More than just enhanced marketing, as opposed to simple advertising, it is a discipline in its own right, aiming to "understand the customer experience starting from the actual individual, from his or her brain, and how it accumulates or selects information, with a view to offering the market products and services that are truly useful and meet the real needs and desires of customers". This is neuromarketing, the new frontier of neuroscience applied to the commercial world (and beyond), as defined by Caterina Garofalo, Francesco Gallucci and Mariano Diotto in their 'Manuale di Neuromarketing' (Neuromarkting Manual), published by Hoepli. Published during the year of COVID-19, the first edition also includes an in-depth look at the pandemic and the impact it has had on the communications sector and messages conveyed to consumers.
But let's take it step by step and see why neuromarketing is all around us, even if we don't realise it. "Everything from the size of the tiles in the supermarket right down to how clothing is arranged in a shop window is now specifically designed using neuromarketing techniques", explains Mariano Diotto, member of the Italian Neuromarketing Association and professor at the Salesian University in Mestre and Rome, who also launched the Nuromarketing Italia portal last January. At university, Diotto teaches courses in web marketing and digital communications, disciplines with a classic professional outlet for digital strategists and web marketing managers. And yet, neuromarketing is also, as the professor assures, "a very broad subject with many job and specialisation opportunities".
While copywriting and the languages of communication within the digital world (websites, e-commerce, social networks, design and user experience) are but a few examples of classic areas of application of neuromarketing techniques, the discipline's new frontiers now extend to robotics and virtual reality, thus spawning sectors in their own right with names such as neurogaming, neuroeconomics and neuroleadership.
Preposterous? Not in the least when considering that "the mix between marketing and cognitive psychology has been around for years", Diotto points out. "Even though the term neuromarketing was coined and first used back in 2002", the book explains that "the history of this innovative and fascinating discipline began much earlier", rooted in psychology and, more specifically, in its cognitive and behavioural branches.
Every element, from the shape of the product to its position on the shelf, right down to the lettering, strikes the eye in a certain way, and the brain is processing it all
"Neuromarketing works by identifying customer brain movements capable of being influenced. Yet this is not a question of manipulation, but rather of identifying people's latent needs, desires that have not been formalised at a general level. One example would be when I'm hungry, because I normally pick something I already know. This is about adding a new food", he explains.
Unlike marketing, which 'shoots' at a group with standardised messages, neuromarketing targets individuals. And it does so using a lot of technology: eye tracking, for instance, is one of the most popular tools in neuromarketing and entails studying eye movement to work out how long the eye will stay on the product. Very useful when choosing products on the shelf. Diotto explains that "the repetition of a message through advertising does not necessarily lead to a purchase; on the contrary, most of the time advertising makes us not want a certain product". The use of neuromarketing techniques, however, inserts archetypes and structures into communication that persuade us unknowingly. A classic example? The slogan "Dove c'è Barilla c'è casa" (Where there's Barilla, there's home) evokes the idea of family, warmth and conviviality. Diotto continues by explaining how "every element, from the shape of the product to its position on the shelf, right down to the lettering, strikes the eye in a certain way, and the brain is processing it all".
This leads to very advanced strategies such as studying the customer's path through a shop to ascertain where to place garments you want to sell the most. "Even a supermarket's tile size influences the speed at which a customer moves through the shop: large in expensive supermarkets, small in discounters, where food is bought cheaply and 'on the go'. Even lighting plays a role: if you create warm light islands in certain parts of the shop, the public will unconsciously gather in that area, rather than in the shaded parts. This is exactly how the shop windows are arranged: we have an outfit that you don't want to buy, the desired accessory that you want to keep in your memory for a future purchase, and then the perfect outfit in terms of model and price", says the expert.
Yet physical shops are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the application of neuromarketing techniques, as social networks have cemented themselves as the main forums for communication. Here, however, "neuromarketing works in a way that is opposite to the algorithm", says Diotto, while algorithms draw from associations of semantic categories (e.g. certain colours), favouring what is liked a priori and thus standardising tastes, neuromarketing meets the same need in the opposite way, working on unexpressed desires. "One example could be a wine company that, instead of featuring a bottle in every single post, photographs what customers like best", Diotto explains.
While the role of the neuromarketing expert is already well established in America, there is still no specific degree course in Italy
Things have not changed with COVID-19. "Consumer habits shifted during the pandemic, e.g. large retailers surged as people stocked up on goods, while tourism dried up. But right now, most web searches are precisely for travel", adds Diotto. "Obviously, nobody is actually booking anything, because we still don't know when our borders will reopen, but people can become loyal to a tour operator who, for example, tells captivating travel stories. Once people are finally able to travel freely again, they will surely remember that specific tour operator. This means working on people's latent needs".
As communication and technology become increasingly sophisticated, neuromarketing is thus an ever more essential discipline in which to invest, both from a business perspective and in terms of educating tomorrow's communicators. While the role of the neuromarketing expert is already well established in the USA, there is still no specific degree course or structured educational programme in Italy. As neuromarketing continues to become more vogue, we run the risk of having activities passed off as neuromarketing, even when they have little to do with it", warns the expert.
For this reason, Ainem has been offering specific courses for some time, and an academy structured on modules is even ready to begin in September with the contribution of professors and professionals in the sector. There is also an extensive range of specialised courses, including tourism, health, branding and so on, which counts as a postgraduate specialisation, and also an ad hoc summer school. A specific certificate is issued at the end of each course.
Diotto concludes, "with the growing hunger for these skills, it is no longer a question of simply positioning a product using traditional techniques". "We are definitely moving towards developing sensitivity and attention within the corporate culture. And while only large companies can afford such investments at the moment, I believe that every communication agency will soon need to have an expert in these techniques".