Buyology: Best Book of 2009

I am finally getting around to writing this up. I mentioned the book – Buyology – a few weeks ago. It is definitely the best book I have read this year. It is by Martin Lindstrom and is all about neuromarketing.

For those of you that don’t think it’s relevant to healthcare, think again. Healthcare is all about compelling individuals to take action and become responsible for their health. That is about understanding how they interpret information and what drives them.

Here are some of my notes from the book:

  • One of the processes used was fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) which measures the amount of oxygenated blood throughout the brain. Scientists can see what part of the brain is working at any given time.
  • The other process used was SST (steady-state typography) which tracks rapid brain waves in real time.
  • One of his first studies looked at the effect of cigarette warning labels and found that they not only failed to deter smoking but activated the nucleas accumbens.
  • What people say on surveys and in focus groups does not reliably affect how they behave. [although it is often the best we have]
  • Brand matters…He re-conducted the Pepsi Challenge and showed that if people knew what they were drinking they preferred Coke to Pepsi. When they didn’t know, 50% of people liked Coke. When they knew, 75% of people liked Coke.
  • He showed that consumers have no memory of brands that don’t play an integral part in the storyline of a program. Just putting something in the movie, TV show, or video game isn’t enough to get you mindshare. AND, those successful placements also weaken our ability to remember other brands.

“Our irrational minds, flooded with cultural biases rooted in our tradition, upbringing, and a whole lot of other subconscious factors, assert a powerful but hidden influence over the choices we make.”

  • In the Smiling Study that he references, they revealed that people are far more positive and have a better attitude toward the business when the person they are dealing with is smiling. [Maybe a key thing for avatars and real agents as they talk to people over the computer and/or phone.]
  • Our mirror neutrons allow us to get pleasure just by observing or reading about people doing something that would give us pleasure – e.g., opening a present with a new Wii in it. [You can go to or to enjoy this.]
  • Logos are dead. They showed that images that are associated with smoking (for example) were far more potent in creating a reaction in the brain than the logo.
  • “Secret Ingredients” matter…he shared several examples of how things sold differently when there were non-existent things listed on the label.
  • When people viewed images associated with strong brands – iPod, Harley-Davidson, Ferrari – their brains registered the same activity as when they saw religious images.
  • They studied and showed that odor can activate the same brain response as the sight of the product. He talked about an interesting study that showed that “feminine scents” such as vanilla were sprayed in women’s clothing sections, sales of female apparel actually doubled.
  • Sex, extreme beauty, or a celebrity in an advertisement can hijack attention away from the information in the advertisement.

“I predict that soon, more and more companies (at least those who can afford it) will be trading in their pencils for SST caps. That traditional market research – questionnaires, surveys, focus groups, and so on – will gradually take on a smaller and smaller role, and neuromarketing will become the primary tool companies use to predict the success or failure of their products.”

Some interesting facts:

  • 300 million people, including 60% of male doctors, in China smoke.
  • 8 out of 10 new product launches fail within 3 months.
  • In 2005, 156,000 new products debuted globally (or one product every 3 minutes).
  • In 1965, a typical consumer could recall 34% of advertisements from TV. In 1990, that number dropped to 8%. In 2007, consumers could only remember 2.21 advertisements from all advertisements they had ever seen. [Talk about saturation.]
  • We walk almost 10 faster than we do a decade ago. 3.5 mph
  • A study in Denmark showed that people talked 20% faster than they did a decade ago.
  • And, if you don’t believe that culture matters…In Asian cultures, four is an unlucky number and one researcher found that heart attacks among US residents of Chinese descent spiked as much as 13% on the fourth day of each month.
  • Children that experience social difficulties in school are more likely to be preoccupied with collecting.
  • Both J&J and Play-Doh have lost their original fragrances and haven’t been able to replicate it.
  • When classical music was piped over loudspeakers in the London Underground, robberies, assaults, and vandalism dropped by over 25%.

Some of the interesting companies mentioned:

I thought he had a great story about a rock. If I gave it to you for your birthday, you’d be offended until I told it was from the Berlin Wall. And then when I told you it was from the moon, you would be even more impressed.

For more information, there is also a neuroscience blog.

One Response to “Buyology: Best Book of 2009”

  1. You wrote:

    The nucleus accumbens (NA) (under and to the front of the dorsal striatum above the pituitary gland) is activated by the mesotelecephalic dopamine system which originates in the subtantia nigra and ventral tegmental area (right at the top of the brain stem). The NA is believed to be a center of pleasure and reward. That fact that cigarette warning labels increase activation in this area may be because smokers have been “classically conditioned” to associate seeing the label in close proximity to the next smoke (i.e., they have to hold the pack to pull out the next cigarette). This stimulation can also occur without engaging awareness (no higher cortical activation) which generally leads to higher consumption. I doubt the warning label/NA affect occurs among nonsmokers.

    You also wrote

    There is actually a subcortical ventral pathway (i.e. it bypasses the upper cortex) that leads from the eyes directly to the amygdala for the sole purpose of registering emotional expressions in faces. A person who is cortically blind (i.e., cannot see chairs, houses, cars, trees) can still perceive the emotional expressions in faces (although they can’t “see” them) and act in accordance to the expressed emotions. This reaction is strongest for fear. This means that a smiling face will unconsciously stimulate friendly emotions even if the consciously heard message is neutral or negative.

    Finally, you wrote

    It is not just saturation, its adaptive “tuning out”. In 1965 TV commercials were new and a curiosity. Forty years later TV watchers are not so easily impressed and far more adept at rapidly tuning out what is irrelevant.

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