Episode 78: Understanding consumer behaviour with neuroscience

Episode 78: Understanding consumer behaviour with neuroscience

The secrets and science of neuromarketing

This podcast will:

  • Reveal why humans are irrational and how this impacts marketing
  • Show how to use neuroscientific techniques to forecast consumer behaviour
  • Explore the challenges of installing neuromarketing in your organisation
Podcast transcript

Sophie Peterson  00:03

Welcome to the CIM Marketing Podcast. The contents and views expressed by individuals in the CIM Marketing Podcast are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the companies they work for. We hope you enjoy the episode.


Ben Walker  00:18

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the CIM Marketing Podcast. You know, if you've ever watched spy movies or played poker, you will know the what we do, can sometimes say more about us than what we say. And to hear how this can feed into marketing science. We are joined today by a CIM course director, Katie Hart, who is an expert in something called neuromarketing. Katie, how are you today?


Katie Hart  00:45

I'm very well. Thank you, Ben. Yeah, delighted to be here.


Ben Walker  00:48

What is neuromarketing? It sounds fascinating. It's not, I must admit, something that I personally have heard of before. But can you tell us a little bit about it and how you got interested in it?


Katie Hart  00:59

Absolutely. Yeah. Don't worry, you're not on your own. There's lots of people that haven't heard about it. But you will, I promise you, you will. I may be biassed, but yes, it is a fantastic and really fascinating part of marketing. Essentially, it applies neuroscience, which is the study of our nervous system, and perhaps more typically the study of our brain, and it applies that into a marketing context. So if you think about how we perceive the world, how we interact with the world, how we make sense of the world around us, there is a huge amount of information that comes in through our brains. And that is really where we where everything happens. So where we form memories where we decide what things are going to attract our attention and what aren't. Where we make buying decisions. All of these are processes that go on within the brain. So the more you know, and understand those processes, the more able you are to really optimise how you do your marketing.


Ben Walker  02:03

So it's interesting, isn't it? The when you're looking at it, you're presumably you're trying to take marketing to a level of of asking people asking consumers or asking customers what they want, or what they need. And you're using different techniques, aren't you to find out what they're responding to what their triggers are. And how do you do it? What are some of the techniques that you use?


Katie Hart  02:03

Yeah, you're absolutely right. So the the sort of best evidence we have at the moment says something like 95% of what goes into the decisions we make is subconscious. That's information we don't have access to. So as many focus groups or interviews or surveys as we want to send out, are never going to be able to interrogate that 95%. But in neuro marketing, we can and as you say, we use physiological responses, which are naturally occurring, our body just does it automatically. So without needing to register on our conscious threshold. Our brain interprets things, makes decisions about things and changes our body physiologically, according to the way it is interpreting what it sees. Also, we use loads of techniques to to monitor those and to capture those changes. And that is the basis of us being able to make much more accurate predictions about the way people really are responding to what they're seeing in front of them.


Ben Walker  03:32

So what sort of triggers what are those sorts of responses that you can measure, give us some examples.


Katie Hart  03:37

We can measure things like so probably at its at its easiest accessible level, galvanic skin response. So changes in electrical conductivity on the surface of the skin. So we use, they're basically mini lie detector tests, we can put pads on people's fingers, and we will be able to detect the tiny changes which the body triggers, and it will trigger that in response to either being aroused, excited by what it sees, or perhaps eliciting a fear response. And it being anxious as a result of what it sees.


Ben Walker  04:14

So we become warmer our skin temperature or the or the texture of our skin actually changes as we respond to triggers...


Katie Hart  04:24

Yep and it is remarkably fast then, so we can put these onto somebody's fingers and we can show them something and within fractions of a second of them seeing it, our body goes into that instant response. And you know yourself. If you experience something that's stressful, your palms start sweating. Well, that is an extreme response. Your body has changed, you know, a huge amount before it's got to that point. And by using these technologies we can pick up on those tiny, microscopic changes.


Ben Walker  04:56

It's absolutely extraordinary that you said that because my palms actually are sweating there for the simple reason is that as you know, before we came on the show, we had a technological failure. And I realise that you're on a tight schedule for the recording. And I was worried that I wasn't going to get back on to the platform that we used to record this show. Thankfully, we have, but I can feel a slight tremor in my hand is my body is telling me that there was a concern, there was something I was worried about, there was an anxiety, presumably it works through the ways it's something we're excited about something that we're wanting to buy, or we see something online that a shirt or a pair of trousers or a dress that we really like, we will respond in a positive way our bodies tell us something before what we say tells us?


Katie Hart  05:38

Absolutely and it tells us a huge amount. And that's what we tap into when we do neuromarketing. So yes, we can do the conductivity on the surface of the skin. We also use very often we use eye tracking technology. So for instance, if I'm showing a a pilot for an advertisement, or I might be showing a web page layout and capturing people's responses to that, what we want to see is actually which part of the screen in front of a participant were they looking at when they responded that way? So if we are picking up a stress response, or an excitement response, I need to know which part of the layout triggered that was it? Was it the font was it the call to action button was it the image if it was the image, which part of the image is it that's triggered that. So very often, we overlay things like eye tracking, so we can get really specific and drill down into the tiny nuances of actually what has triggered that response


Ben Walker  06:37

The inference from all this, of course, is quite interesting. Because yes, if you're doing a bit of online shopping, you're going to probably get all of those sorts of responses at different times, you're going to see something great that you really want to buy that excites you. Seems like the perfect item, there'll be other experiences which are negative, you'll see something the way something's worded or that the buying a regimen is confusing, which is causing a stress, you think I don't like this, this is not a pleasure. It's not something I'm enjoying. And you'll you're gonna be able to track how people's eyes move across the screen to work out where those stimuluses are good and bad. But the inference of this, of course, is that consumers aren't very good at telling us this stuff. Because if they were good at telling us this stuff, we would have no need for this science, this neuroscience. This complicated technology.


Katie Hart  07:28

Yeah, absolutely. That and I'm sorry, you know, I do this all day, every day. And at the end of the day, I get in my car, and I go home. And I you know, I feel as though I'm in control of my own choices and decisions. And of course, I'm acutely aware of why I'm doing the things I do. No, I'm not. It turns out none of us. Yeah, as I say none of us is I think it was David Ogilvy who came up with the famous quote that customers don't think how they feel, they don't say what they think, and they don't do what they say. And haven't we all been on the end of market research where you've come, you know, you've had a lovely result, you may have, you know, piloted a number of different packaging designs or something, put them through some focus groups, you've come up with your result, you then launch it into the marketplace, and you don't get the traction that you were predicted, or that was anticipated. And it's exactly because of this. So when we're doing neuro marketing, we, I was gonna say we put all that to one side, we don't quite often I run the two side by side. So a lot of the work I do uses EEG, which is electroencephalography. So these are the human I'm sure you've picked the...


Ben Walker  08:43

I was going to say big word big word alert. Sorry. We like big, we like big words on this show that's a great one was just for the audience. Repeat that again. So


Katie Hart  08:53

I'ts electroencephalography EEG, because we like acronyms in marketing as well. Essentially, it's where we put sensors on top of somebody's scalp. So you might have seen them like glorified sort of swimming hats with loads of sensors on and loads of wires coming out the back. What they do is they record the electrical activity in the brain. And our brain uses electrical impulses to communicate. So when it's sending messages between neurons, we get electrical activity, an EEG headset to pick those up. So what we very often find is that when we're doing research, I'll put an EEG headset on somebody, and we'll show them a number of options or as they say, I'll give them some content to read or give them a boutique particular piece of footage to watch and I can capture all of their responses to that. And quite often what I also do at the end of that is slightly more conventional market research so I might ask them how they felt about it or which ones they can recall seeing it And what we know is you end up with two quite different responses. So what we report, what we declare, gives us one set of data. And what I'm recording on the EEG or the physiological responses gives another picture completely. And over time, when you look at the two of those, it's the physiological response that is the predictor of future behaviour.


Ben Walker  10:23

Much more likely to predict sales, etc, than what people actually say, which begs the question, why bother doing a survey in the first place?


Katie Hart  10:32

Well, I have to say, I mean, we've got some, we've had some lovely results with people when we have actually done the two side by side. In fact, one client I was working with, we also did some AB testing in the real world. And it was really lovely to see that the physiological responses I got through scanning brains and the AB testing aligned. So what people actually did in the real world lined up and the anomaly was what we said. And we we know through neuroscience, that actually what happens is we have because I've talked about this 95% of decision, which is unconscious to us, what happens is that produces almost a result or a response. And then if we are asked about it, we retrospectively rationalise it. So we will come up with a reason. But it's very often completely removed from actually what you know, what our brain is showing us what is really going on inside.


Ben Walker  11:32

We feel as humans that we have to justify our purchase that we have to say why we needed this thing, where, of course, as we all know, and as you will, I'm sure tell us that shopping isn't always rational. You know, people want to buy things for a whole bunch of subconscious reasons, instinctive reasons, if you like, but don't necessarily beg a real genuine rational justification.


Katie Hart  11:53

Absolutely. In fact, I won't go so far as to say we almost never buy anything rationally. And that's the really interesting thing is that's B2B as well as B2B, so much as we might have, you know, a really protracted decision making process and bring in lots of people from lots of different departments. Each of those people is a human being that has essentially this same sort of hardwire, I quite often talk about the fact that we're running on caveman software, you know, we we are, our brains are making decisions for us that are completely not fit for the world that we live in today, just because of our evolutionary past and your stress response to tech issue we had earlier. Exactly that that stress response is designed to serve you if you are attacked, or you know, there's a wilderbeast stampede approaching you or something, it doesn't help you when the tech breaks down.


Ben Walker  12:47

It is completely irrational as well, because there are plenty of countermeasures we can quickly take to solve that with the technology and yet it still delivers this wilderbeast fight or flight response telling me that really, I ought to be panicking in this situation? We're not very good then are we as humans? What you're doing is you're you are really tapping into our basic instincts aren't you as a neuroscientist as a neuromarketer? Because that is what works.


Katie Hart  13:12

Absolutely it is. And it's, you know, so much of our day, if you think about what we do all day, every day, while you were just asking that question, I took a swig of drink from my mug. Now, if I had to manually compute the process of that, you know, knowing exactly how to get the muscles in my arm and hand to reach out to just where it is to put just the right amount of pressure on it. So I don't, you know, throw the cup over my shoulder, or I'm not crushing it under my hand either. To understand about the temperature sensitivity of it, to lift it up, be able to find my lips and find my mouth and not tip it all down my shirt front. It is just phenomenal what we do all day every day automatically, thankfully without us having to consciously manipulate it. And so this is what the brain does. It's running a huge programme navigating through our world all day every day without trying to bother us and really utilise the expensive resource that is our conscious capacity. So our brain typically weighs about 2% of your body weight somewhere in the region of that. And yet it consumes about 20% of your incoming resources. So your food your drink, your oxygen is diverted to support the brain. And the vast majority of that is activities which involve the prefrontal cortex which are those decision making processes, the planning the organisations and really consciously applied processes. So wherever possible, our brain tries to preserve that and tries to enable us to do things without needing to apply that. I'm a huge fan of our brain. I think it is the most amazing organ and it does a huge amount for us. But yeah, we are very naive about the extent to which we feel we influence and control our behaviours because our brain is, is doing the vast majority of it for us.


Ben Walker  15:11

I mean, it is absolutely fascinating, isn't it. And it's something that we really need to understand as marketers, I mean, firstly on your drink example, I mean, I read something quite recently about that's one of the main critiques of AI is that you can get AI to do all sorts of stuff, you get it to churn out coffee, as we all know, we've all done to chat DPT to death, etc, etc, etc. But nobody has done anything, which is quite simple, which is to put an AI robot in the middle of a street, and just say to it, okay, go and make a cup of coffee in any house that you choose. Any human being could do that they they may, they may not like but banging a neighbor's door and asking to make a cup of coffee, but they will be capable of doing it without thinking, you know, as long as as long as someone opened the door to them, and let them in, they could work out where the coffee was, put the kettle on, and how to make the cup of coffee, it would be dead easy. It'd be child's play. But yet no, I can do that. We've got all of these complex operations, which we don't think are complex. But on the other hand, we are living almost in a fantasy world that when we go into a shop, we're doing lots of things, which is subconscious that we don't have a great deal of control over so we go into the shop and the customer goes into the shop. Purely picking the dress off the rail is a very complex operation that a robot would be struggled to programme to do. She does that, but then actually deciding which something to buy, she thinks she's being rational, but you're saying she is not being rational. Something inside her is doing it for her. And as marketers we need to tap in to those triggers.


Katie Hart  16:41

My point precisely, thank you for articulating it. So well. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the, from the moment of walking into that shop, you know, the first thing is we have every second, we have something like 11 million pieces of information come into our brain through our senses every second. So that's 11 million, another 11 million, and I can't even speak fast enough, another 11 million. So actually, when we walk in there, our brain is deciding our brain is literally scanning that environment and deciding which bits are relevant to us which bits capture our attention. And as marketers, that's our first point is actually how do we get noticed? How do we stand out? How do we get to be the, you know, the billboard that's noticed on the on the side of the London Underground, for instance, or how we how do we get to be the product on the shelf that somebody actually notices. So even from that moment, before, we've even thought about picking up the dress and deciding whether we're going to try on or purchase it or not how we navigate our way round the shop. And what we notice in the process of doing that is not under our control. It's something that our brain is designed to do. It's you know, it's trying to protect us. It's at that base evolutionary level, it's looking out for things that may be interesting to us, maybe threatening to us. And it's basing its decisions. As we are thinking we're computing really irrational decision making purchases, our brain is literally operating at a different level. And the information it shows us and engages with is translating that. So it's a it's almost a sort of two level process that we're working through. And the top level that we are consciously aware of is the tip of the iceberg. It's the absolute minimum. Whereas all the good stuff is happening underneath that.


Ben Walker  18:35

It might come in at the very end if you realise you can't afford the dress. And when you're physically at the till some of the, part of the irrational brain kicks in and says sometimes don't buy this because you can't afford it. But generally speaking, most of that experience is deeply irrational. That's what makes it quite exciting. I suppose that you know, there's something sort of primaeval and instinctive about all of this stuff. Something you said earlier really interested me because we've talked a lot about B2C business, consumer retail, and so on and so forth, which we know is that a leisure activity for people and perhaps the fact that it is somehow irrational is what makes it interesting and exciting. But this has really good applications in the b2b sphere as well, doesn't it? Because actually, if we're doing requests for proposals, and so on and so forth, we're asking these things, we're making these seven or eight or nine page documents that looks super, super rational, we're inviting people in, but other things are happening. Presumably even in that space, even in this most sort of structured space, if you like that we're pretending is an entirely rational process. It isn't there either, is it?


Katie Hart  19:40

It's not because we are human and every step of that process is involving humans. So writing the presentation or the pitch document, the font we use will have an impact, the colour scheme we use the images we use, the way we dress that you know literally the the first few moments when we meet some body, it's all going to completely flood our brain with information that our brain will subconsciously use to form an opinion and to form an impression. And those impressions will be what drives our future behaviour far more than the sort of super superficial, it sounds awful, but the superficial top layer of that process, so yeah, we, we don't hang our brains up on the way into work, we are still these evolutionary creatures when we arrive in the office and much as we try to apply ourselves. And we've created very elaborate processes to try and cut out as much of that, that sort of emotional, perhaps more risky side of many procurement processes. We can't it's it's fundamental to us. And so the more we understand about what influences and shapes those processes, the more chance we have of being able to convey information in a way which is actually going to support them. So we can be much more intentional about the impressions and the perceptions that we create in the brain of our purchases, or you know, the people who we are pitching or presenting to.


Ben Walker  21:08

We should remind our audience today that Katie is a course director ar CIM she runs a course on this stuff, neuromarketing, so I do commend it to you if you want to find out more. However, I'm hoping that today, Katie will reveal a few trade secrets of how marketers might start on this process. As we said, at the top of the show, it's not something that everybody's done, or even everybody in the sector is in the hurdle. And it's a new technology is an emerging technology. It's a cutting edge technology, where the marketers start if they want to bring this into their departments or organisations.


Katie Hart  21:40

Thankfully, there is an increasing amount of places that that are supporting this and are encouraging people to get involved. So I've been doing this for 15 years myself and feels like now finally, people are starting to become aware of this. So there are there are places you can go to. Yes, absolutely. Please do come along to the masterclass course that I run, it'd be great to see you there. However, there are lots of places now that you can go to to pick up on some of this. And I really would advocate that you, you try it, you test it out for yourselves. So in terms of practical places that you can go to, you know, like lots of good content, there are TED Talks that you can look up on this. If you're particularly interested in finding out about the brain and some of these hacks and some of the challenges we have in terms of controlling our brain. Darren Brown did a fantastic audio I think it was an audio book it certainly on Audible, which was called boot camp for the brain that is really interesting and really exciting.


Ben Walker  22:45

This is the guy who's a sort of magician stroke. I don't know how you call him. Hypnotist, psychologist. He has a huge stage show in the West End TV shows if you've not come across him really interesting guy. But he is actually a master of this sort of stuff, isn't he? He uses it for entertainment purposes as much of the time. But actually the things that inform it, the triggers and the response to that information are actually applicable to marketers.


Katie Hart  23:16

Absolutely. And he does some wonderful content all about the way our brains are naturally wired to to serve us. But actually, in today's society in today's world, they may fall rather rather short of that. So yeah, that would definitely be one I'd suggest people look into if they're curious about the brain, if you kind of want to cut to the chase and just get some practical ideas that you can take away and apply yourself. Really what the kind of the the godfather of neuro marketing is a gentleman called Roger Dooley, and he wrote a brilliant book called Brainfluence. So it's influence but with the 'in' is actually in brain. And that is 100 different techniques, hints, tips, things that you can go away and try and explore in your own marketing content and campaigns. And some of them have the sort of neuroscience behind it if you're curious to understand why it works. But you don't have to, you don't have to go to a geek level you can you can start applying them you can start to manipulate them and play with them yourselves and see what's going to have impact with your with your audience.


Ben Walker  24:23

I have to say you I'd be tempted to go to a geek level so fascinating is the subject I'm sure people here today will be really interested to dive in. There must be challenges of introducing it it does come across I mean, let's be honest, it does come across as a little bit of a dark art, doesn't it? You know what you're actually saying is we're trying to tap into people's subconscious' here. We're trying to learn about what they actually want, rather than what they say they want. You know, we're not calling them liars. We're not calling them fantasies, but we are saying that humans generally aren't very good at being honest about their intentions because they themselves don't understand into their intentions. So when you're trying to bring this into organisation, you're saying, Look, you know, these surveys are fine. All the stuff you do all this research you do, has some use. But if you really want to know your customer, you've got to use EEG, you've got to use eye movement responses, you've got to check the sweat levels in people's hands. That could be seen as quite challenging for some organisations.


Katie Hart  25:25

Yeah, absolutely, it is. And, sadly, if you're conducting primary research and going to utilise neuromarketing, it's not cheap, you know, these technologies aren't aren't accessible for everybody yet, you know, they are being improved. They're being enhanced all the time. They're certainly portable, so I can put headsets on people and send them around a supermarket and, you know, monitor the way their brain is responding to the environment they're in. But it isn't cheap. So, yeah, I mean, you said it's a dark art, I would take issue with that, Ben, because it's, this is science, you know, this is real, physiological, scientific base. And we've got the evidence, you know, I can do research and I can show people and in fact, one case quite early on, in my career of doing this, I had a marketing director, who was really excited about bringing me into the business, but was meeting quite a bit of resistance within the organisation. So he asked me to come and pitch to the board, which I did. And what we did is we actually wired up the members of the board for the duration while I did my presentation, and I could pluck them off one by one. And I could I could deal with it, I could say, I could literally that I took the finance director and said, I can see, you are not engaged with what I'm telling you at the moment, you are not connecting with it. And so and I was able to literally live in front of me use their biological responses, to take them one at a time and say, This is how you're presenting. My suspicion is you've got a concern about that. If we talk this through, I could literally see their body adapting and changing until they reached a much more engaged, attentive, positive state. And I could, I could show them it, show them it happening. And at that stage, it's really hard to argue.


Ben Walker  27:17

Goodness me, we've all been in pitches like that, where the FD their eyes are moving across the room, and you know, they're thinking too expensive, if only we all had these techniques on us so we could actually address them at the time. And


Katie Hart  27:31

It was a beautiful moment I tell you, it was maybe not for him, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Ben Walker  27:37

That is the way to win a pitch isn't me being able to tell people exactly what they're thinking kind of proves your point is exciting stuff, isn't it? I've been slightly facetious when I said dark art. It is in fact, as you say, hard science is the simple truth about human behaviour. And as marketers, we need to understand that.


Katie Hart  27:56

You're right, because that's going to get more important, the more we've got AI and machine learning and things, the more it's going to be vital that we understand the human recipient, you know, the the human connection is going to be really pivotal for us. So I very much see that neuromarketing is going to become bigger and stronger. Because it is, you know, if we don't understand that decision making process in the brain of somebody else, we can use all the tools and all the devices in front of us to enable us to, to write better content or to automate our marketing processes to them. But fundamentally, it's that human brain at the other end that is making that decision.


Ben Walker  28:39

There is something wonderful human about it actually isn't there. There's something quite sort of emotively exciting and good about it. It's not something that can be mechanised in the same way as you can with data and survey in the same way that if we go to meet somebody for the first time, we can sometimes come home that evening. And we know whether we liked them or not. We can't necessarily say why we liked them or not, or what the reasons for our liking them were or what our reasons for disliking them were we can't always rationalise it properly, we may try to find the justification. But we're actually very good at knowing whether there's been a connection between us as humans. And that is what marketing really in its essence is about, isn't it creating a connection with your consumer?


Katie Hart  29:24

Yeah. And there's some lovely examples in neuroscience and your marketing where you can hack that. So I was actually talking to somebody earlier on today about one of the ways that we can create a very positive association with people that we're meeting for the first time is to get them to hold something warm. Now it's a it's a very strange thing. But if you you know, normally we think that when we're offering people a drink or something, you know, it's just courteous and it's respectful. Actually, it goes so far beyond that, because we can see in people's brains that when they hold something warm, a lot of the the kind of mechanisms in our brains that are on alert for fear and threat actually diffuse slightly, so we kind of let our guard down a bit. So actually, when we're meeting people giving them a warm drink or something to hold, so give them a mug rather than a cup and saucer, because if they're physically holding something warm, they literally pardon the pun will warm to you much quicker. So they're, you know, even if we are trying, if we're accepting that it's about that connection, and knowing and understanding how we can form those connections with neuromarketing and neuroscience we can we can influence that we can hack some of those to our advantage. It's brilliant. And it's a remarkably extraordinarily powerful tool. If we can get to grips with it, isn't it as marketers? Yeah, absolutely. It is. And it's just I mean, in neuroscience is growing by the day, the technology is getting better. We are learning so much. I mean, literally every day in my inbox, I've got journal articles being published about the latest finding the latest research. So we are only going to get better and better at understanding the the implications of the way our brain is structured. The opportunities that lie in that for us as marketers, and yeah, it's a very exciting time to be in this field. That's for sure.


Ben Walker  31:17

Certainly is. Katie Hart, who is course director at CIM, she runs a neuromarketing course. She has been I have to say, Katie, a fantastic guest. And I've learned so much and had such a great conversation. I know our audience will have enjoyed it today. And I'm sure many will be compelled to learn more about neuromarketing and perhaps join you on your course. Katie, thank you very much indeed. for your time today. Will you come back on the show?


Katie Hart  31:43

Course I will, I'd be delighted to.


Ben Walker  31:46

You're saying that and your eyes also tell me that you're telling the truth. So your neurological responses agree with what you've said in this case. So I will look forward to welcome you back. Please do come back. We want to hear more about this subject. Katie Hart course director at CIM, thank you very much indeed.


Katie Hart  32:04

You're very welcome. Thank you, Ben.


Sophie Peterson  32:07

If you've enjoyed this episode, be sure to subscribe to the CIM Marketing Podcast on your platform of choice. If you're listening on Apple podcasts, please leave us a rating and review. We'd love to hear your feedback, CIM Marketing Podcast.


Ben Walker Host CIM Marketing Podcast
Katie Hart CIM course director CIM
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