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12 January 2017

Neuromarketing for dummies: tips and tricks to trigger a consumer’s "buy button"

It is a marketer’s dream to know and predict exactly how (potential) consumers will think and act. Due to the substantial scientific developments in the field of neuroscience and neurobiology, this dream is becoming a reality for neuromarketers.

Neuromarketing for dummies: tips & tricks to trigger a consumer's 'buy button'

But what is neuromarketing exactly? One definition is provided by Roger Dooley, author of the book Brainfluence:

“Neuromarketing includes the direct use of brain imaging, scanning, or other brain activity measurement technology to measure a subject’s response to specific products, packaging, advertising, or other marketing elements” [1]

Over past years, neuromarketers have proved to non-believers that neuromarketing isn’t just a hype, but that it’s here to stay. More and more big companies, like Sanoma, KLM and PepsiCo, are using brain scans - like EEG and (f)MRI-  to identify what consumers really think and feel about their products or campaigns. They then use those insights to create ‘the perfect campaign’ or boost sales.

My current role as promo marketer at a retail client allows me to think about the possibilities of neuromarketing and delve deeply into this area. So I decided to read ‘De Koopknop – The Buy Button’ by Martin de Munnik, which gave me a first introduction to the field of neuromarketing.

I would like to share with you what – in my eyes – the most important key take-aways are, followed by some easy-to-implement tips & tricks that you can test at your company.

Everyone has a 'buy button'

Predicting purchase behavior accurately with a relatively easy ‘model’: doesn’t that sound unbelievable? Brain scans enable marketers to examine which parts of the brain react when a consumer is exposed to certain incentives, and what the brain unconsciously decides.

This model can be observed in 3 brain areas and consists of 3 emotions: gain, pain and obtain.

1. When a consumer looks at something (s)he likes (e.g. a new product), the nucleus accumbens is activated. This area of the brain is involved in processing rewards or gains.

2. When consumers perceive the price of product as excessive, the insula reacts. This area signals pain (price). A more unreasonable perception of price results in increasing pain: the realization that (s)he won’t be able to buy the desired product.

3. Neuromarketers have noticed that our brain takes the potential gain and pain into consideration at the mesial prefrontal cortex. In general, this area of the brain is involved in our decision-making process (obtain).

This model maps which areas of the brain influence the buying process, and shows what a marketer should test – using neuroscience – to optimize the campaign or product.

But how can a marketer influence a consumer’s buy button?

1. Increase the gain

To activate buying behavior and increase the potential gain, a campaign or product should, apart from trust, arouse 2 emotions in a consumer’s brain: desire and value.

  • To arouse desire, marketers need to focus on the outcome instead of focusing on the product features. E.g. Axe only talks about gaining sex-appeal to seduce women, not that the deodorant is used to prevent wet armpits.
  • The value emotion is split into two components. Our brain unconsciously grants a certain ‘direct value’ (appreciation) to a product, brand or campaign, as well as an ‘anticipated value’ (expectation). A trick to increase the value, is trying to avoid evoking negative emotions like anger and fear.

2. Decrease the pain

Very often, the price is the one thing that stops us from buying everything we love. However, there are some tricks that can be used to reduce the price pain.

  • Price the product at (for example) €9.96 and not at €10. Don’t do this because it makes the product looks cheaper (like many marketers have thought), but because it creates the impression that marketers have really thought about the price, and so it has to be the lowest price possible.
  • Try to promote your product as a gift. When we give gifts, or host social occasions, we ‘feel’ less price pain. We only want the best for our guests.

This easy-to-understand model gives an idea of how our brain works, and on which aspects (gain, pain and obtain) marketers should focus when creating a campaign.

Explaining the model (gain, pain and obtain) marketers should focus on when creating a campaign

Boost your business with neuromarketing

As the previous part was more theoretical, I’d now like to share 3 insights which you can easily test and implement at your company.

1. Don't be the first ad during a commercial break

“The Halo Effect is a well-documented social psychology phenomenon that causes people to be biased in their judgments by transferring their feelings about one attribute of something to other, (un)related, attributes” [2]

Marketers have used the Halo-Effect to deceive the buy button for many years. That’s the reason why car manufacturers always use beautiful men or women to sell and promote their cars. Consumers automatically perceive the car (unconsciously) to be more beautiful simply because there is a beautiful model standing next to it.

Following the same reasoning, neuromarketers were able to observe a shocking finding:

Advertisers spend large amounts of money to have the first ad during a commercial break, because that’s when a consumer’s recall rate is the highest. Indeed, many studies about primacy effects have confirmed this outcome. But when neuromarketers used (f)MRI/EEG scans, they were able to determine which emotions were aroused by this first ad. It appears that the first ad in a commercial break always gets blamed unconsciously for the “commercial break” itself, and that viewers link this brand with irritation. If you think about it, it makes sense: when I’m watching my favourite sitcom, I don’t cheer when a commercial break begins.

So, if you spend a fortune to have the first ad in a commercial break, I’d advise you to reconsider this strategy.

2. Scarcity is worth money

Our brain does not handle scarcity well. When we think there are just a few products left, we are inclined to buy much faster. So, phrases like: "Only 3 places left!" and "While stock lasts" are a very strong marketing tool to convince people to buy your product, even if your stocks may be endless.

3. Show desired behavior

People like to imitate one other. Unconsciously, we always want to be part of a certain group. If marketers show the desired behavior of people in a commercial, the viewer unconsciously wants to be part of that specific group. We behave based on other people’s behavior.

One company that masters the 2 tricks above is gives the visitor the impression that rooms are scarce (e.g. "In high demand - only 3 rooms left", "3 people are looking at this moment"), combined with showing the behavior they desire from you as well: to book the room as soon as possible (e.g. "Booked 26 times today").


I was very receptive to neuromarketing from the very first time I came across it at a congress. After reading ‘De Koopknop’ and some additional research, my belief was boosted further. I think neuromarketing can really change the way we do research and give us insights that ‘regular’ market research cannot provide.

However, there are still many non-believers who claim the opposite to what neuromarketers claim. As a result, I believe that time and new, successful business cases on a worldwide scale will prove neuromarketing’s real impact on the future of market research and marketing in general.

Applying neuromarketing to trigger your consumers' buy buttons is related to conversion rate optimization (CRO), the practice of increasing the percentage of visitors to carry out a desired action on your web page. If you're interested in knowing more, you're at the right place: we gathered hands-on tips on how to improve your online campaigns.



De Munnik, M. (2012). De Koopknop. Den Haag: Sdu Uitgevers bv.

Dooley, R. (2006). What is neuromarketing?. Retrieved December 22, 2016, from

Knutson, B., Rick, S., Wimmer, E., Prelec, D., Loewenstein, G. (2007). Neural predictors of purchases. Neuron, 53(1), P (147-156).

Melcher, M (2016). Using neuromarketing to accelerate growth in Ecommerce. Retrieved December 27, 2016, from

Nielsen, J., Cardello, J. (2013). The Halo effect. Retrieved December 23, 2016,

[1] Dooley, R. (2006). What is neuromarketing?. Retrieved December 22, 2016, from

[2] Nielsen, J., Cardello, J. (2013). The Halo effect. Retrieved December 23,2016, from