As Martin Lindstrom explains in the Introduction, he set out to understand "what's going on in our brains that makes us chose one brand over another - what information passes through our brain's filter and what information doesn't -- well that would be key to truly building brands of the future." After completing a three-year, multimillion-dollar "journey" with 2,081 volunteers he enlisted (from America, England, Germany, Japan, and the Republic of China), he shares what are best viewed as preliminary conclusions about neuromarketing.
In fact, as I read this book, I became convinced that whatever revelations (albeit preliminary) the research study might provide would have broader and deeper implications with regard to how most (if not all) people make decisions, not only about brands but also about questions to answer, problems to solve, opportunities to pursue, perils to avoid, etc. One of Lindstrom's several objectives was (and is) to gain a better understanding of "our own seemingly irrational behavior - whether it's why we buy a designer shirt or how we assess a job candidate"...or those who seek the presidency of the United States. Once we gain such an understanding, Lindstrom asserts, we actually gain [begin italics] more [end italics] control, not less, over the decision-making process.
Others have shared their reasons for holding this book in such high regard. Here are three of mine. First, Lindstrom immediately establishes and then sustains a personal rapport with his reader. He makes brilliant use of direct address but also of first-person plural pronouns that make the reader feel as if she or he was a companion during the "journey" to which Lindstrom refers. In fact, each reader completes her or his own journey also. The metaphor is especially apt, invoked for the last time when Lindstrom concludes his book: P.S. If you want to continue this journey into Buyology, log on to [...] and step into a world - with its truth and lies - which we've just begun to explore."
I also hold this book in high regard because all of its preliminary revelations, conclusions, observations, etc. are research-driven. I was impressed by the number of other studies he cites throughout his narrative. For example, in Chapter 5 ("Do You Believe in Magic? Ritual, Superstition, and Why We Buy"), he cites studies by the Journal of Family Psychology and BBDO Worldwide. They and other studies cited elsewhere in the book help to increase our understanding of the importance of rituals and superstitions to the decision-making process. Lindstrom cites several daily rituals to illustrate key points, then observes: "One thing is clear. Ritual and superstition can exert a potent influence on how and what we buy. After six years of studying product rituals and their effects on branding, it struck me: might religion - which is so steeped in familiar and comforting rituals of its own - play a way in why we buy as well?" On to the next chapter in which Lindstrom shares what he learned about similarities between religious and spiritual symbols and their commercial counterparts. In that chapter as in all others, preliminary revelations, conclusions, observations, etc. are research-driven.
My third reason is a personal one and thus may reveal more about me than it does about this book. Many years ago, I came upon Voltaire's suggestion that we cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it. Since then, I have had what I hope is a healthy skepticism about absolutes as well as assertions based on limits such as "all" or "never." I have tried very hard to develop what Hemingway once characterized as a "built-in, shock-proof crap detector"...especially if the crap in question is my own. Then I began to read this book and by the time I reached the fourth chapter, I realized that no matter what I may think I think and (especially) believe, I may not - in fact -- know. On the contrary, subconscious thoughts, feelings, and desires may well determine most (if not all) of the decisions I make every day. So I now plan to re-read Lindstrom's book after activating the aforementioned detector. What will I become aware of this time around that I missed previously? My own journey continues....
Do you buy something because you need it? Umm, perhaps. Did you really want the last item you bought? Maybe. Neuromarketing guru Martin Lindstrom has invested years of research into exploring the reasons why we buy, how we are affected even subconsciously to make a purchase. Of course, this is fascinating information for marketers but it was even more intriguing to me as a consumer (especially in today's economy). Just as biology is a study of living organisms, Buy-Ology is a study of living buyers and sellers.
Breathes there a woman alive who hasn't wondered why on earth she bought a blouse she has yet to wear? Or, at our house a husband who hasn't bought something for his workbench that remains shiny and unused?
Lindstrom brings to light precisely how marketers use science and religion to sell. For instance, just as in religion think of how top selling brands utilize symbols. I can spot my brand of detergent from across a store simply by the symbol on the front of the box, and that symbol elicits a good response from me.
One statement I found a bit intimidating was that we make 90% of our decisions subconsciously or due to a subconscious reaction. I'm still pondering that. I'd really like to think that my buying decisions are made quite consciously with an eye to our budget, but I know that's not so when I remember my tendency to overspend during holiday seasons.
Now, blue is and always been my favorite color. But, I didn't know that the sight of a robin's egg blue Tiffany box made women's hearts beat faster. And, a number of stores and product lines seem to believe that sex sells while Lindstrom says not so.
The data in Buy-Ology isn't at all dry as you may find yourself on quite a few pages. And, Don Leslie's reading makes the discoveries even more enjoyable.
- Gail Cooke
le 29 juillet 2012
I wish that I hadn't wasted my money on this book. I was curious, since the newly-emerging field of neuromarketing intrigued me. After reading much of the available research (which is limited, to be sure) I decided that this method of exploring the consumer's brain has not lived up to the hype. It has not, thus far, ushered in a new era of marketing research. Though it is useful for evaluating the consumer's autonomic response to a product, it has not shown any utility for predicting a consumer's actual buying practices. The author of this book, however, contributes heavily to the unsubstantiated hype concerning the method's potential.
A major case in point is his portrayal of the 'mirror' neurons found in certain regions of the brain. True, these fire when a monkey observes another monkey engaging in a motor activity, 'mirroring' the activity of the corresponding neurons that are active in the monkey modeling the behavior. However, the author suggests that, when humans observe another human buying, say, a Tommy Hilfiger jacket, mirror neurons in these observers will trigger an irresistible buying impulse. No research has supported such a leap from simple motor responses in monkeys to human consumer behavior. That's not, however, the message that you take away from 'Buyology'. My recommendation: steer clear of this grossly misleading book.
Martin Lindstrom, a regular contributor to Ad Age and countless other media, is now recognized as a superstar in branding circles.
His previous book, Brand Sense (2005), was judged by the Wall Street Journal to be one of the ten best marketing books ever published. And rightly so: it was singlehandedly responsible for sensory branding becoming a much more mainstream and rigorous practice within the space of a few short years. Largely as a result of this book, today 35% of Fortune 100 companies integrate the concept of sensory branding, and there are numerous firms that specialize in sound branding, olfactory branding, and tactile branding, including Lindstrom's own Brand Sense Agency.
Buyology is a similarly ambitious work, and this time it is neuromarketing that he is trying to introduce to the mainstream. It is largely based on a $7 million dollar research project involving 102 fMRI scans and 1979 SST studies. The book is full of interesting observations.
In the introduction, before delving into his own findings, Lindstrom summarizes some of what we have already learned from the relatively few neuromarketing studies conducted to date, including a 2003 study by Dr. Read Montague that showed why the blind Pepsi taste challenge was invalid - because as soon as you know the brand, Coke becomes preferred, because Coke's idea - Coke's BRAND - is stronger, regardless of the taste:
"All the positive associations the subjects had with Coca-Cola - its history, logo, color, design and fragrance; their own childhood memories of Coke, Coke's TV and print ads over the years... beat back their rational preference for the taste of Pepsi. Why? Because emotions are the way in which our brains encode things of value, and a brand that engages us emotionally - think Apple, Harley Davidson and L'Oréal, just for starters - will win every single time."
In Chapter 2, on product placement, Lindstrom shows how Coca-Cola remains at the cutting edge of branding practices. He demonstrates that product placement can work in two main ways - in the Narrative, by being integrated into the action as part of the story - or present subliminally via brand identity elements such as colours and shapes. On American Idol, Coke has done both:
"When asked by a fellow judge if he liked a contestant's song... Simon commented, `How much I love Coca-Cola!' and then took a sip... The three judges all keep cups of America's most iconic soft drink in front of them, and both the judges and the contestants sit on chairs or couches with rounded contours specifically designed to look like a bottle of Coca-Cola. Before and after their auditions, contestants enter a room whose walls are painted a chirpy, unmistakable Coca-Cola red. Whether through semi-subtle imagery or traditional advertising spots, Coca-Cola is present approximately 60 percent of the time on American Idol."
Lindstrom shows how this dominance of Coca-Cola on both conscious narrative and unconscious imagery levels not only enhances perceptions of Coca-Cola, but in fact even suppresses recall of other brands that have a weaker presence.
In Chapter 3, Lindstrom explains how the discovery of Mirror Neurons in the 1990s has revolutionized psychology, quoting a professor at the University of California: "What DNA is for biology, the Mirror Neuron is for psychology."
Mirror neurons are neurons that empathetically "mirror" the feelings that other people around us are having - when we see someone eating a slice of pizza in person or even on TV, the same areas of our brains light up as if WE were eating the pizza. Similarly, our mirror neurons are responsible for us unconsciously mimicking the actions of people around us - yawning, running our hands through our hair, you name it.
"When other people whisper, we tend to lower our own voices. When we're around an older person, we're prone to walking more slowly." The discovery of mirror neurons has proved that "Monkey see, monkey do" is true in an extremely strong sense.
Chapter 4 is entitled "I can't see clearly now: Subliminal Messaging, Alive and Well." Lindstrom shows that in many ways subliminal advertising is even more powerful than conventional advertising, because it bypasses our conscious defences: it we don't notice something consciously, we have no way of critically evaluating it.
"Subliminal messages are defined as visual, auditory or any other sensory messages that register just below our level of conscious perception and can be detected only by the subconscious mind... Some stores play tapes... that conceal recorded messages - imperceptible to our conscious minds - designed to prod shoppers into spending more or to discourage shoplifting. Among the messages: "Don't worry about the money," and "Imagine owning it," and "Don't take it, you'll get caught." According to one vendor, in stores that broadcast these tapes overall sales are up 15 percent, while store thefts have fallen 58 percent."
"Subliminal messaging has even been shown to influence how much we are willing to pay for a product. Recently, two researchers demonstrated that brief exposure to images of smiling or frowning faces for 16 milliseconds - not long enough for volunteers to consciously register the image or identify the emotion - affected the amount of money subjects were willing to pay for a beverage... In other words, smiling faces can subconsciously get us to buy more stuff."
In Chapter 5 Lindstrom discusses the strong impact of consumption rituals, for example the ritual of putting a lime in a Corona:
"The Corona lime ritual reportedly dates back to 1981, when on a random bet with his buddy, a bartender at an unnamed restaurant popped a lime wedge into the neck of a Corona to see if he could get other patrons to do the same... (the invention of this ritual) is generally credited with helping Corona overtake Heineken in the US market."
The word "reportedly" in this context got my guard up, but in any case it's an entertaining story!
It's worth reading Buyology, and it will certainly have done a service if it succeeds in raising the profile of neuroscience in marketing circles. I probably would have enjoyed it even more, if I hadn't already read Brand Sense, which in my opinion is clearly a superior book. Indeed Chapter 8 of Buyology "Selling to Our Senses", is basically a rehashing of some of the findings in Brand Sense.
Even if you believe that all of our motivations and actions are somehow reflected in the brain - which I do - it is still a stretch to say that the BEST WAY to understand motivations and actions is through studying the brain.
Lindstrom is absolutely right that marketers have come to realize that there is often a gap between what people SAY they do, and what they ACTUALLY do. For example, a majority of consumers may SAY they read nutritional labels on food packages, but in fact they don't. Consumers may under-estimate the time they spend watching television. So people don't always know what they do.
He is also right that people don't always know WHY they do what they do. They may think they bought a car because it was "higher quality", but in fact they bought it because the sound of the car door closing sounded "solid", and they were influenced by the "new car smell" (straight out of a spray can).
But the research community has developed other methodologies to address these issues. The fact that people don't always know what they do, or why they do it, does not preclude research, it just precludes direct questioning.
Today savvy marketers use ethnographers (or digital ethnographers) to observe what people ACTUALLY do, regardless of what they think they do. And semioticians study RESIDUAL, DOMINANT and EMERGENT cultural codes to understand how our collective understanding and motivations in a category are evolving, even if we ourselves are unable to articulate this evolution. And qualitative research has come a long way in its use of advanced projective techniques, such as Dr. Gerald Zaltman's ZMET, to understand individuals' unconscious motivations.
Buyology is worth reading, and neuroimaging has a role to play in marketing, perhaps even a growing role. However, for the time being there are a lot of less costly, more practical research alternatives to answer the vast majority of marketing questions.