Subtitled: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. This is groundbreaking research in a new field called neuromarketing. Martin Lindstrom gave an interview to National Public Radio on the subject and how retailers are learning to tap into these findings in order to influence our buying habits.
The premise of neuromarketing is that what goes on in our subconscious influences what we buy. Figuring out how to measure subconscious response in relation to product design, marketing and advertising gives businesses a tool more effective than any they have now. Lindstrom quotes the behavioral economist George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University: "Most of the brain is dominated by automatic processes, rather than deliberate thinking. A lot of what happens in the brain is emotional, not cognitive."
In order to find out how different areas of the brain respond to certain stimuli such ads, logos, commercials, sounds and even smells, two different types of equipment were used: Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and steady-state typography (SST). Both are non-invasive devices and left no damaging after affects on participants. The research was conducted on 2,000 volunteers in the US, UK, Germany, Japan and China over a period of several years.
Lindstrom's research produced some surprising results and confirmed certain other beliefs about what influences consumer buying behavior. The brain scans were matched against paper-and-pen questionnaire responses and often times how the brain responded did not match the opinions of the volunteer's "logical" mind. In one interesting research study with smokers, it was discovered that the warning label on cigarettes is not only a failure as a deterrent, but actually triggers a response in the reward center of the brain that controls the desire to smoke.
The book is a very engaging and easy read. It's full of interesting case studies, stories and anecdotal asides told with a great deal of humor. There is no question that this type of research will some day soon replace the more traditional consumer surveys and focus groups. These studies are more accurate in predicting future results based on an accurate assessment of the subconscious mind that influences buying behavior. Lindstrom predicts that as companies grow more interested in this type of consumer research, the technology will become more widely available and the research less expensive to conduct.
For the present, there are plenty of valuable take-aways from the book that can be effectively implemented by any business. The insights are practical and make sense when explained against the backdrop of the research results. For consumers, there are valuable lessons about what factors drive our choices that we are not consciously aware of. Being armed against the techniques and tactics being deployed every place from fast food restaurants to the shopping mall will slow many of us down as we bring our logical mind along to the party. I highly recommend the book and believe it is the first of many we will see in this emerging field of neuromarketing.