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The difference between wanting and liking

Imagine being at your friend’s birthday party. You have a drink, a chat, and then you notice this amazing looking buffet. You want to fill up your plate with all the delicious treats. However, your personal trainer who drags you into the gym every day is looking over your shoulder. Thinking about him and all the effort you made to be healthy makes you like the buffet less and less. This is an example of a conflict between two different motivation systems in your brain: wanting and liking.

Wanting it, but not liking it

The major difference between wanting and liking has to do with how our mind operates: conscious or unconscious. Liking is a conscious state of the brain, meaning that you are aware of external stimuli or processes within yourself. Wanting is an unconscious state, meaning that processes in the brain occur automatically and without you noticing. Unconsciousness is also the place where most of the work in our mind gets done: automatic skills, information processing, intuition and dreaming are all examples of unconsciousness events. Some neuroscientists even believe that 95% of our cognitive activities happen in the unconscious mind!

Let’s go back to the buffet. If you want to fill up your plate with the inviting food, you’re probably hungry and your stomach is telling you to do so. This is your first reaction after seeing the table with food. In our dopamine article, we told you about the motivation to look for food. It’s a natural reaction that happens automatically and unconsciously. This means that our wanting system can be influenced without us noticing.

Liking and wanting at a buffet
Wanting versus liking when seeing a delicious buffet

How often do you walk in a supermarket and smell all the delicious, fresh baked bread? This is not a coincidence, the supermarket uses the smell of bread to unconsciously make you want to buy more. You can’t tell yourself to not like this smell. It just happens. What about liking? Standing in front of the buffet, you start to consciously think about it. How much will you take? Should I try the apple pie or the pumpkin soup? Or maybe both? The fact that you are (probably) on a diet makes you think twice about it. Eventually, you decide to stick with just the soup. You consciously made this decision.

A conflict in the sweets aisle

What on earth have this table full of food, and bread from the supermarket to do with your business? In a lot of cases, what you want is what you like. However, as shown above, in some cases this is not what you do. Consumer choice is an example where wanting and liking are often in conflict. We go back to the supermarket to further demonstrate this. Eye-tracking research – where researchers look at the eye movements of their participants – shows that there is a so-called approach-avoidance in the sweets aisle. Customers in a supermarket know what they want to buy, but still keep looking at other products too. In specific, this happens in the sweets aisle. Apparently, only 20% of our eye movements are related to what we actually buy, the other 80% we are just looking at our favourite candy. This again shows that our unconscious processes have the winning hand. For you as a marketer, this is something interesting to respond to. This is the moment when neuromarketing comes in to play.

Conflict in the candy aisle
Candy creates conflict: you want it, but don’t buy it

Get inside your consumer’s brain

To make your product as appealing as possible it is key to get insight into your consumer’s brain. The most common way to do this is by asking people about their experiences with your products. This is, of course, an informative source, but there is one major problem: it only gives access to the liking system of that individual. You should be more interested in the wanting system. And that is exactly the point where neuromarketing becomes interesting. Knowledge about how the brain works can make you understand the wanting system too. This is information that is not directly visible or logic, but despite can hold great value for your sales, popularity and brand. In this way, the whole concept of neuromarketing and consumer neuroscience makes sense.

Pepsi or Coke?

We will demonstrate the importance of neuromarketing with a classic experiment. This was also the project that first put the brain related to marketing in the spotlight. Researchers gave their participants samples of both Pepsi and Coca-Cola and looked at their brain activity. When participants were ignorant of which brand they were drinking, they favoured the taste of Pepsi. Their corresponding brain activity was present in a reward centre (the ventromedial prefrontal cortex).

research on Pepsi versus Coca-Cola
Which one do you like: Pepsi or Coke?

Can you guess which system is linked to this part of the experiment? It’s the wanting system, participants unconsciously favour one flavour over another. However, when participants were aware of the brand, they favoured the taste of coke. The brain now showed activity in areas associated with memory, emotions and emotional information processing (hippocampus, midbrain and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex). Indeed, the liking system is now present, resulting in a conscious review from the participants. The researchers concluded that the preference for Coca-Cola is more influenced by brand image than by the taste itself. This is a perfect example of the consumer’s mind being in conflict! Apparently, we favour a soda differently if we are aware of what brand we’re drinking.

The example above clearly shows why neuromarketing can be useful in your business. Are you also interested in your consumer’s brain? Read our Braintalk articles or contact us and we’ll help you have a look at it!

Webwinkel Vakdagen 2018 - Stand Afterpay

Standing out from the crowd. The do’s and don’ts at an exhibition hall.

Two weeks ago, Neurofied was present at the Dutch eCommerce exhibition Webwinkel Vakdagen 2018. This exhibition is the biggest meeting place for supply and demand in the world of webshops. My mission was to wander around, observe and see how companies apply neuromarketing in the design of their stands. This may sound relaxing, but an exhibition is one big accumulation of colour, sounds and people that try to sell their product. The key to success is to be different from everyone else, to stand out from the crowd. How? I will briefly discuss my experience and give you the do’s and don’ts.

We are not robots

Let’s start with the question what neuromarketing can do for you and your stand on an exhibition in the first place. Neuroscience is making its way into marketing and a growing number of companies are interested in how the brain works. In line with this, a recent study looked at the main aspects of customer experience at an exhibition hall. They measured brain activity, skin conductance and eye movement. The main aspect of these measurements is that they tell us something about unconscious, emotional reactions that are not visible with the naked eye. We humans are not robots, but emotional beings that sense the environment around us. Their conclusion was that sensory enrichment – smell, colour, music, lights – enhance the involvement of the visitors, but this is dependent on the context of the exhibition. This means that a food exhibition will have more advantage of the nice smells than a furniture exhibition. Let’s be honest, don’t you also prefer the smell of freshly baked cookies over the smell of furniture wax?

As a company, applying the right sensory enrichment at an exhibition can lead to three things:

  1. positive overall observations leading to less frustration and more willingness to interact. Visitors will be easier to approach and interested in your stand;
  2. more intense experiences that directly impact arousal and the willingness to do business at the exhibition;
  3. better memories that make your brand or product more familiar. Research proves a positive link between this brand familiarity and purchase intention.

This shows that the improvement of human comfort and their sensory experience is fundamental to every exhibition, especially because it can be a very stressful and overwhelming environment.

Do’s and don’ts

Good! Now that I’ve explained something about neuromarketing and exhibition halls, it is time for my own experience. After my observation, there were quite some aspects that did and did not draw my attention. I will briefly sum them up and give some examples.


Because this fair did not hold any food- perfume- or music- related stands, the visual experience is probably the main target for companies to focus on at the WWV. One of the biggest elements of human visual experience is colour. Choosing the right colours can have enormous effects on the overall experience of your stand. So which ones are right and which are ‘wrong’?

  • do use a colour that stands out: an original, fresh colour that no one else uses can draw immediate attention of the visitors;
  • do use a colour that suits your brand. If your website, leaflets and business cards are green, don’t paint your stand pink;
  • don’t use a colour that will disappear in the exhibition hall. My experience with this one was that some companies were a little unfortunate because the overall colour of the hall was blue (especially the carpet). Bol had an impressive stand, but faded into the background because of this;
  • don’t overdo it, keep it simple. The (sometimes painful) combination of specific colours can create chaos instead of an appealing stand. Use soft, peaceful colours that create an inviting environment. Want to know why less is more? Read about it here.


Another option to draw the visitor’s attention is by using movement. It doesn’t mean you should be running around your stand! This can be very subtle. One stand that drew my attention did so by decorating their stand with balloons. Floating balloons always move in a subtle way. Another way is to use displays that show a short, attractive company video.

  • Do use movement in an interactive way, this makes visitors more involved in your product and leads to a higher chance of interaction. An example I found creative was using a wheel of fortune, inviting visitors to spin it.
  • Don’t let it take over your stand. One of the stands belonged to a supply chain company, but the whole stand consisted of one big conveyer belt. It’s good to show off your product, but there should also be room to sit down, have a coffee and connect with prospects.


As explained before, taking the emotions of visitors into account can lead to a more successful stand. There are various ways to do this, but the biggest factor is YOU. One big difference I noticed between stands is the attitude of the people that belong to it. Do they make eye contact? Do they smile, or sit behind their computer without showing any interest? You are representing your company, do this in an open, friendly and curious way and visitors will not quickly forget you.

  • Do keep it personal: Inviting a visitor for a nice cup of coffee (or a beer if it’s 4 o’clock) can be a good icebreaker for a business conversation. Watermelon offered visitors to create their product (a chatbot) on the spot, together with someone from the stand.
  • Don’t fake it until you make it: Most people can tell pretty quickly if someone is sincere or not. In the end, marketing and business are all about convincing someone about your product, but the trick is to do this in a genuine and credible way.

Show me a good stand!

Now that you know a little bit more about the do’s and don’ts at an exhibition, let me show you a company that – in my eyes – nailed it when it comes to sensory experience. This is the stand of AfterPay, a Dutch company that makes it possible to pay for your product after you receive it.

[foogallery id=”1231″]

The folks from AfterPay created a very welcoming stand, using an almost ‘feeling like home’ atmosphere. The use of plants, wood and the possibility to sit down made this happen. The stand is open and the use of lights make it a bright environment. Their company colour – a fresh kind of green – is present, but not in such an overwhelming way that it overpowers the overall look. They added movement by using a monitor that displays fragments of their product. Also, they display existing customers in a creative way by putting their products on shelves. During the exhibition, I saw a lot of visitors dropping by, sitting down and having a chat. This shows that their stand was an inviting success. Well done AfterPay!

We hope this article gives you some insight into how to create your own, inviting stand. Being at an exhibition means putting yourself out there, standing out from the crowd and making sure the visitors will still think of you after the exhibition. Furthermore, this article is a way to show how you can use psychology in a business-related environment. For more information on how to improve business results check out our article on the AIDA-model. Don’t underestimate the power of it!

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