The Neuromarketing Merits of “Icing”

Maybe you’ve seen this? You’re out at a bar enjoying the local nightlife on the weekend and suddenly you hear a group of cheers coupled with laughter. You turn your head to see what the commotion is about, and just then you see a young fellow take a knee and begin chugging a bottle of Smirnoff Ice while his friends taunt him because he was surprisingly handed this beverage. The frat boys in the bar cheer and the on-looking hipsters roll there eyes in disgust. What you’ve just witnessed is a ritual called “Icing” someone.

Surprisingly “Icing” has caught on in major way and doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down.  As absurd and childish as this drinking game may appear it actually is no different than a lot of other rituals that surround some of America’s most beloved alcoholic beverages.

"Ritual and superstition can exert a potent influence on how and why we buy" - Martin Lindstrom, Author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy

Truth and Limes

I was at the bar with some of my closest friends last week and I ordered a round of Coronas to bring back to our table. I successfully brought all the beers to the table but in my haste forgot the limes on the napkin at the bar. The way my friends reacted when they realized that I brought back Coronas with no limes you would have thought I kicked a puppy.

You see, people are very ritualistic. We rely on our routines, our rituals and even our silly superstitions to get us through the day.  What I had done when I was out at the bar with my friends was violate the ritual of drinking a Corona. Serve 99% of people with an ice cold Corona with no sliced fruit and their follow up question will always be “Where’s the lime?”

The interesting thing about the ritual surround drinking a Corona is that is was invented by a bartender on a slow night sometime in 1981. I always make it a point to ask my fellow beer drinkers why they think the lime goes in the bottle and they always give me one of two answers: something about sailors on a boat or the silence of thought followed by a defeated “I don’t know…”

No matter the reason for putting a slice of lime in your beer it had done something amazing for the Corona brand. The ritual of the lime separates Corona from every other import out there in the mind of the consumer. The lime ritual was attributed to helping Corona become the #1 selling imported beer. Could the same bright future be in store for Smirnoff Ice?

The Cognitive Psychology of Rituals

You might not realize it but every day in your life is made up of a series of rituals – many of which have become so ingrained in the fabric of your life that you don’t even consciously notice them.

Other rituals hold such importance that people set aside time to consciously work through them. The best example of this is religion. People from all denominations of religious groups set an hour or so a week to practice their faith in a conscious ritualistic fashion.

Rituals are cognitively pleasing and ease our daily interactions providing us with a flow to otherwise mundane activities. However, recent research is shedding new light on why rituals, both conscious and unconscious, are so important to humans.

We live in a stressful world. Wars, fluttering economies, and disease are just some of the concerns that people face every day. Like most grave concerns they often reside out of our control. It’s now believed rituals are so important to humans because our ritualistic behavior allows us to have a sense of control in an otherwise hectic life.

“If you remove the appearance that they are in control, both humans and animals become stressed. During the Gulf War in 1991, in areas that were attacked by Scud missiles, there was a rise in superstitious and ritualistic behavior.” – Dr. Bruce Hood, University of Bristol

Humans have been susceptible to stress over the entire course of our evolution. Today we fear war and our economy. Thousands of years ago we feared getting eaten and things as simple as thunder storms. Take a look back through time and realize every single culture before us has had its rituals. No wonder putting a lime in your beer just makes sense for most people.

The future of Icing

Icing is a ritual that has caught on in the short term. It has a shared set of understood rules, actions, and for some “bros”, very passionate beliefs. Smirnoff has denied any marketing effort in creating the ritual of icing, and I believe this to be true because it’s too simple and effective for any marketing mind. But for now bros will keep icing bros and that leads to six packs of Smirnoff Ice flying off the shelves.

My gut feeling is that the Icing trend will wear itself out by the end of the summer. The key to any ritual is that it is relevant, and this is where Icing lacks the proper horsepower to sustain itself for months or even years to come.

Corona has and always will ride the wave of the ritual of the lime, because flavor is the relevance of their ritual, and that is universal to all beer drinkers. Like Smirnoff, Corona didn’t invent the lime ritual, but I’ll be damned if they don’t embrace it. Look no further than their marketing for proof of lime branding.

Smirnoff Ice has gained notoriety because the ritual of Icing.  How long they choose to sustain this notoriety is up to Smirnoff’s marketing dept. One thing remains certain in this game of rituals and marketing – they work, and in different capacities at influencing our behavior to buy.

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Neuromarketing: Lessons and Insights in Virtual Media and Print

The rapid and diverse evolution of technology has allowed virtual media to show unprecedented growth in recent years.  As a result many companies that were mainstays in American culture have fallen on difficult economic times because the medium for which they have traditionally communicated with their consumers has drastically shifted to virtual media.

We used to gets ads just in print. Now you can get ads on your iPad. It's obvious virtual media has its benefits, but is it what's best at getting to your consumer's brain.

The economic benefits of virtual media are many.  Because technology is relatively inexpensive companies and marketers are able to reach more people through many different channels of communication. As a result traditional print is on the decline. Although virtual media has shown to be the most effective way to reach more consumers with greater ease it begs the question, is virtual media the most effective way to communicate with the human brain?

Neuromarketing: Beyond Focus Groups

To better understand the differences in the effectiveness of virtual media and physical media Millward Brown teamed up with the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University on behalf of The UK’s Royal Mail.  Rather than using focus groups that rely on participants to articulate their subjective thoughts and feedback Millward Brown decided to use neuroscience to observe the emotions of participants in real time as they observed print and virtual ads. Here is the link to the study.

We used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanning to understand how the brain reacts to physical and virtual stimuli. [Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail, 2009 Millward Brown: Case Study]

Lessons in Emotion: Let’s Get Physical, Physical

The latest neuroscience research has only furthered our understanding of the role emotions play in the success of marketing campaigns. If encoding memories was a machine, emotions would be the lubricant that keeps it running smoothly. Neuroscience has also shed light on the role emotions play in decision making. Lessons learned in this specific area of science can best be summed up in the phrase “we think logically and act emotionally.”

This is an fMRI image used from the Millward Brown/Bangor study. The red area is activated by print ads and the blue area is activated by virtual media. Notice there is a greater response from the print ad in two key areas of the brain associated with emotion.

The research conducted by Millward Brown strongly suggested that greater emotional processing is facilitated by physical material than virtual material. One might think that because more senses are stimulated through physical interaction this would account for the increase in brain activity, but measures were taken in the study to focus on emotional processing and cancel out extraneous signals from the brain. Physical print ads are better facilitating emotions.

Applying Neuromarketing Lessons to Marketing Design

Traditionally the goal of marketing was to get your message out to as many people as possible. Over time market research allowed companies to fine tune their messages and target specific audiences. Virtual media may be the quickest and easiest way to reach the most people, but marketers should understand role their marketing can and should play in each stage of the business development process.  Virtual media works wonderfully as a tool to get your message to the masses but sometimes you need to get more in depth.

The goal of neuromarketing is to create genuine interactions between consumers and your message. This is done by understanding and utilizing emotion to build successful relationships, no matter how brief those relationships are.  Applying the research discussed previously in this article would allow you to strategically create a marketing campaign that leverages both virtual and physical media to reach your desired audience in their specific roles.

For example this would equate to creating a marketing campaign that targets both consumers and retailers yet uses two different mediums to communicate (and genuinely interact) with the same message. Neuromarketing can also be extremely relevant in b2b sales and marketing. Often times in the b2b sales process you have to influence a decision maker or panel. If you have a strong value proposition then I would recommend using a physical (and relevant) medium to market to your decision makers and key influencers.

Millward Brown’s study findings are simple and yet powerful in meaning: Physical print ads are better at facilitating emotions.  I have been in awe of the Apple iPad because it has become technological wildfire.  Trends in the market suggest this is the future of our media flow. The pull as a society may be strong to put all your eggs in virtual media basket, but never the less business is and will always be done on a personal and very real level. And it’s only on that personal level you’re going to understand the meaning of emotions – those tricky unconscious feeling that make you love, hate, and buy.

Selfi$h: Is your Motivation Helping or Hurting you? You’ll be Surprised…

Motivation is one of those dangerous buzz words in business. Everyone knows they’re supposed to have it, but very few actually understand what it truly means and how it truly works. As professionals we come face-to-face with motivation every single day. Motivation permeates our work environments because through our social interactions we are either trying to motivate others or others are trying to motivate us to accomplish tasks. Ask any manager and they’ll tell you that effectively motivating people is no easy task. Ask a really good manager and they’ll tell you it’s the most demanding, yet rewarding task there is.

Outdated and Harmful!

Unfortunately, genuine, sustained motivation is rarely achieved in most business cultures today.  Some managers have found momentary success by using carrots and sticks to motivate their employee like financial rewards and incentives. Worst of all some managers use negative reinforcement in attempt to motivate. Although they might work briefly, in the long run neither of these tactics will lead to genuine sustained motivation and quality work. People are smart. They’ll catch on and after a while they become insulted by those tactics.

As I type this article our economy is trying to recover from a near fatal blow suffered at the hands of our own device. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the way we do business? This isn’t your run of the mill article on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, in fact, it’s much more than that. This article is a culmination of lessons learned from social neuroscience, neuroeconomics, social intelligence and case studies regarding management strategy. Let’s dive in.

The Negative Effects of Financial Rewards

James Heyman, a professor at St. Thomas, wanted to find out if paying people more money to perform a task actually led to greater productivity. His task was simple: using a computer mouse, click and drag a circle from the right side of the computer into the box that was positioned on the left hand side of the screen. Once the circle was successfully inside the box it disappeared and reappeared in its original position for the subject to do all over again. The subjects would have five minutes to drag circles into boxes.

The subjects were split into three groups: Group 1 was paid $5.00 before beginning their work, Group 2 was paid $0.50 (50 cents) before beginning their work, and Group 3 was asked to do the work with no mention of money at all. The subjects were oblivious to the amount paid to other subjects. So how did the groups perform for five minutes of work? Group 1 dragged an average of 159 circles. Group 2 dragged an average of 101 circles. What about our group that didn’t get paid anything? They must have done the least, right? Well, no. Group 3 dragged an average 168 circles – more than the highest compensated group.

Evaluating Your Tasks: Market Norms & Social Norms

Heyman’s study demonstrates how people in our society view specific tasks. There are two ways to look at the circle dragging task: from a market norm standpoint and from a social norm standpoint. More often than not people are willing to help another person out irregardless of financial compensation, but make mention of money and people evaluate their task from completely different perspective. This is best illustrated with the social norm of helping a friend move.

If I asked my friends to help me move knowing that at the end of it all they’d get pizza and cold beer they’d be more than willing to help me. However, if I offered my friends to help me move and I would pay them $10 (estimated cost of pizza and beer) each they would probably tell me to go to hell. The mention of money to my friends, and all people, changes their thought process from helping a friend to what they will get in return for their work. In general money can significantly change our thought process and shift our focus from task completion to self compensation or reward.

The Negative Social Effects of Financial Rewards

No one person is their own corporation. We all work with people in varying capacities, and we have to remember that our social interactions are the fuel for true motivation. Researchers Kathleen Vohs, Nicole Mead, and Miranda Goode explored how simply just thinking about financial compensation can affect social interactions while completing a task. In this experiment subjects were split into two groups and asked to perform two tasks in succession. The first task was to unscramble easy sentences. The second task was then to complete a complicated shape puzzle.

The two groups differed only in the types of sentences they unscrambled. Group 1 unscrambled neutral sentences (for example “It’s cold outside”). Group 2 unscrambled sentences that were related to money (for example “high paying salary”).  This unknowingly primed the subjects in Group 2 to think about money. After the word scramble tasks were completed the subjects in both groups were asked to complete a particularly challenging shape puzzle. Every subject was told they may ask for help if they needed it.

As it turns out Group 1 asked for help after an average of three minutes of work on the puzzle. Group 2, the “money” group, struggled with the puzzle and asked for help after five and half minutes on average. Thinking about money made the “money” group more self-reliant and less willing to ask for help. It doesn’t end there, however. In a continuation of experimental social interactions the “money” group was less willing to help the researcher enter data, and less likely to assist a “stranger” pick up a box of pencils that he dropped and spilled in the hallway. Thinking about money makes us selfish and self-reliant, and that can seriously negatively affect success in professional situations.

Increase Social Consciousness, don’t destroy it

Studies have shown that the most successful employees are not the employees who had the highest GPAs in college or the employees who graduated from the top colleges and universities. What the numerous studies have show is that the most successful employees are the people who are best at managing their own emotions and more importantly, the emotions of others they work with. These emotions govern our social interactions in the work place and while completing tasks. To get people’s best work you need to play to the needs of their social development. Many financial reward systems are actually undermining the success of socially intelligent employees by unconsciously promoting selfish behavior in place of socially conscious behavior while performing tasks.

When we think socially we use the part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex (green area), but when we're thinking in terms of ourselves we make our decisions with our reptilian brain (pink area). the very nature of the reptilian brain is to be primarily concerned with our own health and safety aka wealth.

Blind Motivation

Princeton professor Sam Glucksberg looked at how motivation works in complex tasks that involve incentives – like the tasks that most professionals do today. He used the famous “Candle Problem” to time people to see how fast they could solve the problem. The goal of the task is to attach the candle to the wall so that the candle does not drip on the table. The key to solving the problem is to use the box of tacks as a holder for the candle, a rather creative and ingenious solution to the task. He had two groups of people try to solve the candle problem. One group he told he was just timing them for norms. The other group he told if they finished in the top 25% of times they would get $5 and if they finished fastest overall they would get $20.

So what happened? The group that was promised rewards for the fastest times actually took longer to complete the task. In fact, they took and average of three and half minutes longer than the group that was not promised incentives. How does this happen? It’s simple. Rewards and motivation can serve as blinders for our vision.  A lot of the solutions to our problems are out on the periphery however through rewards promised for complex tasks we can only see right in front of our faces and there in lies the problem. Rewards and incentives distract us from true solutions to our problems.

Throw Away Your Carrots and Sticks

If-then motivational tactics remain in business because they worked well in the past. Like most business/management cultures today motivation is rooted in the industrial revolution. Motivating people was easier then because people’s tasks revolved around pushing a button and pulling a lever. Back then their tasks were simple and well defined, and for that reason the worker could be evaluated and rewarded for their work. That was then. This is now.

Today’s business tasks are far from clear cut and well defined. We work in the conceptual age – an age of business that requires us as employees to be critical thinkers and problem solvers drawing from multiple sources. Long ago we left the industrial revolution behind, yet for some reason we’re still using outdated motivators in attempt to get the most out of our employees today. There’s a clear mismatch here. In the past you could motivate by saying “If you do this, then you get that.” That simply will not do any longer.

There’s a Mismatch between what Science Knows and What Business Does

In his TED Talk best selling author Dan Pink drove this very point home that if-then rewards and higher incentives lead to worse performances in the work place. He maintains that our management systems today are rooted more in folklore than science. We can’t continue to go down his path and make the same mistakes in regards to motivation. Outdated if-then motivation systems applied to today’s complex business tasks either do not work, or worse, they do more harm. The reason I showed you three different motivational experiments was to demonstrate the variety of ways that poorly planned motivational systems can do harm. Dan Pink offers hope in this wonderful talk. Check it out.

Dan Pink’s newest book, Drive, comes out in just a few weeks. It will provide an in depth look into motivation in business today.  Personally, I can’t wait to read it.

This is Dan Pink reading his new book Drive. He is also the author of the national best seller A Whole New Mind.

What’s the right way to Motivate?

Just last week I sat around a table with my team of eight for a sales meeting. The sales manager was trying to “motivate” by using articles and talk of money and rewards. As he spoke of money and incentives I looked around the room and at my team’s faces. It was clear they were uninterested in what he had to say.  If the sales manager only knew what actually and personally motivated each employee his message might have been better received.

I am far from having all the answers in regards to motivation, but I understand these certain ideas to be true:

Understand the Motivations and Skills of Others: you’ll be surprised what people what drives most people to do great work, and then you’ll be able to connect with them to genuinely motivate them. Take it one step further and make sure your team does their best to understand the motivations of others as well, and remember, Passion + Talent = Unparalleled Success.

Promote Positive Social Behavior: encourage your employees to do work that benefits the group and follow up with them to ensure they’re asking for help and likewise helping others. Dedicate yourself to the success of others around you and you’ll find that they’ll start doing the same.

Create a Leadership Pipeline: find ways for your employees to have sense of self worth and leadership, even if it’s just for a single task. If you expect the best from your employees and communicate that to them you’ll be surprised at what you’ll get it.

Don’t Make Money an Issue: Pay people fairly and take the issue of money off the table. Money makes us selfish. It’s a fact.

Don’t Give Up: If you’re a manager be prepared to work harder and smarter than you ever have. You’re supposed to work for your staff to ensure their success. You’ll have to put others before yourself. Successful motivation is not a destination, it’s a journey. Be prepared to give and accept feed back. Be patient with others as they grow but all the while never stop giving them your best. Above all avoid carrots and sticks. You’re better than that 🙂

Burritos and your Brain: a Neuromarketing Evaluation of Chipotle’s New Marketing Campaign

A little over a month ago I was driving down I-55 heading back home after a meeting in downtown Chicago when I saw something that almost caused me to crash my car.  I saw a billboard that was red in color and featured tacos as its centerpiece. As I got closer to the billboard I realized that it was Chipotle’s new marketing campaign. I was heart broken, I was devastated, and most of all I was confused.  Why had Chipotle done away with their highly successful and recognizable marketing campaign for this red colored disaster?

this sign nearly caused me to crash my car. who are you?

this sign nearly caused me to crash my car. who are you?

I’ll start by saying that I have a profound respect for all things Chipotle. Aside from working with them on a national level for their in-store operations I had extensively researched Chipotle for my marketing classes in college. I love Chipotle from their delicious burritos all the way to their unique marketing style. I was quick to notice the change in their advertisements, but what I had also noticed is that the people around me noticed the change as well, and they weren’t too happy about it.

So Simple it’s Genius

Chipotle does not advertise in mainstream media. They do not run nationally televised commercials and they reluctantly dabble in radio spots. They don’t have to because Chipotle does hundreds of millions dollar in business each year without foolishly wasting money on mainstream media advertising. Chipotle’s marketing is so simple it is genius. They rely on word of mouth, free burritos, and billboard advertisements that truly stand out.

Chipotle Ad

These billboards stand out because they are salient from most marketing advertisements that you see today. We are visually over stimulated with colors, images, and a barrage of designs. Chipotle’s answer to advertisement overload was to produce a simplistic style of marketing for their ads, and it worked. There is barely anything to this ad. You have a witty phrase written in “Confidential” font, a picture of a burrito and the Chipotle logo. William Epsy, Creative Director for Chipotle, said it best, “In a world of advertising, who wants to read more? Simplicity is they key.”

Burritos on the Brain

Neuromarketing studies of branding have shown that the most powerful aspects of advertisements aren’t logos as previously thought, but rather they are the environmental design aspects of an ad. That is to say people respond more favorably to consistent design than a Logo. For example when I showed people just the confidential type font and asked them what it reminded them of over 85% said Chipotle. That was just the font. When I showed them a picture of the foil wrapped Burrito an even greater percentage knew it was synonymous with Chipotle.

Chitpotle Font

The truth is that Chipotle’s Marketing is so strong and recognizable they could completely remove their Logo from their advertisements and people would still know its Chipotle. Marin Lindstrom, author of Buyology, calls this marketing phenomenon “Breakable” meaning that if I were to take a Chipotle billboard and break it into pieces you could look at the pieces and still recognize it as Chipotle. That’s some pretty strong marketing. The interesting thing is that Chipotle has been tinkering with their logo over time (you probably didn’t even notice), and they’ve been able to get away with it because their marketing design hasn’t changed that much, until now.

These are various logos that Chipotle has used in chronological order.

These are various logos that Chipotle has used in chronological order.

Breakable Marketing: Here is another prime example of a brand that relies on it's design more than it's logo. The Burberry logo (on left) is weak in terms of neuromarketing compared to the classic Burberry plaid design. This plaid design is versatile and can be woven into the fabric of the clothes to create a concrete perception that moves beyond logos. Break the plaid design into pieces and you've still got something that recognizalby Buberry.

Breakable Marketing: Here is another prime example of a brand that relies on it's design more than it's logo. The Burberry logo (on left) is weak in terms of neuromarketing compared to the classic Burberry plaid design. This plaid design is versatile and can be woven into the fabric of the clothes to create a concrete perception that moves beyond logos. Break the plaid design into pieces and you've still got something that is recognizably Buberry.

Comparing Marketing Ads

Old vs. New Marketing Designs of Chipotle

Old vs. New Marketing Designs of Chipotle

Here is a side by side comparison of Chipotle’s advertisements. The one of the left holds a heavy neuromarketing presence in your brain: The recognizable font, the focus on Chipotle’s core product – the burrito, and the stand out simplicity. The advertisement on the left features tacos – something that Chipotle offers but not its specialty. The font is boring and non-recognizable because hundreds of companies use that font in their advertising and the same can be said for the deep red color and text bubble design.  Although both adds are emotionally appealing because of the witty phrase content the traditional marketing ad is just designed better to stick.

Back to Good

Three weeks after I had first spotted the new Chipotle advertisement on I-55 it was gone. In its place was Chipotle’s traditional marketing advertisement that we all know and love. I guess Chipotle was wise to the fact people weren’t too happy with the change. I did notice that the traditional billboard featured a new Chipotle logo, but I was okay with that because the design was the same as in the past. A nearly perfect marketing campaign was restored to its former glory. Our brains love consistency and recognition. Chipotle’s traditional marketing has both.

As marketers we are highly creative and sometimes we think we need change when we actually do not. This was a classic case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, in this failed attempt at change we were able to discover that you can change and evolve a logo of a successful brand so long as you don’t overhaul the design of the marketing itself. Neuromarketing was right this time around in pointing out that our perception is keener to consistent marketing design rather than a single logo.

Good luck Chipotle and keep up the great work!

Face Time

Let’s begin with this brain fact: our brains unconsciously perceive people by actively scanning their mannerisms at speeds that are so fast they are undetectable to our conscious thought. None-the-less, our unconscious perceptions of people plays a vital role in governing our social interactions because more often than not these split second perceptions are spot on. For anyone who has ever muttered the phrase, “I don’t know, I just had a bad feeling about him/her.” you know exactly what I’m talking about because your unconscious processes were trying to tip you off that something, or someone, wasn’t right. Off all the things your brain unconsciously scans for facial expressions are by far the most important and telling.

This Blog Post is inspired by the book, Blink, written by Malcom Gladwell, a personal hero of mine.

This Blog Post is inspired by the book, Blink, written by Malcom Gladwell, a personal hero of mine.

What’s In a Face?

Our faces are canvases of emotion. In most situations a person doesn’t even have to speak to convey their feelings. Happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, etc. these feelings are painted all over our faces as we work through these emotions. This is a distinctly human trait. Babies, for example, when confused with a task, will look to the facial expressions of their parents for guidance. There is actually a wealth of information to suggest that facial cues played a major role in the successful development and evolution of our species, and it continues to.

Social Intelligence, Communication, and Facial Cues

Conversation and communication is 90% non-verbal.  An overwhelming majority of the human brain is dedicated to vision and perception. Taking that into account the ability to accurately detect facial cues is vital to communicating. Studies have been conducted where subjects were shown different pictures of people’s facial expressions and the subject had to guess the proper emotion. The people who scored highest in accuracy correlated with a higher level of social intelligence.

Looking at autism, this takes to the other side of the spectrum in regards to social interaction. Most children that are autistic suffer from an inability to successfully navigate social interactions and communicate because their brains have been rewired in a way that doesn’t allow them focus on facial cues. Autism is often linked with Asperger Syndrome, which is when children lack nonverbal communication skills and demonstrate limited empathy with their peers. If you can’t read a face, you can’t detect emotion, and that severely limits your ability to form an emotional bond and understanding with a peer.

The Naked Face

No two researchers have done more for the field of emotional psychology that Silvan Tomkins and Paul Ekman. Tomkins was among the first researchers to focus on the link between facial cues and emotion. Ekman was the researcher who traveled the world to find out if facial expressions were universal to all humans. Ekman traveled from Europe to Asia and even met with remote tribes of the Middle East and the jungles of Africa. To crudely sum up his research: Facial expressions are the same all over the world and convey universal emotional cues. When these two minds got together they did some powerful work and completely reshaped how we look at nonverbal communication with facial expressions.

The first thing they did was strip the face down to examine the muscles that allow us to make our facial expressions. The result is that we have five muscle groups in our face that allow, in combination, for over 10,000 different facial expressions. However, only about 3,000 of the potential 10,000 facial expressions are actually meaningful. The other 7,000 are the kind of faces you made as a kid when you were being silly. These works allowed Tomkins and Ekman to catalogue the range and meaning of nearly 3,000 facial expressions and link them with emotion.

Mind Reading and Facial Expressions

Today, Paul Ekman is in his late 60’s, but over the years of research he has developed a unique ability to pick up people’s facial expressions at speeds that most people would miss. These are referred to as micro expressions. The face cannot hide emotion. At some point in conversation a person’s facial cues will tip their true intentions or emotions even if their words suggest otherwise. Ekman often video records a speech and rewatches it in slow motion to help him detect a micro expression. In fact the first time he saw former president, Bill Clinton, speak in the 1992 Democratic Primaries he detected a facial cue that to him suggested that Clinton was a “bad boy” and a guy who “wants to get caught with his hand in the cookie jar and have us love him for it anyway.” [Bilnk, Gladwell 2005]. All these years later it looks like Ekman was pretty accurate.

Most of our facial expressions can be made voluntarily. If you want to make a face right now odds are you can make it. However, our facial expressions are also governed by an involuntary system that we have no control over and detecting those expressions is a gold mind for actively communicating and reading people on a deeper level. It has been said that a person’s eyes are a window to their soul. I maintain that a person’s face is a billboard for their brain. Take the time to attune to others in social interactions by examining their facial expressions; it can only benefit you by enriching your interactions.

The Difference between Fake and Real Emotions

This is a facial comparison of two smiles from the same night. As you can see the one on the right is me smiling in laughter, a genuine emotion.

This is a facial comparison of two smiles from the same night. As you can see the one on the right is me smiling in laughter, a genuine emotion.

Here is an example of how facial expressions can convey the difference between faking an emotion and actually experiencing an emotion. Here are two pictures on the same night of me smiling. The one on the left is me “fake smiling” for a picture with a friend. The other picture on the right is a picture someone took while I was in the middle of a laugh – an honest emotion for joy. Smiling is a facial expression everyone can do on a whim. If I asked you to smile right now you could do it, and you would do it by flexing your zygomatic major (cheek area muscles around the mouth). However if you were to genuinely laugh or smile you would flex your zygomatic major, but you would also tighten your orbicularis oculi, pars orbitalis, which is the muscle that circles the eye.

Voluntary tightening your orbicularis oculi, pars orbitalis, is almost impossible, and that is the tell sign for a genuine facial expression, or a lack there of. I circled the wrinkle next to my eye (post orbital bar area) in the photo on the right to show you that it’s only present in a genuine smile. If you look at the photo on the left you will see the skin is smooth and not wrinkled suggesting a face smile. We have two smiles here – one is fake and one is real, but either way I am still really ridiculously good looking (kidding). This is an example in still frame. Can you imagining detecting this in real time as you’re speaking with someone? Your brain can probably do it and you are not even consciously aware of it.

Neuromarketing: Evolution

marketing and sales from a neuroscience angle

marketing and sales from a neuroscience angle

The Need for Neuromarketing

In the United States 8 out of every 10 new products brought to market fail within one year’s time. If we hop a flight to the other side of the world and stop in Japan we’ll come to find out that 9.7 out of every 10 products fail in the first year. These are pretty dismal numbers. Now I understand there are a lot of factors that play into the success (or lack there of) of any given good or service, but a lot of the emphasis in the launch of a product is placed on marketing.

Billions of dollars are spent each year on focus groups, trials, tests, or whatever tools researchers are using to predict the success of a product, yet 80% of the time they fail. As the market place continues to get more crowded the likelihood of success is diminishing unless we as marketers can better predict what actually appeals to potential consumers.  To achieve this goal we’re going to have to enter a new arena that few marketers dare to go; the human brain.

From the Marketplace to Our Minds

From the second you start your day you are bombarded with an assault of marketing and media: TV commercials, radio ads, banners on your favorite websites, street signs, and this list gets longer every hour. In fact, we are so heavily bombarded with marketing much of it becomes background noise to us after a while.  By the time you are 60 years old you will have seen over 2,000,000 commercial advertisements.  Astonishingly enough a recent survey from ACNielson found that the average person could only remember 2.21 commercials of those they had ever seen, ever, period (Buyology, Lindstrom 2008). This proves a point that you can flood a marketplace with advertising and marketing, but if you never penetrate the mind of a consumer you will fail.

Al Reis and Jack Trout were game changers when they came up with the idea of “positioning”.  They maintained that the only thing that mattered in marketing is not where you were at in the marketplace, but more importantly where you were in the mind of the consumer.  If your brand was present in the mind of the consumer you were exponentially more likely be purchased than someone who wasn’t and this is beyond true. If at this very moment I had you name as many brands of toothpaste as you could you would probably come up with a list of around 7 brands, if that. Those brands you came up with hold a lot of weight in your purchasing decision because they are the brands you’re most likely to purchase. And that brand you named first is probably the brand of toothpaste that is currently sitting in your cabinet at home.

From Our Minds to Our Brains

It would only be a matter of time before science would step up to the plate and start hitting some homeruns (non steroids, of course) in the marketing stadium. Science can literally map our brains through neuroimaging while we go through our purchasing process.  Neuromarketing can effectively map the entire purchasing process from our initial perceptions to our final decisions. The great thing is that we’re in it right now. Researchers are pioneering this process and learning new information every day. For example, in fMRI tests the design of The Mini Cooper triggers a part of the brain associated with faces, more specifically a baby’s face, in participants’ brains. The facial expression of a baby is a strong perception that is almost always positive and not surprisingly more so with women than men.

We are all consumers, and with every purchase we make we’re making a decision. The neuroscience of decision making, in general, is largely dominated by our emotions rather than our logic.  The question that many marketers face is how to properly blend emotional design into our products and marketing campaigns. This challenge looms over companies all over the world, and surprisingly very few have adopted the neuromarketing approach to business because they simply don’t know it even exists.

My Vision:  Neuroecology

Marketing campaigns exist to grab your attention and make you aware that a product exists. That marketing/consumer interaction is very topical and rarely goes any deeper than being present in your conscious for a brief moment in time. However people to people interactions hold a lot more weight in helping us form our perceptions and in making our decisions.  The person to person interaction is the only true way to authentically connect with another person and communicate knowledge. Neuromarketing will get your attention, social neuroscience will then communicate and understand the consumer’s needs and create a sale.

In most corporations today marketing and sales departments are distanced from one another and have little interaction. Marketing people are viewed as the creatives and sales people are often held in a negative light. However if you had your marketing department on the same page as your sales department in a streamlined brain based campaign you could effectively reach more people, and more importantly reach them authentically. Sales can learn a lot from neuroscience. Just like a marketer can tailor a promotional piece to effectively reach a desired audience, a trained sales person can effectively communicate the benefits of a product to the customer by utilizing presentation skills and strategy that are proven to help people make better decisions. I call it Neuroecology because this strategy takes into account everything that goes into a business decision from the selling environment to product perception to marketing to personal interaction and finally to the decision. More importantly Neuroecology is a dynamic process that is highly attuned to emotions, much like human nature.

A highly recomended read that detailes the emergence of neuromarketing and peers into the future of the field.

A highly recomended read that details the emergence of neuromarketing and peers into the future of the field.

Neuromarketing Threats

Some government groups are attacking neuromarketing claiming that it is unethical and want a ban on research. These people simply have a lack of understanding for what neuromarketing can actually accomplish. Images of subliminal advertising come to mind at the mention of brains and marketing, but these images are simply not true and they’re rooted in folklore. There is no magic buy button in the human brain. There are only complex processes that lead to a single decision. Neuromarketing provides us with the opportunity to improve the quality of business by better understanding ourselves and each other in order to better serve our potential consumers. Neuromarketing is scientific, ethical, and it is the future of business.

You Probably Think this Post is about you

Yes, I’m this Awesome all of the Time

 

“As individuals and as a nation, we now suffer from social narcissism. The beloved Echo of our ancestors, the virgin America, has been abandoned. We have fallen in love with our own image, with images of our making, which turn out to be images of ourselves.”

 

This is the dialogue of Daniel J. Boorstin, an American educator and historian, and surprisingly enough this quote is from 1914.  Now I have to imagine that if Mr. Boorstin had to spend but a few hours in today’s society his brain might fall right out of his skull. I mean this guy thought we were full of ourselves in 1914. Imagine what he’d do when we slap a pair of True Religion jeans on him, match it up with a Lacoste polo, and for the hell of it put an iPhone in his pocket.

 

The truth is narcissism is becoming an epidemic in today’s society. Just a few weeks ago The RedEye Magazine in Chicago dedicated an entire layout to tackling this very subject matter. I would like to do the same today. Undoubtedly all of us know someone that we might consider a narcissist (and if you can’t think of a person you know who fits this bill it’s probably you, sorry). We might call them a friend, coworker, acquaintance, or that tool at the gym whose shirt is too small and hogs all of the machines you’re trying to use. Since more often than not we are forced to interact with narcissistic people it should be helpful to understand them a little bit better.

 

The Narcissist Debate

 

i hope you get the what this picture is trying to say...

i hope you get the what this picture is trying to say...

Most cognitive researchers agree that there is a great deal of incongruence between how narcissists act and how they really feel deep down. Jean Twenge, author of The Narcissism Epidemic, debates that narcissists actually think and believe they really are that awesome. Wendy Behary, director of The Cognitive Therapy Center of New Jersey, debates just the opposite believing that underneath the bravado of a narcissist is really a high degree of insecurity. Fellow Chicagoan and psychoanalyst, Frank Summers holds the view point that narcissists are overwhelmingly addicted to affirmation.

 

As you can see there is a good amount of diversity in regards to narcissists, and rightfully so. After all, no two people are exactly the same, so why should we pigeon hole our ego-inflated friends and lump them all in with a singular motivation. I’ve dealt with a variety of people who exhibited narcissistic qualities and all of them had drastically different motivations that could fit the descriptions of any of the three specialists listed above. 

 

Social Intelligence and Narcissists

 

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about dealing with a narcissist is their ability to succeed. All exhibit this booming confidence that over time has developed from their skills and abilities.  Daniel Goleman, Harvard PhD and leading social intelligence researcher, has linked narcissism to three main motivations: Dreams of glory, adoration, and self righteousness.  Surprisingly enough Goleman maintains that succeed in our society today narcissism can go a long way to helping you make difficult decisions. He refers to this as “healthy narcissism” and the key descriptor in healthy narcissism is that this person has to ability to take criticism and ideas that are not their own.

 

Ladies, is this how you get ready to go out on the weekend?

Ladies, is this how you get ready to go out on the weekend?

On the other side of the coin we have unhealthy narcissism. The motto of this narcissist is that others exist to serve me. They act with little to no concern for people around them. If the motto of social intelligence is “seek first to understand and then to be understood” their motto would be “you should always understand me”.  The goals and motivations of this narcissist are front and center in their life, and other people’s goals and motivations don’t even register on their radar. Unlike their healthy counterparts if you challenge these narcissists they will explode on you. Further these narcissists do no handle constructive criticism well at all (in fact most children today don’t either).

 

Babies and Narcissists

 

When we’re infants we lack the cognitive ability to understand that others’ needs exist in this world besides ours. Seriously, we’re these selfish little creatures that act impulsively and make a stink if we don’ get fed, changed, entertained or whatever it is that babies want. However, as we develop we begin to realize that other’s have motivations like we do and we attune to those needs and motivations. This is perhaps our first and one of our most important lessons in social interaction. Children who perform the best socially are willing to share and take time playing with others and wait their turn. They’ve learned in a way to table their impulsive selfish needs for the whole of the group or their friends.  Hearing me describe the selfish infant almost sounded like I was describing a narcissist. Perhaps narcissist failed to properly acquire these social skill set as children.

 

We all have Selfish Brains

 

Our old brain, our most primitive brain that we share with all mammals, is selfish and it serves us right to be so. In evolution if we did not act quickly for our own interests we were usually gobbled up by some large animal. Over time we developed more complex brains on top of this brain, however the old brain still runs the show because it the decision making center of the brain. Thought helps guide this process but when push comes to shove emotion chimes in our old brains says yes or no. Studies on organizational behavior have suggested that in turbulent and stressful situations people resort back to more selfish motivations and actions. This is not surprising at all because we have to ensure our own safety in times of peril.  Now let’s look past this false bravado of any given narcissist. If underneath it all these people possess a high degree of insecurity there is probably a fair amount of stress and threat that is motivating their selfish repetitive actions.

Morrie Schwartz (Tuesdays with Morrie) said “The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves.”  He was speaking to the false pressures that our culture places on all of us; Pressures like being the prettiest, the skinniest, the smartest, the wealthiest, and the most successful.  A lot of people today, especially our impressionable youth, feel this pressure and in the struggle to become something they desire place a lot of stress on themselves. This stress can be one of many routes to narcissism. The other half of Morrie’s quote is, “…And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.” It would seem to me narcissists have the confidence to besomething their not, but lack the confidence to be who they really are.