• January 1, 2009
  • By Lior Arussy, founder and president, Strativity Group

Neuromarketing Isn’t Marketing

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For quite some time I've been growing increasingly uncomfortable about a particular trend in marketing. I am referring to the "science" of neuromarketing. For those of you who are not familiar with the practice, neuromarketing entails the use of a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine to scan a consumer's brain, recording responses to certain stimuli. Based on the results, marketers then draw conclusions about how to sell to customers more effectively.

The recent book Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom serves as a harsh reminder that this marketing trend is not only not fading, it's accumulating momentum.

I'd rather not spend any time here discussing the scientific aspects of this practice, though there are serious questions about its validity. What I would like to focus on is its morality. What do these studies say about the way we relate to customers? When we reduce customers to nothing more than a series of stimuli and responses, what does it say about the nature of our relationships?

I find the whole practice of neuromarketing to be offensive-and contrary to any principle of customer experience. The approach treats the customer as an emotional ATM: "If you want to influence a customer you just need to know which button to push." Show the customer a picture of a lush, green field and she will buy product X; expose her to images of nasty gang members and she will buy product Y out of fear. All we need to do is to decipher her emotional passcode and she's all ours.

What a disgrace.

We live in a world in which companies routinely declare their commitment to customers. But we also live in an era when merely meeting customer expectations is no longer sufficient to obtain customer loyalty. So we commit to greater levels of honesty, authenticity, and engagement. And yet, in the same breath, some marketers think that knowing the mechanics of the consumer brain could enable them to make that customer simply do as she's told. Neuromarketing is a new chapter in an old practice of trickery, treating the customer as an object to which marketers believe they can do anything they want. And these marketers still believe they can get away with it.

It's time to get back to honest, high-quality, high-value experiences. Stop looking for shortcuts-there are none. There is no substitute for the long road to great, differentiated customer experience. If your product is commoditized, don't simply rush to find another illusion such as brain manipulation.

Instead of messing with the customer's brain, focus on her heart: Develop an appealing and financially justifiable experience that she's willing to stand in line for. Customers are smarter and more empowered than ever before. It's time to stop insulting them. Treat them as honest partners in a reciprocal relationship. Treat them as individuals, not as machines, and appeal to their ability to make decisions.
If you want them to make the right decisions, give them the right reasons—not a brain scan. 

Lior Arussy (lior@strativity.com) is the founder and president of Strativity Group (www.strativity.com). He is the author of several books, including Excellence Every Day (Information Today, Inc., 2008), his most recent, an excerpt of which appeared in CRM’s May 2008 issue. To learn more about customer strategies, sign up for his newsletter at Strativity Group's homepage.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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