December 12, 2012

Q&A with Roger Dooley, author of ‘Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers With Neuromarketing’

Posted by: in North America

While researching our new 10 Trends for 2013 report, we talked to Roger Dooley, author of Brainfluence, the popular Neuromarketing blog and the Brainy Marketing blog at Forbes.com. We discussed our trend Sensory Explosion, the idea that in a digital world, we’ll place a premium on sensory stimulation, and marketers will look for more ways to engage the senses. Dooley, who is founder of Dooley Direct, a marketing consultancy, talked about the impact of different types of sensory marketing experiences on consumers’ brains.

What is neuromarketing, and how does it relate to the Sensory Explosion trend?

Everybody has their own definition. I like a broad definition that includes pretty much any understanding of how our brains work that contributes to improving marketing. I’ve seen interest increase dramatically over the last six or seven years, but in the last two or three it’s really stepped up.

What do you think is driving that interest?

One trend that is pushing us in that direction is the actual shrinking of our online experience, where we are spending more time online simply because that’s how we are consuming media or shopping or doing just about everything that we used to always do partially in person. At the same time, if you follow mobile stats and tablet stats, they’re growing amazingly quickly. I’ve seen double-digit monthly growth on some of the sites that I work with for mobile users. It’s great that people are finding new ways to access all these functions, but at the same time, a nice 25-inch monitor like I’ve got on my desk now is being shrunk to a 7-inch tablet, or even a phone-size screen. That certainly diminishes the sensory experience.What is the result of that shrinking screen?

I think you’re probably right that there is an increasing hunger for, at least at times, a more immersive sensory experience.

How is that hunger impacting the world of entertainment?

It’s changing the whole theater experience, as theater owners create a more café-like environment. People can get not just an overpriced popcorn and jumbo sodas but adult beverages, food that’s actually more like restaurant-quality food and so on. Obviously theater owners have to stay relevant when people can watch a movie on a 60-inch screen in their own home with all the conveniences and not having to put up with annoying people taking cell phone calls. They’ve got to do something, and I think the practicality of adding a lot of sensory input beyond visual and audio is challenging. People have tried introducing odors for years, and they’ve done the seat-vibration thing, or attempted that. No single technology has ever really proven all that effective to the point where it’s become ubiquitous.

What about the development of multisensory retail environments, such as Harrods’ Toy Kingdom in London, which engages visitors with sights and sounds and physical sensations?

Retail has to do that, because the alternative is, if I just need to buy an Elmo doll I can go to Amazon or any one of probably a hundred vendors and shop for price. But I can’t get that kind of multisensory experience. [Harrods] sure sounds like a delightful thing that could be a shared outing for parents and kids and make the store a destination. They obviously have to figure out how to avoid the showrooming effect where people say, “Wow, I really liked that toy,” and jump on their iPhone and then go shopping. Nevertheless, just getting people into the store and interacting is certainly going to be a positive thing for sales.

Another example we cite in our report is the Lush stores, which sell soaps and body care products that shoppers are encouraged to touch and sniff.

Those are great products for that, too, because they are really sensory in nature, and you’re not trying to apply a multisensory approach to a product that wouldn’t normally utilize those senses. In the case of these lotions and potions and things, they do have a feel when you rub them on your hand.

There also are new, affordable technologies that allow marketers to try things like, for example, Bombay Sapphire gin has used electroluminescent ink on packaging, so that when you pick the box off the shelf there’s a lighting effect. Does that kind of feature have an impact on the buying decision?

People find effects like that attractive in the mind. But there’s a bit of a danger, too. If you were buying a fine 25-year-old Scotch, would you want to pick up a bottle and have it either light up or play a tune? That just seems incongruous with a brand that has its roots in history and a two-century tradition behind it. Not that it can’t work, but if it somehow seems gimmicky it could harm a brand that is steeped in tradition or viewed as a luxury product.

Another example we cite are newspaper ads for certain Volkswagen models in India—when the reader opened this full-page ad, it vibrated, triggered by a small light sensor. The tagline was, “Feel the shiver of excitement.”

That would definitely get your attention. There’s a surprise factor there. If there were half a dozen ads in a magazine with that sort of effect, then it would probably not have the same impact. But if you’re the first one to do it, and you do it in a clever way, it’s great, because it’s not overly intrusive or annoying.

What about adding surprise sensory components in food? For instance, Wyborowa vodka just introduced a line called Oddka with flavors like fresh-cut grass and wasabi. Flavored vodkas are not new, but those are pretty unusual. 

There is an interesting data point about sense, and that is that the first time senses are processed in a unique way in our brains, the first time you smell a particular smell, that’s processed in a different way than if it’s a repeat experience. So one advantage of presenting a fairly unique flavor would be that it might have a greater impact, an impression, than one that is just another raspberry-flavored vodka. There’s also the buzz aspect of it.

Can you talk a bit about what you have you learned in your research, as far as how it relates to our trend?

From a practical standpoint, there is certainly a lot being done with different kinds of sensory marketing. One important thing to acknowledge is that people do not themselves understand or realize the impact of these sensory inputs. I happened to stumble across an old piece that quotes a statistic that people’s opinion is that they’re only 1 percent influenced by sound or smell when they’re shopping, which is ridiculously small.

They’ll say, “Well, no, I’m not influenced by sound while I’m shopping. What does that have to do with anything at all? You know, I am going to look at the product and maybe feel it.” In reality, these other senses have a big effect. There is a classic study where the wine sales were influenced by the type of music in the areas of the store that sold wine. When German music was playing, the sales of German wines went up, and when French music was playing, sales of French wine went up. At no time were people very conscious that this was affecting their decisions.

Similarly, if you go to a good supermarket, they do some really clever things with marketing rotisserie chickens, where that smell gets recirculated into the store area. The bakery where they are baking fresh bread, it recirculates into that area. If they have a coffee shop, there are coffee smells that are going to be wafting through the area. There’s a very potent stimulus to the customer completing the purchase of that product.

There’s a lot that is going on right now that isn’t very science fiction, it’s just very practical. Some of the neuroscience research that supports these sensory conclusions: There’s one study that looked at yogurt and they wanted to see what the most intense part of the yogurt experience was. When they asked people, most of them said it’s when I put in the spoon and I stir it up. Some other folks said that first spoonful was the peak of the experience. What they found from the neurostudy, where they actually had people wearing EEG brainwave measurement units while they were doing it, was that their brain was most engaged and impacted when they grabbed that little foil cover and pulled it off. I can’t really explain why that is, but if you’re a yogurt maker, that’s something to think about. It’s indicative that this is a key part of the experience.

Do you see any evidence that multisensory experiences are being used more frequently?

Well, there’s always a search for a novelty. One experiment I read about had people evaluate pencils that were both scented and unscented, and what they found was that the scented products were more memorable. Even the advertising claims associated with these products were more memorable. I think the one that had a teatree scent, which is a pungent aroma that is not really associated with a pencil, produced this longer-lasting memory than more commonplace scents. So people do want that uniqueness and potency. But, at least in scent, there’s a risk that many people are or claim to be negatively affected, so you have to be a little bit cautious.

So what does all this mean for marketers?

First of all, the introduction of other senses into either the marketing or the product itself can make that product stand out amid the clutter of the competition. Also, there’s solid research that shows that it makes the products more memorable. There’s an old expression that sums up how our brains work. It’s “Neurons that fire together wire together.” It means that our brain forms associations. If every time you are in a particular environment or you use a particular product or you see some marketing for a particular product, it associates another sensory experience like a scent or perhaps a particular musical refrain with that, that forms an association in your brain that when you smell that scent again or hear that sound again, it’ll be queued. So that’s a potent tool for marketers. I mean, it’s pretty hard to hear “Rhapsody in Blue” now without thinking of United Airlines.

Does the fact that marketers are increasingly using these sensory marketing techniques make it harder for others to get noticed? After a while, everybody starts playing the same game, right?

Early adopters always have the potential to break out from the pack simply because, for a while at least, they’re the only ones doing it. The iPad was able to form a big lead in the tablet market by having the most applications, which came partly because they were simply the first ones to seriously enter that space. The same is true for marketers. If you are the first company to put up a billboard, you have the first-mover advantage. Once the highway is cluttered with billboards, it’s tough keeping up with the Joneses. So now you’ve got a billboard that is visually engaging in some way. It’s got something that projects outside the rectangle, or it’s got a 3D effect. It puffs smoke out of it, it emits an odor. If anything, it’s an arms race to always try and be the one that stands out a little bit from the competition.

I also wanted to touch upon the countertrend, sensory overload. Do some people feel there is too much going on in terms of sensory stimulation?

I don’t doubt it, because, again, you are starting to differentiate yourself from the competition at a point where everybody is doing one thing and you try something else that can set you apart, too. If everybody has a scented product, there’s probably a significant market for an unscented product, too.

What do you see ahead for neuromarketing and this notion of sensory marketing?

I would expect to see a broader adoption of these techniques at businesses of somewhat more modest position than the businesses that can currently acquire them. If you want to look at the leaders in sensory marketing, you’ve got folks like Singapore Airlines or some of the big hotel chains where they specifically have scents and sounds. We’ll probably see [smaller] businesses recognizing the need to do that and make these other senses part of their marketing approach.

I was in a Joie de Vivre hotel not that long ago, and they have some unusual sounds in the elevator and I realized that was part of their chain-wide sensory marketing. It didn’t strike me as such when I was in the elevator, but as I thought about it, it was apparent that that was what they were doing. I see more of that in brands, and smaller brands even, recognizing the different sensory aspects of their products.

That extends to what we think of as the visual sense. We want packaging that catches the eye, but I think we’re seeing ever more emphasis on the design of products, where consumers are being schooled to appreciate good design. That’s the influence of Apple. Although there are obviously performance differences and quantitative differences, a key effect of great product designs is that each time new ones are introduced, they make their competition look clunky and less attractive. But often great design doesn’t cost more to produce. If you’re building a building and have Frank Gehry design it, it probably will cost more than a box of equivalent square footage. But when it comes to products like the Michael Graves toilet brush, it really doesn’t cost more than one that some designer two years out of school designed.

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