Faaez Samadi
Jun 20, 2018

Capturing hearts and minds: Why neuroscience is integral to marketing

From mirror neurons to brain systems, Deepak Varma at Kantar explains how neuroscience is teaching brands even more about their advertising and audiences.

Capturing hearts and minds: Why neuroscience is integral to marketing

Marketers talk all the time about the importance of brand recall, and how messaging must be tailored to most effectively seek this elusive outcome.

But to know how best to do this, you really need to know how the brain actually processes information and makes decisions. That’s where neuroscience steps in, says Deepak Varma, global head of neuroscience insights at Kantar.

“The rational side does play a role of course, but you have to balance both rational and emotional responses,” he explains, massively oversimplifying for this reporter’s benefit.

He continues that neuroscience has taught us that memory is encoded in two manners: explicit memory and implicit memory. Recall uses memory, but obviously people can’t recall everything, as it generally relates to primacy and recency. When asked to recall a list of items, most people start with the last things they heard (recency), and then the first few items (primacy) rather than anything in the middle.

What has this got to do with marketing? According to Varma, everything.

“If you see moments that were engaging, but consumers can’t necessarily recollect those moments, if you show those moments again, in short form, your brain will act sort of like an unzipped file and connect the memory to what you’ve been shown,” he says.  

“It’s like being at a traffic light, hearing 15 seconds of a song from someone else’s car, and having it stuck in your head all day. Advertising works very similarly. You may not recall a specific image, but when you see it your brain triggers.”

Marketers have known about the importance of emotion in decision-making and other such factors for many years, but Varma says only recently are brands getting into deep neuroscience and the insights it can provide to improve communication. This is down to, among other things, advances in technology and access to tools and programmes that are much cheaper than they were when neuroscience began in the medical field.

(Source: Kantar)

“Ten years ago, there was very little awareness of neuroscience in marketing. Today, the use has become very common,” he says. “The earliest adopters were the FMCG companies, then it trickled down into other verticals as well. People’s awareness of neuroscience is also increasing; the iPhone X is using facial recognition as a signature.”

To that end, Varma says brands are “getting more excited” about the possibilities of greater neuroscience insights in their organisations. Facial coding, for example, is widely prevalent now, and there are many brands experimenting with new, similar tools.

Varma says he is having more conversations about system 1 and system 2  – the two systems of processing in the human brain, intuitive and reflective – and how having a holistic picture of both systems leads to better measurement of an ad’s performance or brand sentiment.

“Marketers and brands have always believed that emotion plays a very strong role,” he states. “But it’s not all about emotion; when you balance emotion and rational messaging together in an ad, for established brands the likelihood of sales is much higher.”

Another phrase popping up in more strategy meetings is ‘mirror neurons’, which Varma explains are neurons that fire when someone sees another person perform an action – put simply, “monkey see, monkey do”.

“So when kids wave at you from a bus and you wave back at them, you think you’re being friendly, but it’s actually your mirror neurons firing, from a part of the brain that’s automatic. When there’s a motor action involved, like picking up a cup, your mirror neurons fire even more,” he describes.

“So if you show someone consuming something, people automatically start to respond. When you can use this kind of available information, and couple it with data points, then suddenly you’re getting insights that weren’t possible before.”

For clients, Varma says his team is being used across the marketing agenda, from early creative planning stages, to testing and refreshing a campaign, to post-game analysis regarding its effectiveness. As technology develops, he says having a combined overview of system 1 and system 2 responses to an ad will become the standard.

“It gives you a lot more actionable, diagnostic information,” he says. “In all the years of market research, we were looking at what the consumer was telling you. You didn’t know what the consumer was feeling. Unless you know how both systems in your brain are working, you’re only getting a partial picture.”

Deepak Varma


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