Review: The Buying Brain: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind by A. K. Pradeep

The world of neuromarketing seems to be shrouded in mystery. There are no university studies that prove one can improve advertising effectiveness or design better products using brain scans or biometrics. Virtually all of the neuromarketing research to date has taken place within private companies, who tend to release few details of their work both for competitive reasons and to protect client relationships. So, it was with great anticipation that I read The Buying Brain by NeuroFocus CEO, Dr. A. K. Pradeep. NeuroFocus, a unit of Nielsen, is the largest provider of neuromarketing services.

Readers will derive two main benefits from The Buying Brain. First, they will gain a much better understanding of how neuromarketing studies are conducted and the rationale for reaching conclusions about advertising effectiveness. Dr. Pradeep doesn’t reveal the detailed analytical techniques employed by NeuroFocus, but does give readers a good sense of the techniques used and metrics employed.

The second benefit is the actionable advice Pradeep offers based on the wealth of data accumulated by NeuroFocus. Even marketers who don’t have the budget to hire a neuromarketing company can apply the recommendations in The Buying Brain. Specific chapters address selling to Boomers, Men, Women, and “Mommies,” while other chapters look at findings related to advertising, branding, retail selling, product design, and packaging.

In the best neuromarketing tradition, many chapters start with a “story” – a case study of a particular problem NeuroFocus studied. The beginning of the story sets the stage for a longer discussion of the marketing issues involved and some the relevant findings, followed by the conclusion of the story and a few summary “takeaway” points. The chapter on packaging, for example, begins with the tale of an unspecified marketer whose product was losing market share to a competitor, possibly due to weak package design. Pradeep then launches into a detailed discussion on packaging variables and what NeuroFocus has learned about them.

In the middle of the packaging chapter, Pradeep inserts an additional case study, California Olive Ranch, who was designing a bottle for a new olive oil. The product was entering a crowded market with long-established brands, and using the packaging to attract customers and highlight the product’s unique features was critical. Two label designs, one featuring a stylized map of California and the other an olive orchard, were tested. Both designs were found to be more effective than competitor labels, but the “orchard” label topped the “map” label in every category. Pradeep discusses the findings and their additional recommendations in detail.

Returning to the problem that started the packaging chapter, the share-losing package was evaluated and found to be less engaging and memorable than its competition. The package was redesigned to correct some of the problems observed (e.g., competitive images were more engaging), and, according to Pradeep, sales rose.

The book’s strength, its insider access, will be viewed as a weakness by some readers. Dr. Pradeep gives us a first-hand view of how neuromarketing studies take place at NeuroFocus, but some will argue that he is promoting the firm and its particular approach to market research. Given the fact that so little has been written about the inner workings of neuromarketing studies and that competing firms were unlikely to grant Dr. Pradeep access to their own proprietary work, I think readers will find the emphasis on his own firm’s work is acceptable.

I would have liked to see more hard data and references in The Buying Brain. Many statements are made about buyer behavior that can’t be tracked to either research published by others or backed up by specific data in the book itself. While there is a “Notes and Sources” section for each chapter, these are far from detailed footnotes that would let the interested reader explore some of the referenced research in more detail. In addition, the book omits quantitative data and controlled studies that would serve to validate its many conclusions and recommendations. The packaging study, for example, gave no details as to the product type, how specifically the problems were quantified, how big the lift in sales was, and what controls, if any, were in place to verify that the new design was responsible for the increase. While omitting the kind of details one might find in a scholarly work makes the book more accessible for the lay reader, it won’t do much to quiet skeptics.

Overall, The Buying Brain is a must-read for anyone with marketing, advertising, and packaging responsibility. The insider’s view of neuromarketing in action is interesting, and specific, actionable advice make it a good addition to any marketing bookshelf.

As is typical here at Neuromarketing, rather than try to jam everything of interest into one review article, watch this space for some great neuro-nuggets from The Buying Brain.

Amazon link: The Buying Brain: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind

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