But First, Coffee

Have you ever realized that there are few Starbucks ads on billboards, in a newspaper or on posters in places where you can expect to see advertisements for most other establishments, like McDonald’s?  The Starbucks Corporation and its successful marketing strategies are definitely something that should learn about. In this article, we’re going to try and understand what marketing techniques Starbucks uses to reach out and attract millions of people worldwide.


Starbucks wanted to create an attractive and comfortable space perfect to be the place between work and home. Indeed, the doors of the coffee shop chain are opened not only to offer coffees, but also to create a powerful sensorial experience. In other words, as well as coffee, the Starbucks’ marketing strategy can be experienced with the five senses.

Let’s start with smells. They stimulate certain areas of the brain responsible for creating emotions and memories. The human nose can identify and recall as many as 10,000 scents and as much as 75 percent of our emotions are generated by what we smell. Using scent, then, to enhance a brand is nothing to sniff at. When selling a home, we are encouraged to bake cookies just before an open house or light scented candles to generate positive feelings from prospective buyers. Starbucks certainly understands the olfactory benefit of scent – “an atmosphere really special, the coffee smell, it has a certain something that makes you feel comfortable, relaxed.” The smell of coffee is not accidental, it comes from fresheners placed strategically to ‘invite’ us to fancy a coffee in a very subtle way.

Sound has the power to impact our mood and sway our buying habits. Researchers have found that the pace of background music affects customer perceptions of wait time, spending and turnover in stores and restaurants. In other words, fast music decreases spending in a retail environment, but increases  turnover in restaurants. The Starbucks’ music selection is a key in order to create this atmosphere that invites to relax while you are reading the newspaper, have a chat with your friends or even work with your laptop.

In other words, companies, like Starbucks, that are more concerned with increasing the spend-per-customer ratio, use slower music to create longer dining times, leading to a 29 percent increase in the average bill according to one experiment.

The urge to pick up, touch and test things is huge, and retailers count on that in their display strategies. Our hands are an important link between our brains and the world. In fact, as humans we have more tactile receptors in our little fingers alone than we do on our entire back. These receptors help us explore objects in our surroundings. When we encounter a pleasant touch, the brain releases a hormone called oxytocin, leading to feelings of well-being and calm. In research terms, this sense of touch is referred to as our “haptic sense”. Researchers have found that shoppers who touch a product are more likely to purchase, even as it relates  to impulse buys. They’ve also found, logically, that the ability to touch a product increases our confidence in the item’s quality.

In this case, Starbucks’s merchandising is placed close to the casher area, which allows you to approach to the goods while you are queuing and, of course, to touch them. This opportunity of experiencing the articles is so effective that, even at the risk of being stolen, Starbucks keeps its merchandising ‘close enough to touch’.

We’re glossing over the last two senses with just a few obligatory comments. Sight, of course, is the most common marketing medium. Color, architecture and graphic design theory are all well-studied in the marketing industry and fill countless articles. The very well-known logo of the twin-tailed siren has accomplished its mission to be recognised without the need to include the words ‘Starbucks’ and ‘Coffee’. Also, what definitively catches our eyes are the comfortable sofas that are part of the cosy design of the furniture’s stores and reinforce the concept of a place between home and work.

And taste, while of great importance to edible brands, doesn’t fit well into the multi-sensory branding programs of other products. Yet, have you ever been offered a small piece of brownie just when you have pop into a Starbucks coffee shop?

As we’ve seen, the senses influence our emotions and decision-making. Touch, smell, taste, sound, and the look of a product all play an important role in our perceptions, attitudes and consumption of a product. Understanding those roles provides a valuable advantage in today’s marketplace.

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If You Want To Know If She Loves You So, It’s In Her Eyes

Imagine this scenario for a moment. You’re in a restaurant, on your first date, and you’re wondering if this relationship is going anywhere. You’re probably going to see what happens – like the soul singer Betty Everett once proclaimed, “If you want to know if he loves you so, it’s in his kiss“. But, what if you didn’t have to ?

A new study, by Stephanie Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago High-Performance Electrical NeuroImaging Laboratory, suggests that the difference between love and lust is all in the eyes. In other words, where your date looks at you could indicate whether or not love is on the table.

After setting up an experiment with an eye tracker, Cacippo found that eye patterns would be concentrated on the other persons face if the viewer sees that person as a potential romantic partner. Yet, if the viewer is feeling a sexual desire towards that person, eye patterns will be concentrated on the person’s body. This automatic judgment often occurs in seconds which, as a consequence, produces different gaze patterns. Also, numerous studies have shown that different networks of  brain regions activate when one is feeling love or lust (see here for an example).

“Although little is currently known about the science of love at first sight or how people fall in love, these patterns of response provide the first clues regarding how automatic attentional processes, such as eye gaze, may differentiate feelings of love from feelings of desire toward strangers.”

Stephanie Cacioppo


How to test visual patterns ? 

In this study, two experiments were performed to understand visual patterns in two different emotional and cognitive states. These states are often difficult to distinguish from one another. Have you ever tried to understand what you were feeling when you looked at your date ? It’s difficult, right ? Well it’s even harder to distinguish these different states neurologically.

Cacioppo and her team of researchers asked male and female students from the University of Geneva to view a series of black-and-white photographs of people they had never met. During the first experiment, participants viewed photographs of young, adult heterosexual couples who were looking at each other. In the next, the participants viewed photos of attractive individuals of the opposite sex who were looking directly at them.

Throughout the experiment, participants were in front of a computer and asked to look at multiple blocks of photographs. They had to decide as quickly and precisely as possible whether they perceived feelings of sexual desire or romantic love from the people in the photographs.

Cacioppo’s study found no significant difference in the time it took the participants to detect romantic love or feelings of desire. This shows how quickly the brain can process both feelings of love or lust. Yet, after observing the eye tracking data from both studies, there were visible differences in the eye movements. These differences depended on whether the subjects reported feeling desire or romantic love.

By pooling this data, researchers were able to form a complete map of love and desire in the brain. They found that that two brain structures in particular, the insula and the striatum, are responsible for tracking the progression from sexual desire to love. The insula is a portion of the cerebral cortex folded deep within an area between the temporal lobe and the frontal lobe, while the striatum is located nearby, inside the forebrain.

Love and sexual desire activate different areas of the striatum. The area activated by sexual desire is usually activated by things that are inherently pleasurable, such as sex or food. The area activated by love is involved in the process of conditioning by which things paired with reward or pleasure are given inherent value. That is, as feelings of sexual desire develop into love, they are processed in a different place in the striatum.

“Love is actually a habit that is formed from sexual desire as desire is rewarded. It works the same way in the brain as when people become addicted to drugs.”

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Consumer Neuroscience – Website Design

Neuromarketing is more commonly known is advertising, but did you know it’s also used in web design ? In this case, the goal of neuromarketing is to increase conversion rates and the percentage of visitors who take action by using specific cognitive biases in the design and content of the website.

Researchers have begun to study the way the brain works in response to marketing stimuli. By understanding the consumer’s cognitive and sensory responses, you can fine-tune your web design and encourage conversions.

Now, let’s look at this example for a moment. Out for an evening walk, you nearly step on a snake. It takes your brain only milliseconds to respond to the potential threat, causing you to stop short and take a closer look. By the time you jump back, you realize it’s just a stick. But your primitive brain responded before you could really process what you were looking at and come to a rational decision to just keep walking.

What can we draw out of this example – what have an evening walk, a snake and a branch got in common with websites ? Well, consumers work the exact same way when they click on a website. The job of the primitive brain is to keep us alive, therefore it’s hard-wired to process external stimuli in a certain way. This means that our logical and emotional thinking only kick in when our primitive brain is sure everything is alright. As a consequence, this phenomena, has a fascinating impact on web design.


Is the environment familiar ?

The primitive brain, also know as the reptilian brain, is built for efficiency and therefore looks for familiar patterns. As a result if you come across something that isn’t easily recognizable, you may create an interrupted experience for your visitor as their brain assesses for danger. But how can you resolve this dilemma ? Well, for example, you could add pictures or videos of people, like themselves, smiling so that the customer feels reassured. An other way of keeping your customers primitive brain at ease is to keep your home page consistent.

Am I safe in this environment ?

But what happens if the reptilian brain does notice some changes in the environment ? Well it automatically focuses on them amd forgets everything else. An unexpected element in your web design acts the same way as a suspicious rustling in the bushes did for our ancestors. If you take this into concideration, you might understand why navigation accounts for 60% of your online success, and as much as 80% for mobile sites. Therefore it’s best to stick to a predictable navigation and layout so that the users experience isn’t interrupted.

For example, most people hate pop-ups; they totally interrupt an expected experience. But our eyes are instinctively drawn to them (even if we don’t want to) to make sure they’re not dangerous. If that pop-up offers a truly compelling offer or enriches the online experience, the brain will remember that in its decision-making process.

Can I see the danger ? Is it close ?

Around half of your brain is used to process visual stimuli, and as a result, once you see something you can’t “unsee” it. For example, how many light switches do you have in your home? To answer this, you probably visualized the rooms in your home, instinctively, and come up with an answer. Our visual sense is heavily used to understand our world, which means that we need to focus website designs on great visuals. Whether it’s photos of your product in action, your employees providing services, or your retail location – great photos give customers something to connect with.

Should I act ? Fight or flight ?

Finaly, we shouldn’t forget that our brain needs to sense some urgency in order to act. We’re more motivated by the possibility of loss than of gain, and we like the idea of something we can have right now. This means you need to include a call-to-action on every page as well as a way to act immediately (newsletter, membership sign-up, contact information, etc.). You may have noticed that you lose interest in a website fairly quickly, therefore websites should present actionable items early and often.

Some neuroscience-based web design techniques make huge differences, others are so subtle, they may give only a tiny improvement making them worthwhile only if you have a lot of traffic.

Remember, every customer has a brains. So even if the environment is brain-to-brain or brain-to-computer, keep your customers in mind when you’re marketing a website or a product. And as consumers, we should all be aware of how marketers are taking advantage of our own biases.

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Sensory Marketing – Touch it ! Smell it ! Remember it !

Sensory marketing engages the consumers senses with the purpose of conditioning their shopping decisions. The right situation can trigger a wide range of emotions that can lead the shopper to choose a brand over another.

Studies show that multi-sensory shopping experiences – where two or more senses receive stimulation at the same time – cause the shoppers to stay longer in the stores, buy more products, and develop a stronger engagement with brands.

Today more than ever, it seems that everyone assumes that the determining factor for effectively and successfully reaching the customer depends on how we manage sensory perceptions that the brand or product will cause in people. Which means that when a customer comes in contact with the product, the perceptual machine begins to operate.


This is where our emotional brain plays a key role in making decisions, by choosing an option even before our prefrontal cortex – the conductor – gets time to evaluate the options. In the decision-making process, many factors influence us – our culture and beliefs, our memories of past experiences that we have stored in long term memory, for example.

While most brands focus their attention on developing visual and auditory marketing techniques, such as logos, specific music to play in the stores, television adverts with original jingles or themed colors for their packaging. There are lots of other resources that could be implemented, which aim to stimulate various senses simultaneously and creating a more intense shopping experience for the consumer.

For example, just by spraying a distinctive fragrance in a store, creating packages with different textures or giving their products a characteristic smell, brands and retailers get to see a significant improvement of sales.

The theory behind sensory marketing is all good and well. Let’s now see what this looks like in practice by examining different marketing techniques well renowned companies use to activate your senses.

In the last years, brands have been working hard to develop distinctive sounds both for their products and their packages. For instance, McDonald’s use numerous tactics to sell their products – for this example, we’ll focus on how they sell their fries. During the rush hours of the day – lunch time for example – the company put adverts out that are specifically aimed at those driving a car. One advert for fries features a sound that you could describe as something like a deep fat fryer and the voice over even announces that the smell of fries being cooked will be transferred to your car. By thinking of the sound of the fries cooking and our mental representation of the smell of fries, we are prompted to go and buy some. In this case, we can hardly say the advertising is subliminal yet, the company thinks that subtlety should not be wasted on its customers. Have you ever wondered why there is so much red in their restaurants ? Well, now you know – pay, eat fast and go away quickly.

Now, after thinking about MacDonald’s, you must be getting hungry. Sadly, manufactures know all too well that food is one of our weakest links. Let’s now turn our attention to chocolate, M&M’s to be precise.

You might have noticed, after years of eating them, that M&M’s don’t really smell of chocolate. Yet, when you enter the famous M&M’s World Store in London, you are bombarded by the soothing smell of chocolate. As you look around the store, you notice that every M&M is already prepackaged. So why is there this strong chocolate smell ? Well, who wouldn’t want to feel as though you’re walking into Willy Wonka’s Factory ?

After getting your taste buds working, you may, by now, have understood that scents mess with your rational thoughts and connect with your emotions. Here’s one final example that proves this. Have you ever noticed that when you walk into a Nike Store you immediately go for the most expensive shoes ? Well, you will know understand why.

Essentially, Nike Stores use a mixed flower scent to direct you towards the more expensive shoe designs inside. Studies show that you are willing to spend up to 10€ more on their shoes if they are diffusing flowery scents in the store. Also, the shops are light and often have white walls with black decorations or images in neutral colors, which makes you relaxed enough to make you pay for their shoes.

It is a well known fact that your memory and smells are tied closely together – a scent can really bring back memories and invoke emotions. Nowadays, companies know this all too well and make use of scents and sounds to jolt your brain into liking or enjoying their product.

Therefore if you wish to successfully sell your product make sure to pair either your store or the actual product with a specific scent – if you feel at home in a store, you are more likely to buy.

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What do Chameleons, Brands and Mirror Neurons have in common ?

Picture this simple scenario for a moment. You’re at a wrestling match and suddenly one of your favorite fighters gets kicked between the legs. Like most of us, you cringe – especially if you are a man. Could you stop yourself from cringing? Probably not because you can picture yourself in that same situation and imagine how much it hurts. So why do our bodies respond in this way ?

The Chameleon Effect

The “chameleon effect” is the brain-to-brain imitation of postures, mannerisms, and facial expressions, for example it’s what causes adults to smile when they see a baby smiling. Therefore this is an automatic matching that causes humans to connect, even if they’re not aware of the connection.

These mirror neurons are cells in our brains that enable us to understand actions, intentions, and feelings. They are in many areas of our brains, and fire when we perform an action as simple as grasping an apple, but also when we see others doing it.

It all started in the mid-1990s with an ice cream cone at a research lab in Italy. Giacomo Rizolatti and his team had implanted electrodes in the brain of a monkey in order to map out which neurons controlled the monkey’s movements. One of the researchers had brought an ice cream cone back from lunch, and as the monkey watched him lift the cone to his mouth there was a spike in the monkey’s neural activity. The astonishing discovery is that the neurons that fired were the same neurons the monkey used to move his own arm. The monkey’s brain seemed to be having a physical experience just by watching someone have a one.
Mirror Neuron Experiment

In actual fact, our mirror neurons, also called empathy neurons (V. Ramachandran), fire when we experience an emotion and similarly when we see others experiencing an emotion, such as happiness, fear, anger, or sadness. When we see someone in pain, for example, our mirror neurons fire instantaneously. In other words, we don’t need to think about the other person being in pain, we actually experience it firsthand.

If you see an expression, a face which is laughing or is sad, you understand emotion, but it has nothing to do with your feeling of emotion. – Giacomo Rizzolatti

Therefore the chameleon affect enables us to socialize and communicate with others as we read their facial expressions. Yet we don’t seem to be caught up in others experiences, and that is du to our ability to dampen this effect.

Interestingly, human mirror neuron networks are stimulated in response to actions which are apparently meaningless, which means that we all have a tendency to spontaneously model any and all movements by others. (Giacomo Rizzolatti)

So What Has This got To Do With Adverts ?

As we’ve seen, cells in the human brain activate when you observe or perform an action. The problem is, these mirror neurons can’t distinguish between observation and performance. So when you see a wrestler get kicked, your mirror neurons fire-up and your brain thinks you just got kicked. If this is the case, couldn’t we use these mirror neurons to influence people with adverts ?

This actually means that when you see someone perform an action in front of you – in a video, for example – you will think you’ve just performed that same action. And therefore, if you think you’ve just performed an action, you’ll probably be more likely to actually perform it. Why? Because you’re already thinking about doing it.

Nowadays, creating meaningful advertising is getting harder because there is a demand for more content and substance in advertising. As a result, some brands are leaning towards communicating more emotional brand experiences in a bid to hook viewers on a deeper level.

Products that engage people by helping them to feel as others do or to experience product usage, clearly have a greater ability to convince – and therefore the advantage. Demonstrating the use of a product has an important role in advertising because adverts that help us connect in this way are more likely to influence our choices.

There is a lot of opinion about mirror neuron advertising, some believe it’s just a theory whereas others say that this kind of advertising isn’t revolutionary – now we know more about why it works. Even so, when looking at past examples of adverts it becomes clear that “mirror neuron ads” at their purest are rarely found.

But, if we know that these so called “mirror neuron ads” are extremely effective, why aren’t there more of these kind of ads ? Also, if this chameleon effect works with adverts could it also work with pictures ? Could we use the “chameleon effect” on different parts of marketing, like sentences or logos ?

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Brandability – Where Recognizability Is The Key For Success

Consumer’s opinion of a product’s ability to fulfill his or her expectations is one of the most important traits a brand could have. Eventhough a logo may have little or nothing to do with the actual excellence of the product it needs to be easily recognisable and give a sense reliability.

Therefore what would the caracteristics be for an effective logo ? Could it be the colour, the shape, the placement, or even the meaning, for example ? Before anyhting else, the company’s public face (the logo) must be transferable to any medium that bears its brand—whether it’s a fleet of trucks, packaging, web adverts, or social media.

An effective logo is easily recognizable at a glance, both in color and in black and white, which means that a good logo should be able to work on a highway billboard and a Twitter avatar for example. As a consequence, if a copany’s logo relies on fine print, it won’t be as effective. In this article, we’ll be using a company’s logo that demonstrates brandability in any form – McDonald’s.


The beauty of neuroscience and perception is that it doesn’t have to be complex to be effective. Now, let’s take a look at what makes this McDonald’s advertisement special. We will also show in the next few paragraphs how this campaign is noticeably influenced by science.

The left placement of the logo on the billboard actually helps our brains better perceive the brand faster. Research studies have proven that objects placed on the left side of our field of view are better processed using the right side of our brains and vice versa. This is because our optic nerves criss cross when they enter our brain, therefore the right side of our brain is better at perceiving images, and the left side of our brain is better at processing numbers and writing. The image placement and writing in this advert are placed in the best spots possible for our brains to process this information effectively and efficiently.

One of the most difficult things in marketing would be making an influential statement. This billboard speaks to a very common buying focus of consumers when it comes to food – organic food and nutrition. In just three words you are now aware a portion of chips is made of only potatoes, therefore it can only be nutritious. In other words, the easier it is to think about the message behind an ad the easier it is to act upon it.

Moreover, numerous neuromarketing research studies have shown that consumers respond better emotionally to more detailed foods they’re familiar with. In this case, the detailed and oversized potato and chips accentuate our familiarity.

Visually, lowercase is preferred text font because the brain likes consistency, which is du to the fact that when we read a properly capitalized text we’re prompted to look for more semantic meaning as though we were reading a textbook.

Finaly, we all know the human brain is extremely visual, so the fact that the images and font pop off the background are more helpful to perception. Our brain loves clear contrast, therefore shouldn’t we all take a page out of McDonald’s book and make a more contrasting advert ?

Nowadays, every company has an advertisement to catch our attention but because we’re so perceptually bombarded, nearly all of the advertisements turn into white noise that we end up ignoring.

Shouldn’t the goal for companies no simply be to catch our attention with advertising and marketing, but to have the consumer genuinely interact with your message ?

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