Neuromarketing: Use These 3 Brain-Targeting Hacks to Sell More

Top-performing marketers don’t achieve success by chance! They understand how to tap into the brains of customers for powerful impact — Discover how, today

Sam Hurley
July 01 2019

Science drives business.

But don’t worry, you don’t need to be a qualified scientist to wrap your head around customer physiology.

(You can try wearing those black, thick-rimmed glasses or a lab coat if it makes you feel suitably dressed for the occasion, though.)

Physiology = The way in which a living organism or bodily part functions.

And here’s the best part:

The following ‘neuro’ tips and tricks are based on years of comprehensive research.

All you need to do is run, measure and refine these data-backed mind hacks for your particular business.

Be prepared to metaphorically zap some customer brains into motion! ☺

Your marketing and sales efforts depend on it…

More on Customer Psychology from PostFunnel:

How to Use Transparency to Improve Customer Retention
How To Use Color Psychology for Glowing Sales
Need A Stronger Brand Identity? One Word: Strategy

Hack #1: Truly Understand Neuromarketing

The encompassing topic of Neuroscience is a truly fascinating one — and often misunderstood.

Neuroscience is focused on everlasting studies of the brain and other components of the nervous system; it involves examining their (often connected) bodily functions and how they interpret or react to stimuli.

Why is this important to you?

As marketers, business owners, sales professionals etc., our ultimate goal is to convince audiences to buy our products or services — and these purchase decisions are always the result of triggers within the brains of customers.

Therefore, it only seems natural to center our attention on Neuromarketing, which is simply a combination of Neuroscience and marketing.

As mentioned:

Numerous studies have already been performed across the world to determine the physiological and behavioral effects of marketing or other related material.

These effects and internal processes are usually automatic, beyond most levels of conscious control — thus providing crucial, unbiased data.

e.g. #1
Eye tracking, pulse monitoring, facial emotion coding and measurement of electrical signals in customers’ brains using fMRI or EEG (including their consequent behavior, hormones and emotions) to conclude the effectiveness of different marketing, branding and sales tactics.

How’s that for a mouthful?

[Related Neuromarketing study: Harvard Business Review | How pricing affects behavior]
[Related Neuromarketing studies:
iMotions | 15 examples in action]

(Screenshot Source: Zenith via SlideShare)

e.g. #2

  • A customer group is monitored and shown a brand’s unreleased advert
  • The customer group acknowledges feelings of both joy and pride throughout
  • Parts of their brains ‘light up’ as they experience these feelings / inner processes
  • The customer group automatically creates a mental connection with the brand
  • The customer group admits to now wanting to buy from this brand over competitors
  • The brand publicly introduces the advert and scales this now proven strategy to evoke the same emotional and psychological response from a wider audience

[Related study: ScienceDaily | Identifying emotions based on brain activity]
[Related Neuromarketing study:
Enigma | Advertising to consumers in Beijing]

As you can see, a lot of the hard work has already been done for us marketers today.

This means you don’t have to suddenly become Einstein and spend a lot of time, money or mistakes on being the first to experiment with these brain-targeting techniques, because existing evidence and results are clear.

“95% of purchase decisions are subconscious.”
(Source: Harvard Professor, Gerald Zaltman)

The bottom line:

Neuromarketing is so much more than a buzzword — it’s validated science that is not only practised by colossal brands, but also universities and globally recognized institutes.

[Related material: Bitbrain | 7 journals to consult for Neuromarketing research papers]

And the concept is only growing bigger; get ahead by acknowledging this special field.

Hack #2: Create ‘Neuro Content’

What do I mean by neuro content?

Instead of merely throwing material out there and hoping for the best, it pays to craft the entire content experience with Neuromarketing in mind.

And ‘an experience’ is exactly what you should be offering — not just words, visuals and information.

– Yes, a content marketing strategy is great to have.
– Yes, your market research may be solid.
– Yes, you might understand what your audience buys.

But none of the above reach the depths of neuroscience.

It actually all seems quite shallow without it…

For example, ThinkBox and Neuro-Insight explored the link between T.V. advertising and memory by analyzing brain responses to over 200 ads.

The outcome:

Ads containing hard facts and scientific information were less appealing to the brain, performing within the bottom quarter of all ads tested for their ability to etch impressions into long-term memory.

Whereas ads built around emotion, humor, and everyday situations (featuring either genuine people or actors) all performed much better, with impact on memory approximately 15% greater.

You don’t see emojis, scenarios, puns and funny GIFs in my content for no reason, ya’ll!

This extra layer of substance truly adds magic to marketing and the content that forms it.

Think how differently you will now approach your campaigns with rich insights like this?

While the tone and theme of your content is unmistakably vital, let’s jump back to early foundations and consider the relatively basic content formats that will achieve results for your business.

It makes sense to construct your content marketing efforts and also your standard content types (yes, they are different!) in ways that not only speak to your audience appropriately for each occasion, but acutely captures attention and ensures you remain top of mind.

“It can take as little as 50 milliseconds to lose a positive impression — now consider the blink of an eye takes only 300 – 400 milliseconds.”
(Rephrased from Source: Raka via Tom Shapiro)

So, how do you build and maintain positive attention?

A wonderful infographic from Main Path describes the varying effects that content formats have on the human brain.

Let’s break it down…

First up is the written form of content — which is surprisingly good for sparking imagination, encouraging readers to apply their minds in order to visualize what words physically do not:

Our written language is also very powerful for drawing attention to deals and persuading audiences to convert on the spot.

“One of the most effective ways to boost conversion is to test and tweak words.”
(Source: Chris Goward)

e.g. Superlative adjectives or ‘descriptive power words’ demand attention
— Supreme
— Eye-opening
— Thriving
— Unforgettable
— Delightful
— Phenomenal
— Magical
— Special
— Dazzling

Are you blown away by these spectacularly extraordinary, unparalleled slices of wisdom? 😉

[Secret tip #1: Write numbers as numbers, rather than text | Enchanting Marketing]
[Secret tip #2: Speak and write the way customers would, to mimic them |

As with all content formats, a combination is recommended to penetrate audience brains (just like the infographic further above — and you already know the huge popularity of infographics):

(Graphic Source: Visme)

If you are part of a more complex business that isn’t exactly easy to write about, your best bet is to go more visual and use text to complement.

For instance, does this website immediately appeal to you?

Or this:

(Screenshot Source)

The second one probably stands out more because it’s easier to digest.

Both examples are on the topic of ‘bore drilling’, but that needn’t mean the content format has to be bore-ing!

Visuals can transform complex topics or troves of data into snazzy, snackable content — and you can always provide your audience with the ability to expand visuals for more textual information.

It all helps towards forming those crucial first impressions in record time.

While the hint towards a simple tap of the finger or mouse can be used to entice action (by uncovering further info, at the sole preference of visitors) you can go a step further and introduce creative, interactive content that immerses and magnetizes.

Think quizzes, polls, surveys, calculators and interactive emails to name just a few.


  • Interactive content taps into multiple regions of the brain
  • Participation means elevated rates of retention and learning
  • This type of content is highly shareable; quizzes and results are among the most shared media types on Facebook

If ‘going viral’ is your goal, interactive content can be extremely lucrative.

(Original Video Source: Dot)

Hint: Dot is a very cool tool to help you seamlessly produce such content.

Leading on nicely from that GIF’d up clip, video is obviously another versatile method of engagement to test in different situations.

In contrast to interactive content (although you can of course, use interactive videos) — standard video doesn’t demand active participation from viewers…

So it actually saps less brain energy.

Again, this is why it’s important to apply a mixture of content types in different situations for optimal results.

Like visual content, the ease of consumption makes video an ideal way to communicate intricate topics in a much more ‘human’, emotion-driven way with little effort on the viewers’ side.

These collective traits also mean video content is great for storytelling strategies:

The key takeaway here is to 100% nail your objectives before deciding on the type/s of content you’re going to deploy — there are many possible blends.

It all hinges on your unique audience, the density and nature of information presented, plus your intended purpose and desired outcome.

By the way, on the topic of video content and storytelling…

Measure Results, Balance With Opinions

(Which is also a golden rule to live by, in general.)

The reason:

Because what people tell you may not always be the same as what their bodies express.

Video marketing has generated huge buzz in the business world during the last few years, so I bet you would almost be certain of the answer to this question:

Does storytelling video or storytelling audio content encourage more engagement?

Well, researchers decided to conduct a biometric study to find out.

They hooked up participants to sensors that monitored changes in their heart rates, temperatures and electrodermal activity (EDA) — which refers to the electrical conductivity of the skin, especially as an indicator of emotional reaction.

Next, they were exposed to parallel audiobook and video scenes of multiple films like Alien, Sherlock Holmes and The Davinci Code, respectively.

Here’s the kicker:

Although exactly the same scenes were portrayed across both formats of consumption, participants rated the video material as ‘15% more engaging’.

However, this notably didn’t align with their bodily responses.


“We interpret these findings as physiological evidence that the stories were more cognitively and emotionally engaging when presented in an auditory format.”

“This may be because listening to a story is a more active process of co-creation (i.e. via imagination) than watching a video.”
(Research & Graph Source: bioRxiv)

Perhaps it’s time to launch your podcast…

Did You Know?

Hack #3: Activate ‘The Lizard Brain’

There are complex reasons why audiences may say one thing but mechanically experience another.

It’s not their fault — a lot of this process happens subconsciously without awareness.

To immensely simplify this explanation, think of the whole human brain divided into 3 systems:

Brain System #1: Cortex (The Human Brain)
Brain System #2:
Limbic (The Mammal Brain)
Brain System #3:
Triune (The Reptilian or Lizard Brain)

Hint: I highly recommend watching this video of Robert Sapolsky, who is truly a living legend in the field of neuroscience.

This trio of systems plays a dominating role in our behavior; whether that means scenarios like running away or facing a fight, stealing because you may be desperate for food, or splashing out on a luxury holiday because you feel stressed and fed up with work!

Retail therapy is real.

Depending on the situation, each brain system holds enough power to influence the other systems — but the lizard brain is comparatively more commanding, impulsive, and very difficult to control ‘manually’.

Here’s why:

— The cortex processes information
— The limbic system regulates emotion
— The triune (reptilian or lizard brain) is our oldest and most primitive danger-sensing system that first appeared in fish 500 million years ago, before reaching advanced stages in reptiles some 250 million years later

How does this relate to marketing?

Well, the lizard brain is mainly where buying decisions are made today. Its primary purpose throughout the ages has been to avoid pain and achieve survival; attributes that make it so tough to override.

It’s therefore extremely important for businesses to appeal to this ancient, involuntary brain system.

“95% – 99% of brain activity is beyond our conscious awareness.”
(Rephrased from Source: Simplifying Interfaces)

In my recent guide, I explained how fear is one of the strongest emotions because it has literally been helping humans survive since the days of cavemen.

Fear is what activates the ‘fight or flight’ response in situations we perceive to be dangerous.

(In other words, facing a threat or running away.)

This intense emotion is primarily induced by a small cluster of nuclei known as the ‘lizard brain’, scientifically referred to as the amygdala:

So, using fear in marketing and advertising can prompt a response from the instinctual amygdala by tapping into this automatic mechanism.

The key is to inspire the optimal balance of fear — too little and it’ll be ignored, too much and you will either anger or repel your audience (i.e. the ‘fight or flight’ situation).

An ideal outcome is driving people towards your pleasurable offering because it steers them away from the pain you magnify.

And magnify you must:

The reptilian system is inherently geared towards avoiding pain, rather than gaining pleasure.

Navigate this fact appropriately…

Use ‘The 3 C’ Model

You may have guessed it takes heaps of energy to actually power the brain, but do you know just how much?

While only accounting for 2% of our body mass, it burns 20% of the body’s energy — despite it being optimized to preserve usage.

In order to save power, other systems of the brain will not be activated unless they get the nod from this gatekeeper system.

Which is precisely why the lizard brain is a vital target for marketers.

(Graphic Source: Quillete)

To be granted this desirable access, you need to achieve one core goal:

Be worthy of attention.
(Context. Contrast. Concrete.)

The 3 Cs will make your offering appear to be strikingly valuable, deserving consideration.

First, create context by developing pain — make potential customers aware of problems they may have but perhaps didn’t realize. If the pain is slight, it’s your job to increase focus on this pain and make it a bigger issue.

Think: Threats, fear and challenges.

Don’t worry, this really isn’t as sadistic as it all sounds! 😉

Check out an example from Xero:

It’s particularly clever, and an ideal concept to show you because it implements all 3 Cs.

Accounting is the bane of many a small business owner, and this pain is obviously communicated in Xero’s value proposition — with a pertinent focus on the time element of such an agonizing task.

“Less time on accounting…”

The lizard brain also seeks clear contrast to reach a decision.

Portraying this type of value is easy: Show the potential customer their current situation, alongside their future situation after using your product or service.

Xero applies words to explain the negative circumstances before using its product, and an image tied in with this text to offer a positive taste of life afterwards. (Yep, that’s the well-dressed man just chilling on a nice car — while it’s travelling on two wheels).

“Less time on accounting…”             = Pain
“More on what you love.” + Image = Contrast

However, you can enhance this comparison even more by showing a full visual contrast:

(Image Source: Kerry Osborne)

Although only 6 words are used, the contrast is so good I don’t even need to expand.

This is important because the lizard brain understands visuals but not text (only reactions to the meanings of text), which all takes slightly longer to process.

To demonstrate this point, see how hard it is to name these colors out loud rather than saying the written text:

(Graphic Source: Mix)

Aim for the fastest processing time possible in your communications.

Note: The lizard brain predominantly remembers what happened first and last — which is key to contrast, but also the encompassing topic of customer experience.

Both the initial and final interactions with your brand! So make them good…

Lastly, the lizard brain can only ever handle simple information. Just like the Xero and Mac examples above, make your offer concrete and easy to understand in a jiffy.

Also Remember ‘RUF’

Relevancy >>> You know that feeling when you hone in on something during conversation (like a particular type of smartphone) and then you suddenly start seeing it everywhere? This is often said to be an illusion rather than coincidence, and proves we are more likely to pay attention to what we deem relevant.

Make your offering timely and valid.

(In the age of personalization, Coca Cola succeeded in staying relevant)

Unexpectedness >>> The very foundation of guerrilla marketing and many iconic T.V. advertising campaigns, surprise tactics make brands stand out and be remembered. 

Be out of the ordinary to get noticed in a sea of competition.

(Photo Source: Marketing Birds)

Familiarity >>> We are more likely to pay attention to what we recognize. Numerous studies have concluded this fact — and it’s exactly why impressive psychologist and storyteller Jordan Peterson constantly uses references to famous Disney movies while speaking to a crowd.

Use strong, consistent branding and vivid cues that appeal to your target audience.

BONUS HACK: Build A Cult-Forming Brand

Realistically, the chances of achieving this feat are probably 1 in 10,000,000.

But if you could?

Get ready to pick up your jaw from the floor…

Apple products trigger ‘religious’ reaction in the brains of its fans.

That’s right.

For Apple’s devoted fan base, the seminal brand actually triggers a reaction in the brain that’s identical to those of highly religious people when they view holy imagery!

(Screenshot / Video Source: BBC News)

A team of neuroscientists used an MRI scanner to conduct the experiment on a willing Apple enthusiast — confirming the same parts of the brain were stimulated.

How’s that for branding?!

Sam Hurley

Sam is a passionate 'people connector', Personal Branding expert & Founder of OPTIM-EYEZ. He has achieved success for SMEs, national and international organizations, while being ranked as the world’s #1 digital influencer by Webinale, #2 most influential digital marketer by Onalytica and world’s #3 content marketing influencer by ScribbleLive. Sam loves a high-octane action movie and his all time favorite supercar is the Lamborghini Aventador! Catch him on social for cosmic amounts of Digital Marketing tips.

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