Editor’s Letter: April 2013
By Laura Aiken
Have you ever wanted to read a customer’s mind? Well, now you can get pretty darn close.
Have you ever wanted to read a customer’s mind? Well, now you can get pretty darn close. There’s a company in Canada called True Impact Marketing that bills itself as the “next generation of insight.” It is in the business of neuromarketing, a science that uses brain-imaging technologies such as EEG to gain consumer intelligence. People can lie, but the brain doesn’t. How ethical is it for brands to capitalize on this fact?
CBC News explored this question in a recent piece called “Marketers exploiting secrets of the living brain.” The article pointed out the potential dilemma of brands going one step further than intelligence gathering and using technologies to influence people. It was not entirely clear from the article how this would happen, but Ruth Lanius, a neuroscientist at Western University in London, Ont., told CBC News that it was possible to implicitly influence the brain and therefore there should be a discussion about ethics surrounding this type of information gathering. Neuromarketing isn’t a new concept (the term was coined in 2002, according to the Neuromarketing Science & Business Association), but it’s grown the legs to host its own world forum for the first time last year.
If you give brands the secrets to the brain, in particular the true emotional response that drives purchasing behaviour, the consumer won’t stand a chance. It is an emotion-trumps-taste approach. The CBC News article drew attention to a study done in Texas that showed people were equally split between Coke and Pepsi in a blind taste test, but when they knew it was Coke entirely different areas of their brain involving memory and emotion lit up. Once they knew it was Coke, they preferred Coke. I imagine companies would love to see whether their customers have all the right lights going off for their goods.
It’s nice to know people have feelings about your brand, but how do you get them to have those feelings in the first place? I recently bought a package of oat cakes and I don’t even know what they are, let alone if I like the taste, but the picture of Scotland on the box made me think of golfing on a breezy spring day and it felt so good that I threw it into my grocery cart.
People are influenced by images and they like to see the product in action. Think of how much power the depiction of beautiful sweaty people cooling off with Coke on a hot summer’s day has had for its label. Picture the difference between a fashion ad showing just the clothes versus clothes on the model selling the image of chic or punk or whatever identity the brand wants to impart. Yes, people like pictures of just food or we wouldn’t have the moniker “food porn” floating around, but there is a lot more power in showing how – and by whom – that food is shared or consumed, who made it or even the skyline where it came from.
Today’s consumers want to spend their dollar with brands that reflect their identities. It’s hard to find your identity in the picture of the cupcake alone. It’s what’s tied around that cupcake, or that loaf of bread, that helps people determine whether that purchase is a fit with their actual or desired sense identity. This is not a newsflash, but rather a call to consider whether you are really making the most of your marketing in an increasingly sci-fi marketing environment. I have beat the storyselling drum before, but this articulation is a call to show rather than tell. It’s the cardinal rule of storytelling for writers, for this is how you get a reader emotionally invested and engaged in the story.
Is there more of your brand story you could be showing? Perhaps, rather than just tweeting a picture of today’s special, you could entice customers with a picture of you pulling today’s special out of the oven. It is the more engaging choice.