The Brain Science Behind Digital Marketing

I’m always interested in the cross-over between my field—digital marketing—and just about anything else. To me, the entire universe is a digital marketer’s landscape and there’s always something we can leverage from outside sources to be bigger, better, smarter, faster. And right now, for me it’s the idea of integrating neuroscience to increase our optimization initiatives. There’s so much right at the surface of this conversation: think about creativity and the notion of the marketer as an artist. Now think about personalization and the debate over whether we, deep down, crave highly curated, highly relevant experiences, versus having access to everything, all the time. There’s artistry and math, yes—and behind it all? The human brain, of course.

There’s a relatively new field called neuromarketing, which centers on research specific to consumers’ sensorimotor, cognitive and affective responses to marketing stimuli. It’s evaluated like something straight out of a medical drama—think functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess brain activity, electroencephalography (EEG), and steady state topography (SST) which, together, gauge changes in consumers’ biometrics in an attempt to determine the reason behind the behavior. Some companies have even boiled down the science for their own base hits—Google, CBS, and Frito-Lay have tapped into the technology for product development and ad messaging.

What this means for marketers is as simple as it is complex: we need to make sure our message in impactful, that what we’re saying, doing, and sharing is constantly spot-on relevant in that moment, and that there’s a clear-cut, meaningful takeaway for customers. The standard neuromarketing assessment is that audiences engage and convert, be it remembering and acting on what’s presented at a seminar or seeing that perfect product on a website and clicking to buy—based on two unique systems. System one is the intuitive, unconscious, fast and emotional, versus system two which is deliberate, conscious reasoning, slow and effortful. It’s Plato’s chariot and two horses, the person and the mind, the emotion and the logic.

Another term for these seemingly mind-altering tricks? Behavioral economics. Under this umbrella, we as marketers are aligning innovative digital marketing tactics with organic human tendencies and behaviors. It could be about context, contrast, design, delivery and both measuring and expanding on influence and real-time growth, but that brain/marketing connection is at the core.

Brain science is by no means new in the marketing field—remember the consulting psychologist on Mad Men? But, recently, I’ve noticed a surge of interest among marketers and agencies to bring strategies more in line with the workings of the elusive and increasingly distracted human brain. I’ve even seen companies go so far as to bring in accomplished neuroscientists and researchers to take on significant marketing and social media roles within their organizations. Why? Because it just makes sense. The neuromarketing connection has always existed but, like so many things in our industry, with today’s technology we can finally begin to observe, interpret harness and it all.

I recently had the opportunity to work with San Francisco-based agency Rexi Media, and the experience has got me thinking about the relationship between marketing and brain science at a very practical level, particularly its importance when it comes to effective, optimized digital marketing. Rexi works with brands to tighten their message and coaches executives on delivering powerful presentations. Their platform is simple: everyone—including you and me—want to be remembered when we pitch or present, right? I present all the time, all over the world, and I hope my audience remembers something about what I told them!

But Rexi founder Dr. Carmen Simon argues that audiences remember about 10 percent of what’s presented. Ten percent! My first reaction was, “Heck, I should just say a lot less—save myself time and energy creating all that great content!” But is less really more? It’s not so simple. What’s more important is making sure what you’re saying—verbally, with/without the help of visuals and so on—really sticks. And more importantly, you need to make sure what does stick is actually what you want the audience to walk away with.

A perfect example: you sit through what you considered to be a great presentation. It was entertaining, funny and had great visuals … but the only thing you recall the next day is the extreme Japanese obstacle course video the presenter used as a metaphor (and, of course, to make the audience laugh). Other than that, without referring to your notes, you don’t recall a single tangible takeaway from what you thought was a stellar presentation. It happens—I’m guilty, probably of being on both sides of that scenario.

Dr. Simon advocates that by using brain science tactics, presenters have an opportunity to drive home their all-important 10 percent, versus worrying that attendees or clients only remember the zany video piece, fluffy kitten image, or some other throw away from your conversation. Once you determine the critical 10 percent, Rexi’s techniques can be implemented to ensure successful communication of that message—and it’s not really that hard, even from the beginning. These techniques boil down to:

As I arrive at the end of this post, I’m hoping I still have your attention and I’m curious about which 10 percent of what I’ve written you will remember! In part two of this series I’ll dive deep into the role of brain science in digital marketing by looking more in-depth at how the Rexi Method applies to optimization and personalization.