if the car salesman had offered a fair or low price to start. There are many examples of the anchoring principle at work.

Businesses can make use of the anchoring effect in marketing to take advantage of this quirk in the human mind that has people making judgments based not on fundamental value but on impressions prejudiced by initial reference points—anchors.

If you desire to use anchors in your marketing and selling strategies, be aware of your target audience. Don't set your anchor price too high; otherwise, the natural tendency to reference other products against the initial product will be significantly reduced. Keep it reasonable and comparatively in the ballpark of other products you're selling.

Also, consider carefully about how you set up your product choices and prices, in general. Consumers will anchor whether you want them to or not.

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Five Effective Neuromarketing Principles That Boost Marketing Efforts

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image of Laurynas Skupas

Laurynas Skupas is a co-founder and the CEO of coupons website ChameleonJohn.