Marketing’s Dirty Little Secret

For all the talk about customer centricity, there’s a dirty little secret that no marketer will easily admit to: Marketing — as a discipline and as the core of most traditional business school marketing curricula — is inward-looking. Take the much-vaunted four Ps: build the right product, price it correctly, put it in the right place, and promote it to induce purchase. It’s all about the brand, not about the consumer. The consumer responds predictably, robot-like, to the various strategies cooked up by marketers.

Meet Homo economicus — the rational consumer. The foundation of modern marketing. Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone. She doesn’t really exist.  

It’s taken a while for the marketing community to even talk about this. When I was at the University of Chicago, I sat in Richard Thaler’s Ph.D. class on behavioral economics, which was, even in late 1990s, well ahead of its time and disconnected from the MBA curriculum of the abovementioned four-P flavor. In 2011, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman offered two very different thought systems for mass consumption in Thinking, Fast and Slow. Thaler recently reviewed the Michael Lewis (of Liar’s Poker and The Big Short fame) book on the collaboration between Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Here’s the basic idea: There are two systems that drive our decision-making. The first is highly analytical and was presumed to be the epicenter of our rational being.

The second is a much quicker, effortless, and instinctual process. This latter system, known as System 1, drives the majority of our decisions. System 2, our rational processing system, takes a back seat. Our evolutionary development instructs our brains to be parsimonious, favoring more energy-efficient processes. It may sound counterintuitive, but our rational mind doesn’t drive decisions. Our emotional mind (and I take some scientific liberty in that usage) does.

R.I.P., Homo economicus. Hello cognition, emotions, memories, and other fascinating things that we (unfortunately) know far less about than we do about marketing mix modeling and programmatic ad buying!

Last week, I attended the World Neuromarketing Forum 2017 in London, organized by the Neuromarketing Science & Business Association (NMSBA). The event brings together the best academics and practitioners (both client and agency) in the field to revel in the gloriously imperfect human at the front and center of marketing. We discussed many intriguing and exciting applications, some of which are featured below:

  • Coca-Cola uses a variety of neural techniques to optimize its television creative development by figuring out how exactly to depict the product (short sips good, empty bottle bad), people (clear shots of faces works best), stories versus vignettes (stories start stronger, rapid cuts are bad), and more.
  • As advertising accelerates rapidly beyond television, The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) emphasizes the importance of a unified cross-platform creative strategy to enhance memory activation and the role of neuroscience in ensuring platform customization (for example, people engage very differently on mobile).
  • Neuromarketing is front and center at Spanish toy company Imaginarium’s project to redesign its store layout using integrated techniques to measure engagement of people walking through a pilot store.
  • Facebook measures how participants respond both cognitively and emotionally to conversing in virtual reality.
  • P&G learned a lesson in brand equity when promoting Secret deodorant with Olay’s moisturizing power inadvertently stoked Unilever’s Dove sales (implicit association techniques reveal that Dove owns the equity around moisturizing).

The emotional consumer and the art and science of intelligent branding is a large part of my research agenda for the year. Consumer neuroscience is, without question, a powerful tool that marketers have at their disposal that goes straight to the heart, or should we say, the mind of the matter. Some key considerations for marketers as they think about how to leverage this emerging discipline:

  • Don’t think of neuromarketing as standing apart from or in competition with however else you may be building brands, creating programs, or measuring effectiveness. It’s one more stream of intelligence (and a highly potent one), so add it to the mix and you will be wiser for it.
  • There is evidence that neuromarketing tools are effective in predicting sales lift (based on some excellent ongoing work by Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience leveraging the wealth of media consumption and transaction data in the parent organization); while the lexicon of neurology and psychology may sound alien, the language of value creation is universal.
  • If you are new to this, there are excellent proof-of-concept applications that are intuitive, cost-comparable to alternatives, and quick in delivering value. Ad testing is a good candidate, as is web user interface design.
  • There are several quick hits to be had from neuromarketing. But please, please do not forget the long game. Best brands build strong emotional ties that resonate. And to build a strong brand will require you to have a deep appreciation for the very real, human, and imperfect thought process that you are hoping to affect. We know there’s more to it than a wandering gaze, dilated pupils, and a rush of blood to the head. Mastering the interplay between brand and mind — intelligent branding — is the ulimate prize. 

Nobody said it would be easy — but at least now we are looking in the right place! 


Un-Learning the Mass-Market Mindset from a Bygone Era

The challenge, as I see it, is the consumer mass-marketing mindset that was the foundation of the prior Radio and TV era has persisted in the digital marketing era of today. Granted, it's proven to be inefficient and ineffective, but many still choose to cling to that old-school perspective.

We see the same phenomena in the B2B world, it's not just consumer marketing. Why do people cling to the past, even when they know the marketing landscape has clearly evolved? I suspect it's because some marketers find it very hard to un-learn what they've believed to be true and valid for decades. That said, perhaps some will never become outward-looking. Instead, they'll wish that the 'good old days' will return... even when that's obviously never going to happen. The legacy advertising-centered mode of marketing is doomed.

Indeed, that is a very

Indeed, that is a very accurate observation. In this "Age of the Customer," the old-world Mad Men-type command and control branding is dead, and the power of the customer and of restless fingers on hundreds of millions of devices is paramount. But too much has been invested and too much is at risk for legacy organizations. Take market research for example. We know that self-reported research is terrible at bringing out non conscious elements of a brand relationship, yet the vast majority of consumer research in emotional branding is quantitative and qualitative. To your point, B2B is no different. I'd be interested in hearing your take in more detail; if you'd like to chat about this further, fell free to contact me at

digital marketing revolution

Digital transformation disruption affected every economic and social process. Marketing is one of this.
Traditional marketing was born as result of the permanent relationship between Brands (represented essentially by-products - at the beginning era) and customer. Traditional marketing is consumer oriented. But marketing evolved, migrating from brands (products) to services and business 2 business solutions.
During the digital transformation process, traditional marketing was disrupted, and traditional marketer ways brand-oriented are based also on the customer experiences...
Speaking about digital marketing, here we have different marketing concepts than putting on the shelve, colour it sharply and polish it... GoToMarket and Nurturing marketing new concepts are essentially based on customer. Creating demand, generating leads, and nurturing clients for the whole product lifecycle are the driving practice in digital marketing. Knowledge and analytics are core tools of modern social marketing based on customer behaviour and customer reactions.
More that, today we didn't manufacture and promote objects. We ae selling concepts and services. Michelin today is not a simple tires manufacturer. Is a transportation facility provider, offering us warranty and additional digital services during the whole lifecycle.
And a lot to discuss on this subject...

Cognitively illustrious is

Cognitively illustrious is thy marketing and emotionally personified are ye consumers ! Finally I have found the answer in this article. For years I have been observing on Television if the brand, whether it be a Car or Toothpaste, Shampoo or Hair Oil, Banks or Mobile Apps, Universities or Institutions, the art of hitting the heart of "robotic" consumers has done wonders and miracles in shooting up the sales. I would seldom ask myself, if an automobile brand is to launch aggressive television marketing why would it focus on tears, emotions, love and everything but the actual product? such as durability, engine specs, performance and safety. Amazingly commoners like me begin to find that cognitive cum emotionally personified approach of marketing to be more dramatized than it should be, but as long as all P's are doing their job perfectly then let that 'dirty little secret' remain a secret which is no more a secret.

Splendid post Dipanjan.

Splendid post Dipanjan.

Questions remains is what is stopping us marketers to initiatie and gain from it? Any cues please.

Aditya Modi

Intelligent Branding breaks the inertia of traditional branding.

Thanks Aditya. It may sound easy but it requires a complete shift in how marketers think of brands - away from products and services and towards perceptions and the ingredients that create perceptions and influence decisions. This approach (which I call Intelligent Branding in my latest Forrester report) is not part of traditional brand management - but without it brands are out there executing against a strategy that is founded on a tenuous understanding of the customer. Change must come from the very top of the organization!

Post new comment

If you have an account on, please login.

Or complete the information below to post a comment.

(Your name will appear next to your comment.)
(We will not display your email.)
Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.