Neuromarketing. Heart or mind – what guides buyers when shopping?

  • 16.12.2020
  • Written by Vladyslava Rykova
  • Category: Marketing

Until the end of the XX century. the economy was dominated by the economic man model. It was based on the assumption that a person, being a rational being and aware of his needs, makes only a logical, fully conscious choice. In pursuit of profit maximization, he formulates cautious hypotheses, and then, according to the rules of logic, checks them in detail and, finally, chooses the most profitable one.

However, this is a fictional, purely hypothetical image that does not take into account the neurobiological and psychosocial aspects of human behavior. According to Craig A. Lambert, “Homo economicus is a good fit for academic theories, but it has one major flaw: it doesn’t exist.”

We each have different reasons for shopping. Some are based on personal experience and a careful analysis of the available options, others make decisions under the influence of an internal impulse or intuition. From all this, such a science as neuromarketing has grown.

Remember: purchase decisions are often made without a conscious and thorough analysis of all available options, but, for example, under the influence of brand image, as a result of which the choice often does not have a logical justification.

This is due to the huge variety of offerings available in today’s market. It is difficult to imagine a situation where a buyer, standing in front of a shampoo store shelf, compares the price, quality, composition, aroma, packaging and purpose of all the elements in the composition. Apart from the limited amount of memory, this would be very tedious and time consuming. Therefore, we usually draw conclusions quickly, intuitively and simply.

The paradox of choice in neuromarketing

The same is true for brands with a wide range. On the one hand, a large selection is attractive to the consumer and leads to a positive perception of the offer, on the other hand, it can cause a feeling of confusion and disappointment. In psychology, this is called the paradox of choice – the more you choose, the less satisfaction you experience after making a decision. This is due to the cost of lost opportunities, i.e. alternative costs.

Example: if your store has a wide range, you need to use the product filtering mechanism. In addition to purely technical parameters (for example, color, size, material), non-standard features (for example, occasion, mood, season) should be taken into account. Thus, you will limit the choice, which means that you will greatly simplify the decision-making process for the customer.

The Satisfaction Rule in Neuromarketing

As you can see from the example above, having a wide selection doesn’t always help you make the best buying decision. On the contrary, an impatient buyer is likely to choose the first option that meets his expectations. The so-called satisfaction rule, derived from Herbert Simon’s decision theory. He was the first to challenge the concept of utility maximization.

In his research, he came to the conclusion that the human mind is limited by the processing abilities of our mind. Therefore, a person does not follow the principle of maximization (choosing the best option from all available options), but satisfaction (choosing the first option that satisfactorily meets his requirements).

Remember: a wide choice increases the likelihood that simplistic reasoning will work, resulting in some information being received and processed unconsciously. The filtering of irrelevant data by the brain helps it cope with excessive stimuli and get into a complex environment.

Heuristics in neuromarketing

The said process of simplifying inference, which arises from the limitations of the human brain, is called heuristics. These are mental labels that are unconsciously used in the decision making process. They usually make the choice easier, but they can also lead to cognitive biases.

Imagine that a buyer interested in buying a new car reads a rating of reliable cars, which clearly shows that it is worth choosing one of the Audi models. Then he meets a friend who drives an Audi and complains about it breaking down. After this conversation, the buyer is likely to refuse to buy this car because the colleague’s opinion made a strong impression on him and is easily available in memory (the availability heuristic). This would be a misunderstanding, since it would make much more sense to offer a rating based on reports from hundreds of diagnostic stations rather than the opinion of an individual user.

Knowledge about simplification processes can be used in a message that will cause a certain association in the recipient (example below).

An example of using associations in advertising:

Until 2014, the Labrador Retriever was the icon of the Velvet brand, appearing both on product packaging and in TV commercials. Dog and toilet paper seem to have nothing in common, but the puppy evokes pleasant associations with home, family and delicacies.

Currently, the brand uses the image of a polar bear, which is also not directly related to toilet paper, but is associated with cleanliness, softness and whiteness. A potential consumer, faced with a choice of paper, may not even remember the advertisement, but his intuitive perception of the product will be positive.

Somatic markers in neuromarketing

As a result of heuristic experiments, somatic markers (Greek Soma – body) may appear. These are a kind of warning signals that warn of the negative consequences of making a decision. The theory of markers is based on the assumption that under conditions of uncertainty and risk, feelings generated on the basis of secondary emotions, manifested in the form of physiological reactions (changes in skin tone, posture, facial expressions), help the choice. Thus, the brain, even before a person starts a rational and conscious calculation, performs an automatic selection of favorable and unfavorable choices, based on the associations that it accumulates throughout life.

Remember that feelings and rationality are not opposites, but complement each other. To understand the mechanisms that govern human behavior, both must be considered.

This hypothesis does not diminish the role of cognitive analysis in decision making. However, he draws attention to the importance of emotional factors, such as intuitive and thoughtless associations.

Example: Spraying sweet perfume in a store can encourage shoppers to buy more floral dresses, and playing Italian music can encourage them to buy Italian wine instead of Greek.

Remember that advertising based solely on a rational message has little chance of capturing a potential customer’s attention. Unlike rational thoughts, emotions are the immediate cause of action. Feeling happy, angry, or disgusted, a person acts quickly because they are carefree (happiness), impatient (anger), or frustrated (disgust).


Based on the foregoing, one might think that the consumer usually acts emotionally and only rationally justifies his choice. Therefore, in order to create an effective advertising message, it is necessary to take into account human feelings, motivations and desires. The right combination of music, colors, and characters is just as important, if not more important, than rational slogans, which are supposed to convince people to make a choice with the help of logically presented information.

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Vladyslava Rykova

Expert in legal marketing. Head of marketing agency MAVR.

Business degree “Master of Business Administration” (MBA).

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