How ‘Neuromarketing’ Dictates Consumer Sales

Ever wish you could get inside the heads of potential customers to find out what really makes them tick?

The new and somewhat controversial field of neuromarketing uses brain scans to unlock the subconscious thoughts, feelings and desires that drive purchasing decisions. Researchers show their subjects ads, images, logos, etc., and see, literally, which parts of their brain light up.

Scary? Perhaps. But the results of a three-year, $7 million neuromarketing study reported by Martin Lindstrom in his book Buy.ology also offer fascinating glimpses into how humans behave in a world where they are bombarded 24/7 with marketing messages in myriad formats.


Many of the findings are relevant for our industry, the most important being – despite what prospects tell you – people make almost all buying decisions emotionally, not rationally. And they make them quickly.

How else does one explain brain scans done on students offered either an immediate $15 reward or a $20 reward in two weeks? Both offers triggered activity in the area of the brain that generates emotion. But, Lindstrom reports, the $15 now offer caused an unusual flurry of stimulation in the limbic area – a whole grouping of brain structures primarily responsible for our emotional life as well as the formation of memory. The more the students were emotionally excited about something, the greater their chances of going for the immediate offer. Rationally they knew $20 was a better deal, but their emotions won out.

How does this translate to kitchen and bath firms? For one thing, it tells you that if promotional offers are part of your strategy, you should make them immediate – not a discount in two months on installation or a rebate, but a free sink base today. If you don’t get a positive reaction to the immediate offer, it could be that the prospect “just isn’t that into” the project or purchase.

But don’t get promotional too quickly. When subjects were shown the same wine twice, once with an expensive price, the other with a normal price, there was increased activity in the area of the brain that perceives pleasantness, indicating that the higher price of a product enhances enjoyment of it.


Brain studies show that seeing a new product repeatedly in magazines, on the Web or on TV makes it more desirable. Consumers see beautiful kitchens or baths over and over…and decide that’s how they want to live.

This is the work of “mirror neurons” that cause us to mimic activities. “When we watch someone do something, our brains react as if we were actually performing these activities ourselves. Seeing and doing are one and the same,” Lindstrom explains. That’s why we smile when we see someone who is happy or cringe when someone is in pain.

These mirror neurons are responsible for empathy. They are activated not only when we’re observing other people’s behavior, but also when we are reading about the behavior in print or online.

Whipping up a soufflé, pulling a roast out of an oven, standing under an oversized showerhead – show these activities either in video or in print and prospects will imagine themselves in their new kitchen or bath doing the same thing.
Show happy customers in their new kitchens, either with video or photos on your Web Site and in your showroom. The vicarious pleasure of real people enjoying their new space stimulates the mirror neurons.

Mirror neurons explain the power of smiling. According to researchers, we are not only more attracted to people who smile, but we also tend to remember their names better. Studies have shown that encountering a smiling face (rather than a neutral or negative face) produces a far more positive response to a business overall.

Dopamine, one of the brain’s pleasure chemicals, is partly responsible for purchasing decisions, which are often made in as little as 2.5 seconds. “Shopping makes us happy in the short term thanks to dopamine, the brain’s flush of reward, pleasure and well being,” Lindstrom writes. “Our emotional brain tells us to keep shopping because we want this rush of good feeling even when our rational mind says otherwise.”

Scientists have found an area in the frontal cortex that is activated when we see products we think are cool. This area of the brain is associated with self-perception and social emotions.

“We assess snazzy stuff largely in terms of its capacity to enhance our social status. Which is what we need to attract a mate to carry on our genetic line…it’s all about survival,” Lindstrom notes. Pictures of sports cars activated a region of men’s brains associated with reward and reinforcement. We can only hope that pictures of a mega-grill or steam shower would have the same effect.


Rituals have a positive effect on mental health. And luckily, kitchens and baths are highly associated with rituals. A 2007 study of rituals found two key ones. First, the “preparing for battle ritual” in the morning that involves brushing teeth, bathing or showering and shaving. These all bring a sense of control over what the day will bring. You can take advantage of this by associating bathrooms with this sense of empowerment.

The second ritual is “feasting,” which involves meals that reunite us with our tribe, offering comfort and a sense of belonging.

“Products and brands that have rituals associated with them are much ‘stickier’ than those that don’t,” Lindstrom points out. Birthday parties, Thanksgiving, holidays…any ritual celebrations that can be associated with kitchens are positive and make your brand memorable.

Making room for collections in these rooms is important, too. “Collections make us feel safe and secure. When we are stressed out or life feels random and out of control, we often seek out comfort in familiar products or objects,” Lindstrom notes.

Devotion and loyalty to a brand are part of ritual, too. Did your prospects’ parents always have their kitchens done by Pete’s Kitchens? Did they always have a Maytag washer? A GE range? A KitchenAid dishwasher? Tap into the ritual of any of these brand loyalties.

Prospects today are more visually over-stimulated than ever before. And the more stimulated they are, the harder it is to capture their attention. Brain research has clearly shown that visual images are far more effective and memorable when coupled with the sense of smell.

“When we see and smell some-thing we like at the same time, various regions of the brain light up in concert,“ Lindstrom has found.

Color, too, can have powerful effect. The heart rates of women handed a Tiffany blue box went up 20 percent even though the boxes had no logo and nothing inside. In a study of directory ads, those with color held people’s attention for two seconds or more. Black and white ads held their interest for less than one second.

Ultimately, better understanding consumers’ buying motivations can help you to more effectively target your sales and marketing efforts.