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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.


Milou Odekerken

A passion for writing combined with fascination for the brain to give you the best neuromarketing content!

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