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Brain coral – Photo by Daniel Hjalmarsson

What every marketer should know about the brain

Welcome back to Braintalk. A series of brain-related topics for marketers looking for business growth. By teaching you the basics you will get a better understanding of your customer’s brain. In the last two blogs, we talked about dopamine and serotonin. This time we will explain some basic facts about the brain’s structure and functions. Keep reading if you want to know what is happening inside your consumer’s head!

Mapping the mind

I remember attending my first psychobiology class. It was a collection of odd-sounding words and strange-looking drawings. I was confused. The brain is a complex organ. Scientists make discoveries every day and still we don’t know everything there is to know about it. In a simple and understandable way, we will show you how the brain was formed and how it functions. Don’t get discouraged by all the names. The point is to understand it is more than grey mass resembling a walnut. This walnut makes it possible to do everything we do. Talking, reading, thinking, running, dreaming. The brain is the headquarter of the body. It consists of many different parts and interrelated areas that work together as one system.

The Human Brain By Dr Johannes Sobotta [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The brain viewed from below, showing the cerebellum.
Let’s start off with the largest part of the human brain: the cerebrum.

The cerebrum

The cerebrum consists of a left and right part called hemispheres. The outer layers of the brain also belong to the cerebrum. These are the cortices, better known as the cerebral cortex. Last, there are also structures deeper inside the brain belonging to the cerebrum. With our cerebrum, we can control all our voluntary actions in the body.

The cerebral cortex

Let us zoom in on the cerebral cortex. This is the part of the brain that handles the functions we use every day. It consists of grey matter; the outer grey and tangled looking layer of the brain. All the tangles and caverns are the work of evolution. It allows for a larger surface into a limited space, which results in greater diversity of functions. Remember we talked about neurons in our dopamine article? Most of them are located here. If we zoom in even further we arrive at the lobes.

Four Lobes

The cerebral cortex can be divided into four main layers—or lobes—that organise the connectivity of these neurons. They are:

  1. Frontal lobe: problem-solving (e.g. solving a puzzle)
  2. Parietal lobe: movement (e.g. moving our fingers)
  3. Temporal lobe: auditory perception (e.g. listening to music)
  4. Occipital lobe: visual perception (e.g. looking at a painting)

The exact functions of our brain areas are more complex than we described, but in this article, we will focus on what’s relevant to you.

The different structures are highly connected and work together closely. An example is listening to music. Vibration-sensitive neurons in your ear give a signal to a specialised area of the brain, which passes it to other areas to extract notes, instruments and voices. Eventually, all signals from different sensory systems are processed and fused together for you to consciously perceive the song.

Biggest brain

Humans are distinctive from other animals. We walk on two legs, talk, show a greater range of emotions, and are able to send rockets into space. There is also another crucial difference: we have big brains. Actually the biggest of all primates in proportion to our body. Our cortex is the source of our intelligence and resourcefulness. But what caused this? The answer is evolution.

Our brain has developed extremely fast compared to other primates. Scientists believe our brains grew to accommodate to a fast-changing environment, which enabled more advanced functions such as language, to evolve. The way we speak has changed enormously. From the time we lived in our caves to where we are now; using Emoji’s and learning a second or even third language.

When looking at the evolution of our brain, there are three phases—or—brains that have developed to where it is today:

  1. Reptilian brain
  2. Limbic system
  3. Neocortex

The reptilian brain

The oldest part of the brain is called the reptilian brain and handles the most basic functions related to survival and instinct. Breathing and heart rate are examples of functions regulated by this part.

The limbic system

The limbic system—also called the middle brain—is responsible for memories and emotion. A lot of mammals have a limbic system, meaning they hold memories and feel emotions.

The Neocortex

Remember we talked about the outer layer of the brain holding a lot of different functions? This layer is also called the neocortex, the latest addition to our brain. Most advanced functions like reasoning and abstract thought are located here. Simply put, the brain is built up beginning with the most simple functions and ending with the most complex ones.

Our instincts drive our decisions

When it comes to consumer behaviour, it might seem logical that our new brain—the neocortex—makes rational choices by looking at relevant information. Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux argues that this is not true and that our brain signals flow from the old brain to the new. This means our decisions are way less rational than we think. Even though we have a new and more developed brain, our instinctive brain is still very active. Read more about this distinction and conflict in the consumer’s mind here.

We don't make rational choices when we're buying. We let our emotions decide. Click To Tweet

Wiring and connecting

We know that our brain has developed significantly over the last million years. But did you know you can change your own brain within a few weeks? This is because of a powerful ability called neuroplasticity.

Rewire your brain by meditating Photo by Jared Rice
Rewire your brain by meditating

It is possible for the brain to modify connections, make adaptations and rewire itself. People who recovered from brain injury are a perfect example of this. If damaged, the brain will look for new ways to function like it did before. Simply said, our brain can remap parts to work together to make something happen. If there’s damage somewhere, a different area can take over that function. So how can you improve your wiring and connections? In short: new experiences.

New Experiences

The key to this is environmental enrichment that relies on sensory and motor stimuli. The brain is like a muscle. If you want to improve a certain skill you can strengthen it by practising. Research shows that the more a person seeks out new experiences, the stronger the wiring in the respective brain areas becomes. Because the brain is so malleable, it is important to keep it fit. We used to think there was a critical period for brain development only during childhood, but neuroplasticity is something we can benefit from throughout all of our life. A few ways to stay fit are through meditation, physical exercise, and learning a new language. How do you keep your brain fit?

A sneak peek in your consumer’s head

So far we have discussed some brain areas- and functions, but how do we even know these things? There are a lot of different methods that enable us to analyse this. We can inspect the effects of brain damage or look at brain activity. Information about the brain is also becoming more and more valuable in marketing. It can give you insights that are typically not accessible through standard methods like questionnaires. As you probably already know, neuromarketing is the relatively new field that combines neuroscience with marketing. We discuss the ethics of neuromarketing here. Let’s look into one method to give you an idea of how brain research works.

We explained how evolution makes us smarter. We have evolved to the point where we invented a machine that tells us what brain area is active in which specific function. This is called functional Magnetic Response Imaging or fMRI. When you put someone in a scanner and let them perform a task you can see what area of the brain shows activation. With this information, you can conclude that the area (or areas) are involved with the execution of this task. This means the neurons in this area are communicating with other neurons (what is a neuron). How are we able to measure brain activity? We do this by detecting changes in blood flow in the brain. When our brain uses a certain area, blood flow to that specific area will increase. Simply said, if someone in a fMRI scanner moves his or her right arm, you can see what area is active, because blood flow to that area has increased.

Even though fMRI is not a frequently used tool in marketing, it is a promising tool able to reveal subconscious processes and aspects that are not visible by the naked eye. We have already introduced you to this combination with the classical Pepsi versus Coke experiment in this article about wanting versus liking. This experiment shows that brand positioning is based on emotions and memory; brain processes that can be researched with fMRI.

There’s still a lot of improvement to be made, but the first principles for neuromarketing are there. If we are lucky, we might experience a moment when we can peek inside a consumer’s head in an instance (this also sounds a bit scary, to be honest). Until then, we will inform you about the brain with the knowledge we have, give you neuromarketing tools and help you optimize your marketing strategy. If we made you curious, keep following our Braintalk series to learn more about the brain, optimizing your Facebook ads and other interesting developments!

Social selling with serotonin

Welcome back to Braintalk! A series of brain-related topics to give you, as a marketer, more insight into the brain. With this knowledge, you can improve your marketing strategy and ROI. Last time we talked about dopamine. We hope this excited you because we will continue with these interesting things called neurotransmitters. This week, we will discuss serotonin, a neurotransmitter that shows both similarities and differences with dopamine. We will show you its social function and how you can use this in marketing and eCommerce.

Another happiness chemical

Both dopamine and serotonin are happiness chemicals and can make us feel good. As you learned in our previous Braintalk, dopamine makes us motivated and excited. Serotonin makes us more relaxed, satisfied and suppresses pain. It is amongst other things involved in a few basic activities we (probably) all like to do: sleeping, eating and socializing. Furthermore, serotonin is also involved in cognitive functions like learning and memory. Simply said, without serotonin our brain would not be able to function.

Fun fact: we are not the only one carrying this chemical. Biologists found serotonin in other animals and even insects and plants. They argue that it plays an evolutionary role and for some species has a similar role as for us. As far as we know, insects are not happy or sad. But, as an example, for honeybees serotonin seems to play a role in learning and their swarm behaviour.

There are many ways to increase your brain serotonin levels: by embracing past achievements, eat healthily or go for a run. Do you experience a little winter depression during the dark months? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. During these months a lack of sunshine lowers our serotonin levels. When we go to summer, exposure to the sun will increase our serotonin levels back again. No wonder we like to go on holiday to sunny destinations. A healthy balance of dopamine and serotonin in the brain results in positive mental health. Whereas an imbalance can lead to insomnia, anxiety and depression. So, if you want to feel good, make sure to keep them balanced!

Sunlight increases serotonin levels
Catch some sun to increase your serotonin and feel good

Selfish versus selfless

You might have heard of Simon Sinek, motivational speaker and marketing guru. In his inspiring video (watch it, it will “change your life” as Sinek says), he discusses modern leadership with a hint of neuroscience. Sinek believes that evolution has shaped us to seek out qualities in leaders. This is important to protect ourselves from danger. Our neurotransmitters tell us what those characteristics of leaders are. Sinek calls dopamine the goal achievement and selfish chemical. Why is it selfish? Because it motivates us to do things for ourselves. Serotonin, on the other hand, is the leadership and selfless chemical. It is selfless because it strengthens our social bonds with others. In our first Braintalk article, you can read what dopamine does in the brain and why it is important for goal achievements. But why does Sinek see serotonin as the leadership and social chemical?

Sinek explains that serotonin is released whenever we feel respected and admired. These feelings boost our confidence and make us feel great. Think about a moment where you were admired by others: it sure didn’t make you feel bad! Serotonin is a leadership chemical because it increases whenever others respect us as a leader. In return, their serotonin will also get a boost because they trust you. It strengthens our social bonds.

Trump and serotonin
How high or low do you think, are Trump’s serotonin levels?

Leaders high on serotonin

Remember that we talked about balance? Yin and yang? Just like with most stuff, too much or not enough of something will result in negative outcomes. Sinek explains that leaders who have too much serotonin in their brain—but don’t take their responsibilities—eventually will lose the trust of their group. Once this trust is gone, their serotonin drops, together with their confidence. Leaders that take care of their people will have a healthy balance of serotonin in their brain and are more confident in taking on challenges.

Increase social bonds and trust

Neurotransmitters can influence the behaviour of your customer, too. Remember how sunlight makes you feel happier? This mood change can also impact consumer behaviour. For example, researchers found that when temperatures are low, sunlight can increase sales. We will now focus on how to strengthen social bonds with your customers to get better results. High levels of serotonin will increase feelings of empathy, it connects people and increases trust. There is a lot of research showing that trust can influence your internet business. If you want to make your product more appealing (and your customer happy), make sure your customers trust you. But, just like with the leaders, you need to kéép their trust. High levels of trust and low levels of perceived risk make the magic happen. Here are some examples of how to do this:


Add testimonials from satisfied customers; you might have already done this, but did you also include a picture and their name? Make sure to make the testimonials as personal as possible. In this way, your customer will identify more with the testimonial and as a result empathize more with your product. If you add a picture, try to use positive, bright pictures. Trust in combination with positive priming is a success formula.

Testimonial example
Make your testimonial personal by adding pictures


Add trust badges to reduce perceived risk; would you buy something from a website that might look a bit dodgy? The internet is still a place where people take advantage of others. Examples of effective trust badges are the ones that show a safe payment method or money back guarantee. With the badges, you create more trust and increase conversion rates. This study found that even 71% of the customers look for a trust badge before doing an online purchase!

Trust badges
Add trust badges to increase conversion rates

Payment gateways

Use payment gateways; again, the internet is a playground for criminals. Credit Card fraud might be your worst nightmare and there’s still a chance this happens if you shop online. If you give your customers the option to pay with a safe and well-known payment service, this increases the chances they will buy something. Paypal or Afterpay are examples of these services. If you choose to use a payment gateway, always add a corresponding trust badge too to show this.

A chatbot can help your customers
A chatbot can help your customers


Make it simple to get help.  Funnel optimisation is crucial for webshop growth. A customer can—with one click—easily leave the funnel. One factor determining the optimisation is how effortless doubts of the customer can get clarified. All relevant info should be easily accessible. Can they send the product back? If so, do they get a refund? Also add contact details like your phone number, email and address in case they want to reach you. It might be most effective to add a chatbot so their questions and doubts can be easily solved. Curious? Read more about how to create a chatbot here and how to optimise one here.

Now that you know what serotonin is and how you can use it, it’s time to implement some new features to grow online! Still have questions? Contact us and we’ll help you optimise your conversion with persuasive design, content, or a chatbot!

Get your dopamine shot

How to use dopamine in your marketing campaigns

Welcome to the first part of Braintalk! A small series of brain-related topics, for you as a marketer to get a better understanding of this interesting organ. We will teach you basic knowledge, what goes on in your customers’ head and how to apply this to marketing and business. We kick-off with explaining something about a very interesting chemical in our brain called dopamine. Sit back, relax and learn.

A dopamine crash course

Okay, let’s start at the very beginning. Some of you may already have some knowledge about the brain, but others probably freak out when reading the word chemical. Chemistry is – as a marketer – probably not your specialism and that makes this whole article even more interesting. For example, did you know that the brain consists of more than 86 billion nerve cells called neurons? That these neurons communicate with each other with electric and chemical signals? And that this rapid communication enables us to move our hand, make a decision or listen to music? Fascinating right?

Communication between neurons is called neurotransmission. During this process, neurons release molecules called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters carry a ‘message’ with them and travel to other neurons. The content of this message is dependent on the type of neurotransmitter and influences our body, thoughts or perception in a certain way. They can make us excited, sleepy, hungry or reduce pain. These are just a few examples of many, showing that neurotransmitters are an essential part of the human body.

Neurotransmission of dopamine
Your brain communicates with neurotransmission

Cavemen on the hunt

There are eight major neurotransmitters, with dopamine being one of them. I will not mention them all here because their names probably only make you more confused. Dopamine carries the nickname ‘pleasure neurotransmitter’ and is involved in stuff that makes us feel good. A hit of cocaine, licking an ice-cream or hitting the jackpot are all reasons for dopamine to be released in the brain. More specific, goal achievement and motivation are related to this neurotransmitter. Mother nature created this pleasure molecule not completely without reason.

Let me explain this by looking back at the time of our ancestors and cavemen. Their life was all about survival. No food equalled the possibility of starvation, so they probably spent most of their life hunting for a nice piece of meat. What does dopamine have to do with this? It made them focused and motivated to complete their hunt and bring food back to their cave. When being hungry and seeing food, dopamine is released. It motivates you to get to the food. Without dopamine – and with a lack of motivation – chances of survival would drop to an all-time low. We repeat behaviour that leads to dopamine release. That’s how we survived and how human behaviour is still shaped until today.

Give them a dopamine rush

Now you know a bit more about how dopamine works in the brain, let’s see how you can adapt your strategies in order to make your product as appealing as possible.

Dopamine is a key element in the brain’s reward system. Remember that dopamine makes us repeat behaviour? As a marketer, you can trigger this reward system to reinforce behaviour and create positive associations for your customer. Tasty food samples at the entrance of a supermarket, Starbucks changing up their menu and a shoe shop with big sale signs are all marketing tools our brains respond to. Free offers, renewal of a menu and the suggestion that prices are lower than normal make us curious and give us a rush of dopamine. This makes us motivated to taste that sample, try that new coffee or have a look at the cheaper shoes. In return, we get another shot when finished and succeeded. This creates a positive association and improve chances people will do it again, and again.

Add dopamine to your mix

How can you apply this to your website or webshop? There are a lot of options, we will discuss a few to give you an impression:

  • Create a contest where people can win a prize. This can be a raffle, or the quest for the next best product name (this is a win-win situation, you might end up with a very creative name). Winning a prize activates the brain’s reward system and releases dopamine without a doubt.
  • Make sure your customer is first to know about an important development, new product or news. People have a general fear of missing out (FOMO). We want to be updated all the time. That’s why Facebook gives us a ping! and shows us a red globe if any activity happens. Dopamine likes this and makes us curious. Try to nót look at your phone after a ping, it’s hard to resist.
  • Apply strategies from gamification (principles of gaming) into your webshop. Create a point scoring system where customers can register to. If they collect a certain amount of points, they get a discount on a product. This ‘fun’ way of shopping motivates our brain and dopamine to get involved and get that discount.

These three examples are just an introduction into how you can anticipate your customer’s dopamine release. There are a lot more tools, but we hope we made you understand the underlying idea of how it works. If we got you interested in the brain, stay tuned for more interesting articles and tips! We will frequently give you a short but powerful Braintalk to keep you up to date.

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