How to Use Neuromarketing in Your Digital Marketing – Felix Cao
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Don’t we all wish we could get inside the heads of our potential customers and find out what they want it will take in order to close the sale with them? Well, you actually can…kinda.
According to neuromarketing expert, Felix Cao, you can apply certain brain activity measurement strategies to measure a subject’s response to specific products, packaging, advertising, or other marketing elements to help persuade them into taking your desired action. So stop wasting money and time marketing to the wrong part of your customer’s brain, and start implement strategies that speak to their primal brain.
Rich: My guest today comes from 15 years of sales and marketing experience in which nearly a decade of those years were in tech and mobile space. He’s been featured in the Huffington Post, Adweek and AppAdvice. And last fall appeared on a major Canadian morning radio show to talk about neuromarketing and the 2019 Canadian election.
Today, as his neuromarketing company called, Happy Buying Brain, he combines his 15 years of marketing experience with his educational background in biological science and psychology to help businesses truly understand what makes their customer’s brains tick when it comes to better persuading them to choose to buy from their businesses over their competitors, through the power of implementing neuromarketing into their own marketing campaigns. Let’s dive into neuromarketing with Felix Cao. Felix, welcome to the show.
Felix: Thank you for having me, Rich. I definitely appreciate it.
Rich: All right, so I love neuro marketing, but it’s not a term that everybody is familiar with. How do you define it when somebody asks you that question at a cocktail party?
Felix: Yeah, absolutely. So what I like to do is describe it from two points of view. The first point of view is describing it more from a high level. And then what I’ll do after that is I’ll describe it from a more focused direction that we like to approach it from our company at Happy Buying Brain.
So when we look at things from more of a bird’s eye view, the way that I like to describe neuromarketing is how the brain and body responds to marketing stimuli. So more specifically, it’s applying cognitive psychology and evolutionary biology to solving business challenges by taking a proven scientific approach to understanding the underlying mechanisms of the decision making process that happens inside the brains of consumers when it comes to buying.
So at my company Happy Buying Brain, we like to take that definition one step further and make it more practical by helping businesses craft their marketing so that it speaks to the primal part of their consumer’s brains. Now that is extremely important marketing because the primal brain operates below the level of consciousness, but actually influences up to 95% of the consumers buying decisions.
Rich: All right. And I definitely want to dig into the primal brain and what’s not part of the primal brain as we go along. But I am curious, what drew you to neuromarketing? Was this classes that you took while you were still in university or is this something that you discovered afterward?
Felix: So I’ll take us through a time lapse in terms of the path that it took to get to neuromarketing. So if we look at the term, neuromarketing, obviously how the word ‘neuro’ which describes the nervous system, in this case more specifically, the brain. And then what you’re doing is you’re combining that term with the word ‘marketing’. So being in business, that’s what a lot of us can resonate with.
So if we were to have this discussion, let’s say 20 years ago, you would find me in post-secondary university. I’m taking a lot of biological science courses as well as psychology courses. And during that time what ended up happening was I also got introduced to the business world through a lot of self-employment opportunities that were in the real estate investment and insurance space.
And that eventually segued into the tech industry where, as you mentioned, I spent nearly a decade in that realm. So coming out of the tech space, what I see at this moment is artificial intelligence and virtual reality is becoming a part of our everyday life, similar to the trend that we saw happen in the early 2000’s with the internet, and then over the last decade with mobile.
So today what I believe we are on the cusp of another tech revolution that involves the mass adoption of AI in our lives. You could just look at, for example, chat bots are more prevalent as well as voice command technologies in Siri for Apple, and neuroscience is actually at the core of a lot of these innovations.
So these insights and research on how the brain works can also be applied to fields outside of technology. And this is especially true when it comes to neuroscience and how you can apply neuroscience to marketing.
So the timing right now seems to be really ideal for it as we were seeing a massive adopting of AI technology, which will allow neuroscience and neuromarketing to become more popularized. Similar to what happens when new concepts associated with trends become familiarized.
So that’s how the path to neuro marketing took place in terms of combining the educational background with the 15 years in sales and marketing.
Rich: Very nice. So you talked about the primal brain. Why is the primal brain so important to neuromarketing and to our own everyday marketing?
Felix: Sure. So when we look at the primal brain, the best way to describe it, is we need to understand it in terms of its structure and its function and different parts of the brain actually have different levels of influence in terms of our decision making. So the brain itself, the best way to describe it, it’s a cognitive miser. So what that all means is the brain is lazy in a sense, right? So the way it’s constructed, it’s actually not there to really think it’s actually there to really conserve energy.
So when we look at it in terms of the structure of it starting from the base, you have the reptilian brain, which could also be described as the physical brain. So it’s more involved than fast, automatic, reflexive responses. Something that we’re all familiar with would be responsible or a main attributor to their fight or flight type of responses. And then when you ascend upwards from there, you have your midbrain, which deals more with emotions and social situations. So together those two parts of the brain, actually comprise of the primal brain.
And then what sits on top of that is your neocortex, which is your logical and sophisticated more thinking part of the brain. So each part has different roles in terms of how information physically enters into the brain, how it’s filtered, interpreted. And of course it actually starts from the lower parts of the brain and then pass this through to the neuro cortex. So the logical brain is actually the last part of the brain to receive information since the cortex consumes a huge amount of energy and would totally shut down if it had to deal with stimuli coming in.
So it’s the lower parts of the brain, which is the problem brain, which actually acts as a prim to filter or gatekeeper, so to speak, for information entering the brain. So it’s really important to keep in mind how to construct your marketing material so that it actually takes the pathway into the brain in order to have the most persuasive power to convince your customers to take the desired call to action that you’re looking to trigger in your customer’s brains.
Rich: All right, so let’s, let’s break that down a little bit. So the primal brain is that lower and middle part of the brain. And that’s a lot of the more basic functionalities. You mentioned one part is reptilian fight or flight, then you’ve got the emotions on top of that. And then there’s the maybe more logical part, a more modern part of the brain on the outside of that, the last final filter. So why as neuromarketers or people who are fascinated by neuromarketing, why are we interested in the primal brain? And then can you give me some examples of why marketing that focuses on the primal brain can be more successful than those that don’t?
Felix: Yeah, absolutely. So when you look at the problem brain, why it’s so important to understand it, because a primal brain is what is pretty much your blueprint whether you’re looking at a B2C or B2B company. So it’s the way to look at your primal brain. It’s your operating system. And what it is, it works has subconscious drivers, cognitive biases, which is a systematic errors in logical thinking and heuristics, which are mental shortcuts that the brain takes in order to conserve energy.
So that’s why it’s important to present and deliver the information a specific way and that the brain wants to receive it in order to get past the gatekeeper and then to have that information move onto the cortex to have the maximum persuasive power on both the primal and logical level.
So when you look at the primal brain, for example, the purpose of the primal brain has really two core functions. Number one is to ensure the survival of the individual. And number two is to ensure the reproductive success of the individual. And what ends up happening is it’s actually guided by fulfilling and enhancing what we call primitive instincts.
And there’s six main primitive instincts. So there’s survival, reproduction, safety, security, sustenance, and status. So there’s certain factors that help an individual achieve these primitive, primitive instincts. So emotions play a role in decision making, environmental cues, rewards. And also when you’re exposed to certain stimuli, it actually activates certain neuro networks of association of memories, ideas, impressions, and thoughts related to let’s say, the brand or the service of the product that happens too fast for the conscious mind to become aware of.
So all of that leads to like how I mentioned cognitive biases and heuristics and collectively those subconscious drivers is what leads results in why you see a lot of consumers making purchasing choices that are not always logical. So that’s why you really want to focus on the primal brain pick because that’s the gatekeeper and you want to construct your marketing in a way that satisfies those main primitive instincts.
Rich: So there’s a primal brain. And then what did you call the other part of the brain?
Felix: So the primal brain, the other part of brain is your neocortex, which is your logical part of the brain.
Rich: So is the argument that we need to get all parts of the brain on board for our customers to make a decision in our favor, or just that we should be focusing our attention on that primal brain and then the neocortex will fall into line?
Felix: Usually that’s what happens. That’s why when you look at the structure and the function with the brain, that’s why we always hear that consumers buy based on emotion and then they justify it by logic. So when you look at how information flows into the brain, like how I mentioned, first to the brainstem and then through the midbrain and eventually the last part of the brain that receives the information is the logical part of the brain. So that’s why you want to construct it where it’s done in a way that the primal brain likes to receive information. And that’s several components to the marketing message.
For example, you want it to be novel for example. You want the message to show signs of safety. You want it to be visual, because the primal brain processes information in terms of visuals a lot faster than any of the main senses. It doesn’t really understand abstract concepts. That’s more for the logical brain, like languages and apps, abstract concept that the electrical brain mainly deals with. So that’s why the problem of brain that would be too taxing for the primal brain to understand. So that’s why you want more visuals. Something that’s tangible, simple and presenting your marketing message from a high status position.
So when you look at it, your primal brain, if you’re to compare the two as I mentioned, the gatekeeper. So if you can’t get that past the primal brain, it’s really difficult to persuade a consumer to take your desired call to action basing your argument, let’s say on points that are targeted towards the logical brain strictly just on those basis.
So they do work hand in hand, but if you’re to look at the two, the primal brain is the one that you definitely want to focus on in terms of the decision making process because it is the true decision maker when it comes to buying, for example.
Rich: All right, so you mentioned there were six elements that the primal brain categorizes. I was scribbling down notes as fast as I could. I think I got five of them. I heard survival, reproduction, safety, security and status. Did I miss one?
Felix: Yes. There’s one more, sustenance.
Rich: Sustenance. Yes. All right. Awesome. So then basically we need to make sure that we’re covering all those things. You also mentioned things like your message needs to be novel, it needs to, I guess, give people a feeling of safety or security, should be visual and it should be high status. So can you give us examples of maybe some marketing that was off the mark, and then maybe you worked with a client and kind of got it into an alignment, or some other example that kind of anchors this down for us who are trying to figure this out?
Felix: Sure. So what I’ll do is I’ll provide an example that who are like some of the clients that we have worked with. Also I could provide some examples of global companies in terms of how they’re constructing their marketing in a way that’s how I mentioned that’s like novel, safe, visual, tangible, simple, fast, and from a high status position so that way you kind of see how, global companies with position there, companies by using those main components that would trigger the primal brain.
So starting with my own example, so some of the companies I work with are delivery companies for example. And everything has pretty much changed over the last several weeks, especially with the current situation that we’re in. So one of the things that they were focusing at the time was more on the convenience factor of delivery and you know, during regular times that is something that’s certainly true.
If people are sitting at their computers, they would much rather have somebody drop off the food rather than even drive out to a fast food place to buy. It’s simply the convenience of them using that time to, let’s say, do other tasks or other hobbies that they would rather participate in. But when you look at what’s happened, we need to shift that from convenience into satisfying what’s the most important primitive instinct right now in terms of the time sensitivity. And when we look at the six main one, it’s actually safety and security.
So what we have to do now is shift the marketing message to show a lot of things like in terms of the social proof, the testimonials and also like high status, let’s say customers in the form of like influencers using their services as well. And also a way to actually mitigate what’s in their marketing called the loss aversion bias, which is another way of saying the fear of missing out. Or consumers, they experience roughly about two to three times the amount of pain if they lose something, versus the amount of pleasure that they would gain in terms of gaining the same in product or service.
So the way that you want to mitigate that level of uncertainty or risks is actually implementing having really strong and captivating free trials. So that’s like a tactic that you could put into your email marketing in order to get stronger conversions. Especially right now when, you know, there’s a lot of anxiety and a lot of fear and a lot of uncertainty in terms of where the economy’s heading for both businesses and consumers.
Rich: It’s interesting that you mentioned that and safety being the second one. I’ve noticed, like I just got an Uber Eats promo in my inbox today and it was basically telling me like I could specify throughout the app that I just want the food delivered to my front door and I’ll come out and get it. So there’s no contact with the outside world. So obviously right now that’s a huge security issue or a huge safety issue that people have. They’re just very worried about their health and the health of their loved ones.
Felix: Exactly. That’s a perfect example. So what they do is they label that called contactless delivery. So as you mentioned, what they’ll do is they’ll let you know that your food has arrived and then they’ll drop it off at your door, and then that’s when you’re able to grab it. I know that there’s even other companies that have even extended the reach of social distancing and though they actually call it curbside delivery. So they’ll actually drop it like on your, let’s say, even on your curb and then you’d come out to grab it. So they’re looking to maximize in terms of really enhancing that safety aspect of the whole social distancing right now in terms of the safety of how that’s on everybody’s minds.
Rich: When you gave me that whole list; novel, safety, all the way through to high status, is that a priority list? Like are we trying to focus first on novel and then the rest of the things, or are these all important things and we’re trying to check off as many boxes as possible?
Felix: Well, what you can do is typically the strongest messages or the strongest messages do have all those components to it. But if you were to look at the sequence of it, novel would be the first thing that captures the attention of the primal brain. Because one of the core functions of the problem of brain is actually to detect new stimuli in the environment. And it does that because it needs to look at opportunities in order to increase its chances of survival and reproductive success. And it does that by assessing the new stimuli in terms of, let’s say a threatening or nonthreatening situation.
So for example, let’s say in the real world or even if we were to take it back to ancestral days.
The way to increase your chances of survival is, you would come across a new food source. So you’d have to assess that, whether that’s a threat or not a threat. Or someone that you find attractive. Is that a potential mate that would increase your chances of reproductive success? And then on the flip side of that, an individual would have to access whether something is keeping themselves in danger, such as if they came across a lion or tiger in the middle of the jungle for example. So a lot of those guidance systems still work today. So that’s why in terms of the novel part, to catch your attention, you want to be able to catch the problem of brain’s attention by presenting something that’s novel. So that’s probably the first thing.
An example of that is there’s actually a commercial by or an ad by Energizer. So Energizer, everybody knows their fuzzy pink bunny. It’s been around since 1988, so roughly about 30 years now. But they use a lot of pattern interruptions in terms of their videos. So you want to be doing a lot of pattern interruptions. And what they implement is called ‘orientation response’. So that’s a shifting of the camera angles and every time it shifts that causes the primal brain to reorient itself, too. So that’s how it continues to keep people engaged on that novelty level. And they’re even able to take that one step further because, after 30 years something could definitely move out of the category of novelty into something that’s boring.
So they actually wanted to associate their longer-lasting batteries with the concept that the bunny actually achieves that by eating carrots. That’s kinda something that was kind of unique that was different from what most people would be exposed to over the last 30 years. So that’d be probably the first step is to construct your marketing in a way that’s novel.
And then what ends up happening after that is the primal brain looks to see whether it’s a threat or a non-threat. So that once again ties into the safety component of things, and that once again can be achieved through strong credibility, strong social proof. So it looks to see who else is doing it. And once again that has relations to evolution as well because what we call in terms of the herd mentality is, there’s something called safety and numbers. And back in the day when you’re out hunting, you would have a higher chance of surviving if you’re hunting the group versus if you’re stuck by yourself and you could be the next meal for another wild animal there.
And then after that, what you want to do is engage the midbrain, and its main role is emotion. So a lot of that is to be achieved through faces, because we do have a particular part in our brains that’s more sensitive to identifying and relating to the expressions of people’s faces. So, you know, that’s something that I’m using a lot of, facial features in terms of your marketing is very important. And then delivering it once again from a high status position. So it looks at, is this a message coming from a position that has a high status to it. And then if you’re able to check all those off, then it passes your information to the logical brain where it starts assessing the information on the facts and the data and so forth.
Rich: But if we’ve done our job with the primal brain at that point, the neocortex is just trying to make up an excuse on why we can buy the product.
Felix: Yeah, you’ve pretty much done a lot of the leg work if you convince the primal brain. Because the primal brain, like how I mentioned it influences up to 95% of the decision making processes, particularly when it comes to buying. So that is correct, once you, as you mentioned, like people buy with an emotion and justify with their logic. So if you’re able to convince the primal brain, then you’re well on your way to getting the consumer to do the call of action that you outlined.
Rich: So this podcast is primarily focusing on digital marketing, and that can include a lot of things including websites, social media, email marketing. Obviously neuromarketing can play a big role with some of those things, either with your clients or some of the other companies that you see out there. Can you give us an example or two of how we can use some of these neuromarketing techniques to increase our open rate on our emails or get more people to click on something important on our website?
Felix: Sure. So when it comes to, let’s say SEO for example, if you look at the click through rate for search engine results page, so you want to be ranking on the first page during that time. So what you want to be doing is leveraging language that triggers the primal brain. Language such as using the words ‘avoid’ or ‘danger’ and the title. And now let’s say the meta description is once again going to trigger the primal brain because number one of its main roles is to ensure the survival of the individual. So when it comes across those words, automatically the primal brain gravitates towards paying attention to it. So that’s something that would be actionable to implement.
Also as we mentioned to increase the dwell time or the on page time, you’d use an orientation response in terms of your videos. Also a lot of pattern interruptions. And a good example of that, have you watched the video ad by Blendtec?
Rich: Is that the ones where they throw things into the blender to see, will it blend?
Felix: That’s exactly it. So they throw in a really, really odd stuff. Like, it could be like an iPhone watch, it could things that you’d normally would not throw in the blender. And that’s why it makes it really novel because it catches your attention. And then that’s why you’re curious to find out what actually happens when you throw an iPhone into the blender. So that is another way to, once again, you’re tapping into the novelty of the situation in order to trigger it.
Also when you look at a mobile marketing, because I came from that world, what you want to do is how I mentioned present it in a certain way. And now with a limited size screen, the order and the type of messaging and the visuals that you use will matter. So neuromarketing gives you a guideline in terms of how to present your marketing stimuli.
And another thing that’s important in neuromarketing as well is what we call processing fluency. So this means the degree of how easy something is to grasp and understand. So one of the ways to present, let’s say your written message, is that the brain understands things in chunks of three or four. So if you go to the company, Base Camp, they actually chunk their paragraphs in actually threes. So they do that obviously strategically. And that’s one of the reasons why, is because the brain processes information some chunks of three or four. So when you look at how it can be applied on an SEO level, I just gave some examples there.
And then we could actually expand on that. For example, let’s go through each one of those seven main primitive components. So we covered novelty quite extensively, but if you look at visuals, you want to be using big and clear images. Sephora does a wonderful job of this of course, they are in the beauty industry and what they do is they have big, clear and vibrant images in the marketing. The highlights, let’s say beauty, acceptance, transformation and self-confidence. So you could probably just Google that and you’ll see even like a before and after picture of a girl that does her makeup.
The third thing is, when it comes to safety, Amazon is phenomenal at that. For example, I’m just looking at their ratings on one of their listings right now and they have the number of reviews that it has. So this one right here that I’m looking at has over 2,000 reviews. Its star rating is five and a half out of five, number of questions over 700, and has the Amazon’s choice badge. So a lot of people would feel comfortable and remove a lot of uncertainty by making that Amazon product purchase.
And also you want your message to be fast. So you want people to once again understand it really quick. And right now we’re living in an age of instant gratification. So let’s say chat bots really satisfy that exact criteria. And that can be the difference between a calm customer converting on your site, versus an anxious customer that leaves and then moves on to another site for their purchase simply because they were not able to get the help that they wanted. And then moving forward as you want it to be simple. So Google is a good example, it doesn’t get any simpler than typing what it is that you’re looking for in a search bar.
And then when you could explore the tangible component to it – and tangible, while you’re looking at, as it appeals to one or more of the five main senses – that would make you want to touch it or engage with in some physical way. So there’s certain websites that actually use, let’s say lemons. And the reason why you want to use lemons, especially if you’re a food type of a website or company, is the use of lemon actually stimulates your saliva glands and makes your mouth water. So what it does, it activates the main sense of taste in the consumer’s brains when they visit your website.
So you know, there’s one website that what they do is they sell essential oils, but they also on their website show pictures of a lemon. So what they’re doing is they’re creating a positive association between the good taste of their essential oils that they offer and their brand. Because the traditional thinking when it comes to consuming oils is that oils are usually far from anything that tastes good or is palpable. So they want to remove that association and then create the new association that has a much more positive association in terms of why customers should buy from them instead of from the competitors. It’s because of the oils that they offer tastes really, really good compared to all the others.
Then of course when we discover things from a high status position, we’re mainly looking at the concept of authority. So testimonials is a good way to, to do that. And you know, you have tested most from CEOs of let’s say from global companies. That’s something that shows a high level of authority.
Rich: Yeah. I often talk about putting badges on your website. And by badges, it could be anything from the Chamber of Commerce or certifications, your Google Ad certified, that sort of stuff, just because that’s the equivalent of badges on the internet. So it makes a lot of sense.
Felix: Exactly. And when you look at those badges because how the brain looks at information and safety is one of the first criteria that it looks at, so you want to put, I’ve seen websites where the battery is actually at the bottom of the website, so you want to move that to the top. Like closer to where above the fold is or roughly in that area. And that way it eliminates any uncertainty that the consumer may have in terms of working with your company.
Rich: That’s awesome. This has been so much great information, Felix. I really appreciate it. If people want to learn more about you and Happy Buying Brain, where can we send them?
Felix: Absolutely. So the first way is, I’m always on LinkedIn. So you could search Felix Cao and I’m more than happy to connect with people on there. The second way is you could contact me directly through email. So my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And the third way is you can visit my website, happybuyingbrain.com, and I also have a blog session there. So if you want to keep up to date on the latest trends and things that are happening in the world of neuromarketing, then feel free to subscribe to the blog on the website. And there’s also a contact form that you can fill out and I’m more than happy to also communicate through that contact form as well.
Rich: All right, well you’re going to get a new subscriber as soon as this episode ends because I’m going to go right over there and sign up. So thank you so much. This has been great. Really appreciate it. And thanks for all your time today.
Felix: Oh, thank you, Rich. I definitely appreciate it. It was actually really fun talking to you and having this conversation on your podcast.
Felix Cao helps businesses deliver marketing strategies that speak to the primal part of their customer’s brains so they buy from you instead of your competitors. Check out his website where you’ll find his blog that is full of helpful tips and strategies that you can start implementing into your marketing plan.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.