With 95% of the brain working subconsciously its about time we focus out efforts on this side of marketing.

neuromarketing online


Did you think you made a conscious decision every time you made a choice? That time you decided to rationalise why eating that chocolate bar was okay- “I did a good work out”, “I’m having a bad day”, “it’s a bargain price”. The bottom line is you subconsciously made a choice and your conscious is justifying the decision.

This extends to online purchases. There will be people who can relate to the idea of buying an item online and then later wondering what your justifications were for buying it (and then often feeling guilty). Well it may the various methods that online tools have been using to build your emotional experience subconsciously whilst your conscious rationalises those emotions with thoughts of price, value and added benefit. Truth is, even these rationalisations are stemmed from the subconscious so what on earth is going on?

How our Brain works to entice us:

  1. The primal brain tells you whether to fight or flight (it also tells you whether to freeze or for the nicer term… make love). The amygdala and hypothalamus register relevant stimuli- danger in our surroundings. We do our best to avoid these sensations (focus on the first three terms here) and on that basis we much prefer familiarity. New things being sold are best when they seem familiar whilst familiar things can be made to seem new.
  2. The emotional brain uses the limbic system to measure whether we can trust the person we are faces with. This part of our brain deciphers facial expressions.

Include the ventral tegmental area which releases dopamine (pleasure, reward, risk-taking, motivation) and you have a more impulsive buying behaviour.

  1. The rational brain uses higher cognitive functions. Our neocortex helps us to plan using almost all the other regions from the brain. It takes into account our long and short term goals. The neocortex is responsible for human language, abstract thought, imagination and consciousness. It is best noted here that this part of the brain is very rational*

*Study conducted by Lawrence Williams of the University of Colorado determined that our rational side is largely determined by our subconscious. Two equal groups were walked to a room to give their opinion on a photo of a random person. Whilst walked individually to the test they would be handed either a warm cup of coffee to hold (by the actor who would need a helping hand) or a cold cup of coffee. When then asked to give their opinion of the person in the photo they noticed that those holding the cold cup gave less positive answers than those with the the warm cup.

The limbic brain understands warm as good leaving the neocortex to rationalise a judgement on a stranger, which has already been made about the stranger unconsciously.

Now persuasiveness is a combination of 1+2+3 brain works. Putting this into context- we are wired to like hints at opportunities of sex as part of our primal side. So combine a pretty face (1) which is trusting in appearance (2) with an intellectual justification, let’s say put her in a doctor’s jacket so she has official meaning (3) and you have a persuasive argument.

So what online methods can we use to stimulate 1, 2 and 3?

  1. Imitate the main target audience. Place photos of characters that are relatable to ensue trustworthiness and familiarity.
  2. Motion brings out the cavemen in all of us. Since we were having to hunt for our food, it’s been instilled in us to look for movement, signs of danger. We still carry this hunter gatherer skill and we love the idea of movement. Online it make sites more engaging, stimulating, fun.
  3. Personalise and show off some of your company branding- emotions are connected to the like for brands, not rationality. If you can give a good feel and make the site user friendly you will improve the positive emotions associated to your site.
  4. Signpost the most important information to reduce cognitive load. There are pretty standard layouts to sites and the best ones use the typical journey whilst making the site feel new. If a user has to figure out where to go this often leads to bounce rates increasing.
  5. Perceptual problem solving- our limbic system loves a good puzzle. With our diminishing attention span a picture puzzle will keep the audience engaged for longer. Imagery could be as simple as a black and white image where you are trying to distinguish what is in the foreground.
  6. Videos engage with the audience and create emotional ties with the viewer. Did you know that people have been proven to watch their favourite TV shows to ward off feelings of low-self esteem and rejection? Well videos create a parasocial relationship and stimulate the attention, emotion and memory part of the brain making it a very valuable asset on a website. Speaking of emotion, empathy is where neurons in your somatosensory cortex activate and you actually experience the other person’s emotions as though it is happening to you. Women feel stronger empathy than men (who prefer visuals over a deep plot) but you can see successful examples of tugging on heart strings with charity appeals.
  7. Colours come with different meanings for different cultures but it’s worth researching to find out how to best colour your site. Colours evoke a psychological and physical reaction and inherently trigger our amygdala and hypothalamus. The colour red for example is associated with danger and sex.

  8. Social Media is a great method now used to measure how influential a user is. Humans have a deep-seated desire for communication and to feel valued. By utilising social media you can see the big influencers of groups, and boost their self esteem through targeting them.

I’m chatting with my friend on the ever so popular Facebook about charities. I’ve posted a link to a video which promotes a charity to take down Kony, a dictator who kidnaps children, gives them guns and forces them to kill and rape others. My friend comments on my post about charity fatigue and it leads to a term he calls “charity muggers”. A charity mugger refers to a person that stands on the street trying to stop you from walking towards your destination. You must have met at least one in your time. The people that wear bright jackets, can see you half a mile off and treat you like prey. They hunt you down even if you meander through the crowd, pretend to be on your phone or avoid eye contact at all costs (including walking into other poor sods who are doing exactly the same thing).

I hate charity muggers. I actually verge on despising these people. They can see my vulnerabilities, smell my generosity and hear my kindness. To these people I am prey. I do not want to be guilt tripped to hand out my direct debit details by anyone. How many homeless people, starving children, diseased animals and poorly people must I be nagged to help? Do I look like I own a multi million pound business? I barely have enough money to pay my bills yet I’m made to feel bad that I’m not helping others. Even when I explain to these people that I’m currently giving to three charities they continue to pester me. I wonder how many charities these people support?!

I guess the truth comes from the term charity fatigue. I am tired of being hassled by charities I’ve never heard of before. I am fed up with the constant worry of being stopped by a mugger and having to make excuses which will make me feel guilty. Can’t there be some sort of limitation or procedure in place to prevent these people from actively making the public feel guilty? Someone needs to create a phone app that alerts you when a charity mugger is approaching so that we don’t all walk down the high street with our heads facing the floor. If these charities want money please just hold a bucket and I will happily chuck my change in it to put off a conversation- it’s a win-win.

Brands construct identities of how we want to perceive and portray ourselves. We buy a brand because it highlights part of our personality. For example, people who buy a football top are aware that it highlights their passion for that team.

But what about brand avoidance? Why do we deliberately avoid certain brands given the choice? There are three types of brand avoidance that occur when we choose to disown a brand:

1)      Experiential– where we have tried a brand and it failed to meet our expectation

2)      Identity– where the brand image is symbolically dissimilar with our identity

3)      Moral– where our belief’s clash with a brand’s values or associations, particularly where that brand poses a negative impact on our society

Experiential Brand Avoidance

Experiential brand avoidance needs little explanation. Remember the time you saw an advert on TV and the product looked so amazing that the next time you went out shopping you bought it? Then you actually tested it and it wasn’t what you expected? This was like the toy Furby for me.

What is interesting to note is that a study found that stores which hold multiple brands are often impacted by the negative experience with the brand bought. For example, TK Maxx sells a range of brands, so if a customer buys a Calvin Klein top from the store and it frays in the wash, TK Maxx becomes the target of unfavourable attitudes. The customer associates the product failure with the store selling inferior products.

Identity Brand Avoidance

Identity brand avoidance is where a person avoids a brand based on one of three reasons.

1)      The person dislikes the associations with the brand image. For example, I refuse to buy anything Nike as it represents UK Chavs and trend followers. We aim to buy brands that have symbolic compatibility with ourselves and will avoid brands that portray an image we find incompatible.

2)      The person dislikes the lack of authenticity. The brand holds certain generalisations which the consumer finds is not supportive of their personality. For example, I love the Audi A3 however would no longer wish to own one due to the amount of ‘boy racers’ that I now see speeding around in them.

3)      The person dislikes the loss of individuality. This is where a brand can become too popular and loses its authenticity. Sporting brands are particularly prone to this dilemma with hardcore sports fanatics. For example true runners will often prefer to buy New Balance, Asics or Mizuno over Nike as they are considered the specialists in that field.

People will often have a desire to protect their sense of individuality rather than buy into a brand that portrays a generalisation. By avoiding certain brands, people a preventing a loss of their own identity.

Moral Brand Avoidance.

Referring to political and socio-economic sets of beliefs, people will avoid a brand if it has any negative moral associations.

For example, Nike has been reported to exploit its non western workers. An interview with over forty people found that Nike was avoided due to its moral implications with their work ethics.

Consumer cynicism and country of origin effect are two emerging themes from moral brand avoidance. Cynical consumers believe that self-interest alone motivates companies. For example, the financial industry giving out bonuses to their employees while the UK Government is lending them tax payers’ money. Consumers distrust the altruistic motives of companies which leads to brand avoidance.

McDonald’s emerged in the study where consumers found that it only introduced salads to recapture the market. Up until people were more aware of food consumption and health, McDonald’s didn’t seem to care that they were selling high fat and salt products. It was only after people have become more conscious that the company has taken action and claimed an interest in our health needs.

Moral avoidance with regards to political ideology is influencing some international consumer’s perceptions where people will avoid a brand for its globalisation. Many of us may be able to relate to this where we prefer to buy our fruit and vegetables from a local store as opposed to a large chain. The belief that we are supporting our local area and resisting global homogenisation makes us feel far better.

Managing Brand Avoidance

There are a few ways to manage brand avoidance. Firstly the company needs to make a genuine adaption of the brand which begins at the highest point within the company. Secondly, the company needs to amplify its perceived quality to consumers to re-engage their lost audience.

If a firm chooses to keep their brand as it is, then it might attempt to create a new set of associations to a sub-brand. This could create an illusion to consumers, that they are selecting a competing brand when in fact both brands are the same company.

A company could establish strong ties with other businesses to alleviate brand avoidance too. For example, Coca Cola have a presence in bars, so even if you choose to avoid them you may have no choice but to buy their product in certain situations.

Finally positive word of mouth could further help some customers to re-evaluate their brand avoidance.

How can people say “you shouldn’t judge me by what I’m wearing”. It’s the simple case that if you see a young male dressed like a chav, you are drawn to the conclusion he is a chav. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then when did it become a giraffe?  We buy brands based on the many positive benefits they represent. So don’t back down the moment you have judged a person by their cover and they throw that useless line at you about ‘judging them’. You have every right to. People dress how they want to be perceived. It’s simple.

 You’re in a tense situation. You have stood in the correct queue at Tesco’s where the sign says “queue from this end” and you are getting a little impatient at the cashier’s incompetence. The customer being served is taking their time to find their wallet even though they knew that ultimately the end result would be payment. “Preparation people!” you shout in your head but your face shows no sign of weakness. Well maybe a small twitch is starting to show itself in your right eye.

Your turn is approaching and so you organise what order to put your items out to get through this mundane process as quickly as possible, when a person stands by the cashier looking to pop a question. They are holding an item, so it could be they are queue jumping, but surely not. This is England, where people drink English tea and wear monocles. The other possibility is they have a quick question. This is okay as long as it’s quick; thirty seconds countdown is about to begin.

The person approaches the cashier and asks a question. They then pause and pull out a Tesco shopping bag with an item they had previously bought inside. This is going to take longer than thirty seconds and the cashier is actually responding and helping! What do you do?

Stand there and look at the person behind you for a mutual understanding of disgust. If you are both in agreement you shake your heads at each other then return to looking forward and do nothing. However, the ‘super you’ in your mind is standing there waving their index finger like a teacher, pointing to the back of the queue and asking the rhetorical question “are you aware that this is a queue and you have rudely pushed in?” Your mind even responds on behalf of the rude customer, with a mutter, a red face and an apology, whilst the remaining people in the queue look on you with admiration for having the courage to speak up on their behalf.

The super you is incredible, and even though the scenario is fake you feel your stress levels dropping. You still stare at the rude customer as the rudeness of staring compliments pushing in front of a queue and will leave an impression in that customers’ mind: it is not acceptable to push in.

These are standard actions of people too polite to moan (at the time anyway) and I am proud to be one of them. Gutsy on the inside, whilst mastering the “I’m appalled at you” stare on the outside.

Here today gone tomorrow or here today and here to stay? There are many debates floating around about the importance of social media and its support in generating new business, income and interest. The problem is whether or not you are on the right platform, investing your time in the right tools and sites and whether or not these will bring a return?

This article takes a quick look at the sites which are most beneficial for UK businesses.

1)      Twitter– I won’t go into too much detail here but Twitter is a great way to establish contacts, share interesting information and build a brand name. IF you share relevant information and follow others who share information which is relevant to you then you will soon grow your twitter profile.

2)      Facebook– A tough decision to make as it depends on what industry you come from. For example B2B with an industrial end user may find that their Facebook page is difficult to grow as its not the typical route for businesses to use to make contact with one another. However if you are B2B with the end user being a consumer, then creating a Facebook page can build your brand name and identity to strengthen your competitive selling within the B2B sector. Finally B2C is a must. No matter how small your brand, if you are interacting directly with consumers you must have a Facebook page to build a reputation and allow fans to interact with you.

3)      LinkedIn– A useful tool to grow the personal side of the brand. This takes more commitment but portraying a personality and advertising the people who work for you (and are therefore internal customers) can support the business where buying cycles are long. LinkedIn works well for B2B industries, especially when users join and communicate often on group forums related to their line of work.

4)      Pinterest – A new find for me but the potential to use this site as an online pinboard means an opportunity for businesses to push their brand. People post images that they love to their own board which is shared amongst followers. The benefits of a B2C or B2B2C company is that a brand page with interesting images could attract customers and improve brand awareness.

5)      Digg – Articles are a way to improve your search engine results and provide information to potential customers. Even if you write about the latest news in the industry you work in, it shows customers that you are knowledgeable and therefore more trustworthy. Digg is a fantastic way to promote articles to generate more hits. Plus Google searches the website regularly which will help improve the article’s visibility.

6)      Triberr – Another new find for me recently. Triberr is effectively where you gain support from other ‘tribe’ members who share the same interests as you do. You have ‘bones’ which you share as a type of payment incentive for other tribe members to re-tweet and share your article. Find yourself in a good tribe, and you are sharing your article to a gigantic network.

7)      Klout – Measuring social media is important and Klout is one of the better tools to measure how influential you are within the fields that interest you. Let’s say you regularly write about marketing and share information about this. Klout will give you a score based on how many people read the links you share, re-tweet these links and respond to them.

8)      Empire Avenue – My favourite tool and one which I want to sell my personal account on here  This is the most fun tool to measure your social media on. Its a financial game where you trade in purchasing shares, monitor dividends and you interact with other shareholders. The aim of this site is to interact as much as possible with relevant people to increase your share price. I have found that this isn’t the best way to build your brand as many of my contacts are based in America, however it’s a tool which you will want to return to as it rewards you for your social media efforts.

The one problem with using so many sites and tools is that it can all become overwhelming. You must keep sight on the reason behind creating a social network for your brand. Ultimately businesses invest in social media to see a return, but it’s not a quick process. Social media requires time, nurturing and investment before you can reap the rewards so ensure it is the right step for you.

Note: There are a few more tools which I would recommend such as Tweetdeck. However I didn’t want this article to drag out past the length of a persons’ leg. Keep an eye out on posts and articles to measure which tools are right for your business as wasted time is wasted money. For example you do not want to invest heavily in something which will end up like MySpace now do you?

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