The Neuro-Consumer: Adapting Marketing and Communication Strategies for the Subconscious, Instinctive and Irrational Consumer’s Brain

Book summary of “The Neuro-Consumer”: Marketing and communication continue to assume that consumers are rational both in their purchase decisions and in their perception of advertisements, yet neuroscientists demonstrate that a great majority of our actions are driven by the subconscious of our brain, and their research enable marketing to adapt to this reality.

By Michel Badoc and Anne-Sophie Bayle-Tourtoulou, 2016, 448 pages.

Review and Summary of “The Neuro-Consumer” :

Part I: The Advent of the Neuro-Consumer


Studies of consumer behavior enable companies to improve their marketing but with limitations. They can be supplemented by new neuroscientific techniques as a further element of other ways of thinking on the subject: first philosophical, then psychological, sociological and in terms of marketing. At the start of the 21st century, understanding the instinctive behavior, most often subconscious, of the “neuro-consumer’s” brain is becoming essential for marketers.

Chapter 1: From Philosophical Theories to Neuroscience

Neuroscientists show a real interest in the theories proposed by philosophers, in particular on the relationship between body and mind, the role of emotions, memory, desires, etc. Some of which enable them to develop hypotheses related to the behavior of the consumer’s brain when subjected to stimuli from his/her environment.

Contributing to the happiness of people by creating a balanced and harmonized way in which the body and human thought process operate hormonally is one of the important roles of the brain. This process, called “homeostasis”, affects the behavior of individuals in a consumer situation.

This search for happiness has also been one of the fundamental concerns of philosophy. Two schools of thought stand out:  Those who believe that happiness cannot be achieved in the world in which we live (Socrates, Pascal, Descartes, Kant…) and those who think the opposite (Aristotle, Epicure, Montaigne, Goethe…).

Chapter 2: Consumer Behavior Studied by Marketing Research

Finding the button that triggers consumer purchases remains the dream of marketing research services. To do so, they study the tastes, needs and expectations of customers using several techniques (interviews, focus groups, customer surveys, etc.). To overcome the limitations of this research, observations are carried out (projective tests, semiology, analysis of signs, symbols, icons, ethnology, inquiries into the preference and attraction of brands, study of consumer behavior observed in experimental retail outlets, etc.).

“Big Data” brings a new dimension to the evolution of research based on observation and to their concrete and effective use in marketing: e-marketing (Internet-based) and m-marketing (via mobile devices).

Customer segmentation becomes fundamental to adapting the company’s commercial policy to prospects and detecting the emergence of new customers. Apart from traditional segmentation criteria (for individuals: age, sex, income or assets, housing, marital status; for companies: turnover, number of employees, sector of activity, company status, age, and manager training, etc.); there is an evolution of typical behaviors leading to the research of more elaborate behavioral typologies.

Chapter 3: The limit of Marketing Studies and the Advent of the “Neuro-Consumer”

Marketing studies (surveys, observation of needs, customer segmentation) have limits as to the veracity of responses and the accuracy of behavior. The statements of the customers are not indicative of reality. Cognitive biases due to the research context can skew answers. Hence the interest of addressing the brain directly, since it does not lie, and of using neuroscience in order to improve marketing.

The “neuro-consumer” is defined as “a consumer largely subjected to the subconscious mechanisms in their brain, whose decisions and purchasing process are strongly influenced by their emotions and their desires.”

Chapter 4: The Brain: Underestimated by Science

Underestimated for centuries, the different functions of the brain are the subject of increased interest. From the middle of the XXth century, two important developments in brain imaging have seen the light of day: cybernetics considering the brain as the equivalent of a computer and functional imagery (EEG and MRI).

Chapter 5: Neuromarketing and Neuro-Consumer: Two 21st Century Inventions

The emergence of marketing applications then sees the light of day in the early 2000s. The American researcher Read Montague, creator of the term “neuromarketing”, and his colleagues have the idea of using MRI in an experiment relating to the brands Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola. This study proves the importance of a brand’s strength on the mechanisms of a consumer’s brain.

The study of neuro-consumer behavior appears essential to improve the effectiveness of marketing and reduce the considerable costs of communication, distribution, creation, and development of new products. This area is set to expand over the next few years and the notion of neuro-consumer will gradually supplement that of consumer.

Scientific research on memory, thought, involvement, manipulation is more directly relevant to marketing and communication.

Presented with possible abuses, a code of ethics seems necessary for regulating the use of such neuroscientific techniques. The debate remains open on the limit between manipulation and conviction.

Chapter 6: Neuroscientific Techniques Used to Understand the Neuro-Consumer’s Behavior

The use of neuroscience was preceded by methods seeking to better understand the behavior of citizens through expressions and signs. Thus, experts in social psychology are interested in the impact of the environment of others on the behavior of people and study “influence“.

Different schools of thought based on empiricism offer methods or programs to better comprehend individuals through observing and through decoding expressions from their senses. Among the best known, NLP (neurolinguistic programming) and TA (transactional analysis).

Neuroscientific techniques make it possible to go further in understanding the behavior of the neuro-consumer. They range from the most complex such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or EEG (electroencephalography), etc. to the use of simpler and less expensive tools such as hormonal secretion, EDA (electrodermal activity), ECG (electrocardiogram), oculometry (or “eye tracking“) or simple neuroscientific diagnosis. Coupled with other neuroscientific tools or with traditional research in marketing and communication, these techniques improve or supplement current knowledge.

Part II: Understanding the Neuro-Consumer’s Brain


Neuroscience is improving understanding of brain function and consumer irrationality. Their perception of reality is largely conditioned by subconscious elements. Age, gender, memory, emotions, desires influence their attitude. “Somatic markers” or “mirror neurons” condition their responses to the environment. Emotions and desires can destroy conscious and rational reasoning in a matter of moments.

Hence the importance of better understanding how the brain of the neuro-consumer functions, especially when it is in automatic mode.

Chapter 7: The Neuro-Consumer’s Brain: A Complex Organ

Neuroscience has led to the discovery of the unsuspected powers of the brain: a very sophisticated communication with the human body organized from around fifty hormone-neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, cortisol, adrenaline, etc.), a significant influence on thought, senses, memory, consciousness, etc. More efficient than a powerful computer, the brain can be compared to a conductor of human behavior.

Recent findings show that the stomach is a second brain tasked with specific tasks.

Chapter 8: Is the Brain Free or Programmed?

In 1969, the American researcher Paul D. Mac Lean developed the theory of the “triune brain”: the human brain is made up of three parts (cortex, limbic, reptilian) which appeared gradually during evolution. Their preponderance varies according to the age of people (children, adolescents, adults). They influence and explain differences in behavior. The reptilian brain gives priority to reflexes, to the leader, to the importance of the group. The limbic brain strengthens emotions and the sense of affectivity. The neocortex allows for logical reasoning, abstract thought, and the anticipation of actions.

The perception of the world by individuals is more a reconstruction of their brain than an objective reality perceived by the senses. Largely programmed, the brain leads them to instinctive behaviors, especially in their purchasing acts. The “instinctive intelligence”, primary but rapid, creates immediate reflexes that are vital in case of danger. His in-depth research provides an understanding of the irrational acts of neuro-consumers.

Chapter 9: How Age and Gender Condition the Brain

Age and gender lead to specific behaviors and attitudes that are sometimes difficult for a person not belonging to the same category to understand. Environment, education, culture, experience also affect the brain, but they are learned.

The reptilian brain, the center of instincts and the satisfaction of basic needs, primarily influences young children. The limbic brain, the center of emotions, stress, instinctual behavior and memory, conditions the behavior of adolescents. The neocortex, the center of anticipation and decisions, makes the adult consumer “smarter”.

One of the big differences in the generational behavior of consumers is found in the use of the Internet. In terms of communication, the important emotional differentiation existing between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” calls for approaches adapted to the ways of thinking and feeling of each generation.

There are also clear differences in the behavior of female and male consumers. Hence the need for appropriate communication and marketing.

Chapter 10: How Memory Conditions the Brain

Elements such as memory, “somatic markers” and “mirror neurons” strongly condition the human brain’s behavior.

Memories, often associated with emotions or sensory stimuli, remain in the subconscious. They are “somatic markers” that can be reactivated when the person is faced with the same stimuli.

In order to be stored in long-term memory, the information needs to be encoded. Only useful information, responding to a personal interest, bringing a lively emotion, bearing on exceptional events, are transferred to this memory. The consumer mainly remembers communications and brands that meet these criteria, the others being forgotten soon after viewing them. Hence the low memorization rate of most television commercials, even if their repetition has a positive effect on their memory.

“Mirror neurons” play an important role in social cognition, especially in learning by imitation. They enable communication with others and empathy. Knowing their effects is particularly important for understanding certain instinctive and sometimes thoughtless behaviors of consumers.

Chapter 11: The Influence of Emotions and Desires

Emotions and desires have a great influence on the reactions of the human brain.

The study of “emotional intelligence” (ability for people to use emotions and feelings in their decision-making) enables the development of a specific and adapted type of marketing: a “marketing of emotions and desires”.

Part III: The Neuro-Consumer’s Brain Influenced by the Senses


The use of the senses makes it possible to improve the effectiveness of marketing but also to establish a lasting link with the brand through unique sensory experiences (sensory marketing). In 2005, 99% of brand communication still only focused on just two senses: sight and sound.

Chapter 12: The Neuro-Consumer and the Sense of Sight

A third of our brain is devoted to sight, a very important sense that allows us to observe and analyze the environment from a distance. “Vision” is a cerebral interpretation of electrochemical signals, a construction of the brain. The real world is never “seen” as it is. Its perception is shaped by the brain subjected to various influences: previously acquired experiences, the context, the objectives it has, and which direct its attention, the phenomena of illusion by which it may be affected. The most optimal way to capture the attention of the human brain is through the visual system; such as advertising, packaging, web pages, applications, and logos.

Chapter 13: The Neuro-Consumer and the Sense of Hearing

Sounds are an easy way to reach even passive consumers since they don’t need their full attention to be noticed. Hence their massive use in marketing via radio or television advertisements, “jingles”, songs, or slogans attached to brands as well as background music in stores, hotels, and other public places.

Music has a strong emotional power: it conveys energy or creates a sense of calm, generates joy or sadness, very often brings back memories or past experiences. Its use helps build a strong brand in the minds of consumers.

Audio marketing is based on the notion of congruence with the chosen positioning, the intended target, and the desired objective.

Chapter 14: The Neuro-Consumer and the Sense of Smell

The sense of smell appears as an “open door to our memories and our emotions” because of the strong links between smells and memory. Brands seek to take advantage of this in their emotional bonding with consumers. Consequently, scent marketing and the emergence of brand scent signatures have developed over the past twenty years.

Chapter 15: The Neuro-Consumer and the Sense of Touch

The most vital sense for human survival, the impact of touch on consumer behavior remains under-researched.

While touch can impact the purchase decision, its importance is not the same for all consumers (individual difference in tactile need), nor according to product categories (greater tactile need for fabric and clothing than for products like DVDs or CDs).

Tactile marketing operates on the materials of objects and their weight to provide more pleasure and sensations to consumers.

The inability to touch reduces consumer confidence. It is however possible to compensate for this absence, suitable for distance selling; by a written description of the products offered and the addition of images or photographs.

Chapter 16: The Neuro-Consumer and the Sense of Taste

More than a matter of language, taste is understood as an amalgamation of the five senses since their implication enables the complete sensation of taste in the brain. The absence of one or more of them alters the flavor.

Effective sensory marketing favors the congruence of the senses to increase the evaluation of products, stores, and visitation intentions. It tries to minimize the risk of saturation, both at the individual and collective level, despite the difference in saturation levels according to consumers. This multi-sensory harnessing increases the likelihood of creating strong and lasting emotional connections with the consumer.

Part IV: The Neuro-Consumer’s Brain Influenced by Innovation


Well-implemented innovation, product and service presentation, pricing and sales policies increase turnover and improve brand awareness. Dwell time as well as the interest of customers increase when the distribution and service spaces are themed, theatrical or include a sensory experience.

Chapter 17: The Influence of Innovation, Design, Packaging

The brain takes a particular interest in innovation. Notions of beauty or ugliness lead to a feeling of pleasure or disgust directly felt towards innovations. Creating brain-pleasing designs goes a long way in the success of a product in the market. Certain specific elements of the packaging directly attract the attention and interest of the brain: imagery and illustrations conjure up emotional memories; colors awaken somatic markers; writing gives meaning to the product; the brand gives products qualities linked to its essence, etc. When these elements are designed in a neuro-compatible way, they increase their appeal to the brain.

Chapter 18: The Influence of the Price of Products and Services

The brain’s perception of the pricing of products and services has important consequences for the number of purchases.

An inappropriate price in relation to the consumer’s perception of the quality/price ratio can kill a sale. If the product is considered too expensive; the consumer prefers a cheaper offer by the competition, hence the success of low-cost. The consumer refuses to pay more for a product whose quality does not seem to justify the price difference for them. Perceived as too cheap, the product or service is equally not bought. The consumer thinks that it does not have sufficient quality or standing to meet their expectations (the case for “high-end” or luxury products).

The “psychological price”, that is to say the price that a consumer is willing to spend to buy a certain product or service; constitutes a fundamental basis for pricing policy.

Paying creates a feeling of pain for the brain. Several means can be used to mitigate or avoid this feeling: payment delay, offering a credit or deferred payment, presenting the item as “premium”, proposing bundled offers or packs, invoicing by month rather than by hour, setting the price a few cents below a fixed price (€ 299 rather than € 300), etc.

Chapter 19: The Influence of Experiential and Sensory Marketing

In points of sale and services, experiential marketing manifests itself mainly through the theming and theatricalization of spaces as well as through the development of sensory marketing.

Theming seeks to attract communities of consumers with similar interests or passions: ecology, love of nature or organic products, culture, sports, etc.

Sensory marketing in shops and stores focuses on the subliminal effect (subconsciousness) produced upon the brain when one of its five main senses is directly involved.

The sensory policy must be designed in a coherent manner with the positioning chosen by the brand and the attributes of the brand, harmonized with the other means of communication and e-communication.

Chapter 20: The Seller Faced with the Neuro-Consumer

Sales departments train salespeople in customer psychology so that they can detect, analyze, and understand the subconscious attitudes and reactions of consumers in order to adapt their pitch and thus increase sales. Several methods and techniques are then used, such as the “Sales Point” method, the “Story” method; the “Top Ten Sales” program, or even the FCCU method (Frustration, Claim, Contribution, Urge).

Part V: The Neuro-Consumer’s Brain Influenced by Communication


Since ancient times, communication has used many so-called “subliminal” techniques to become more persuasive. They speak directly to the subconscious mind of their audience. The recent appearance of “nudges” and the use of neuroscience offer even more relevant sensory devices to convince consumers. The brands also strive to create genuine “sensory brands” intended to attract customers over the long term.

Chapter 21: Advertising Language

By inventing rhetoric, Aristotle offers an art of discourse making it possible to seduce interlocutors beyond simple language. Nowadays, some advertisers still use rhetorical theories and methods to improve the credibility of their communication. As a result, many advertising pitches are based on the recommendations of Cicero: “We must prove the truth of what we say (art of logos), reconcile the benevolence of listeners (using ethos), awaken in them all emotions useful to the cause (by appealing to pathos).”

Semiology (or study of signs) presents another technique that enables us to decode certain subjective elements of a communication and to assess their importance in the consumers’ subconscious in order to improve its effectiveness. Beyond communication, it makes it possible to better understand the attitudes of targeted consumers from the signs given when they are confronted with exhibitions of images of products or services.

Chapter 22: Subliminal Influences of Communication on the Brain and the “Nudge” Concept

Subliminal communication is addressed directly to the subconscious of the brain by bypassing the barrier of reasoning. Banned in many countries, certain methods are however authorized and used by advertising: advertising entertainment (pitch focused on spectacular aspects, use of humor), the use of art in communication, appeal to rules of harmony directly perceived by the brain (“golden ratio”, “Vitruvian proportions”), recourse to eroticism, etc.

Among the most recent subliminal techniques, the “nudge” method is a non-binding way of getting people to make unintended decisions for their own good, in terms of health, savings and education. E.g.: the automatic opening of a savings plan. Their goal is to obtain better efficiency with citizens while limiting the constraints, obligations, and prohibitions of governments.

Chapter 23: The Subliminal Influence of Brands

Brands play a fundamental role in influencing consumers’ brains in their purchase decisions. They derive their power from the emotional effect it provides to a significant number of consumers.

Consumers’ brains seem particularly attracted to brands whose history reminds them of the great myths embedded in their subconscious, adapted by somatic markers. Brands need to create a story for themselves (“storytelling”); an original epic that can be told in the community and passed down through generations.

The consumer perceives the essence of a brand through their five senses and not just their vision. A name but also a smell, a piece of music, a certain taste, a certain touch can awaken their “somatic markers”.

Neuromarketing makes recommendations for implementing a brand’s sensory strategy, ensuring consistency between the sensory elements used and the strategy; and developing a “congruence” of the senses between them.

Part VI: The Neuro-Consumer’s Brain Influenced by the Digital Revolution


The advent of Web 2.0 and 3.0 transforms the consumer into a “neuro-consumer-actor”. Subject to the influence of community and social networks, their individual conscience becomes collective. New types of communities centered around a meaning such as music or taste are emerging. In order not to become obsolete, marketing must quickly adapt to these profound behavioral changes in brains.

Chapter 24: When the Digital Revolution Changes the Brain’s Perception

The neuro-consumer-actor with collective consciousness is becoming more and more “multi-programmed” (the use of several media at the same time). “Multiprogramming” of the brain does not seem to correspond to “multi-attention”. We thus gradually enter a universe where “zapping” replaces logic and reflection; where individuals favor sequential information based on emotion rather than linear information based on conceptual reasoning.

The concern for speed and the need to respond to multiple requests give rise to a feeling of frustration with Internet communication. To cope with the new expectations of the neuro-consumer-actors’ brain, companies appeal to “permission marketing” (communication only with prospects who have given their consent), to “desire-based e-marketing” (content quality) and the practice of “one to one” (setting up personalized relationships with each consumer).

Chapter 25: The Brain and the Emergence of Social Networks

The consumer, saturated with the messages of advertising and e-communication; places an increasingly limited trust in those emanating from traditional communication. They prefer to get feedback from customers who have already tested the brand, products, and services. The use of “viral marketing” (“buzz marketing” or “word of mouth”) to spread positive communication on social networks through communities enable brands to increase their sales significantly. It is based on one of the oldest media in the world: rumor. With the development of the Internet, blogs, social and community networks, recommendation becomes more important than communication.

New types of communities centered around a meaning such as music or taste are emerging.

Conclusion on “The Neuro-Consumer”:

This book is based on the premise that communication and marketing continue to rely upon the hypothesis that consumers make purchase decisions and perceive advertisements rationally; while neuroscientists demonstrate that a very large part of our actions comes from our subconscious.

Based on a series of surveys with neuroscientists and consultation of a large body of literature; it explains how the brain reacts subconsciously; the elements that modify its perception and behavior, and the resulting applications. It explores the modes of perceptions and the brain’s subconscious behaviors when confronted with the demands of marketing and communication. It provides a comprehensive view of “consumers’ subconscious and instinctive purchase decisions”.

This book is aimed at several audiences, which can become muddled at times. Companies can find information inside the book that can help perfect the appeal of their brand, and marketing and communications professionals can find advice to improve the quality of their work. However, it also provides the average consumer with explanations of the tricks used to win them over and encourage them to buy. Too bad it isn’t smoother and easier to read!

Review written by Nadège

Strong points:

  • Inventory of knowledge about the brain and new marketing approaches to integrate them
  • Numerous references and scientific studies

Weak points:

  • A complicated read
  • Sometimes redundant, with too much reverting back to the past (especially in the first part)

My rating : The Neuro-Consumer communication brain The Neuro-Consumer communication brain The Neuro-Consumer communication brainThe Neuro-Consumer communication brainThe Neuro-Consumer communication brainThe Neuro-Consumer communication brainThe Neuro-Consumer communication brainThe Neuro-Consumer communication brainThe Neuro-Consumer communication brain

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