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Increasing Attention, Recall, and Response: with Neuromarketing

Posted by Rebecca Hellmann on Jun 6, 2018 10:06:00 AM

“The human brain is lazy. Yes, even yours,” said Nancy Harhut, Chief Creative Officer for HBT Marketing, kicking off her session on Neuromarketing at The Financial Brand Forum 2018. “We all like to think we are logical people but, in reality, our brains are always applying shortcuts to our decision making.”

drinking-wineIt was a jarring start to the break-out. After all, we really do like to believe we think decisions through. There was a collective discomfort as everyone recognized their internal narrative was “not ME.” But Harhut wasted no time backing up her assertion with several scientific studies including:

  • The Influence of In-Store Music on Wine Selections published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in which researchers tracked wine sales at retailers when generic music was played versus French or German music. The result? Type of music had a direct effect on the proportion of French or German wine purchased. However, when asked about their purchase, not one customer referenced the music as an influence.
  • A study performed on use of non-prescription pain relievers showed consumers are more likely to pick brand name medicine when they report higher pain levels – despite knowing the amount of active ingredient is the same in the generic version. (Zaltman, 2003)
  • A 2001 experiment by Frederic Brochet at the University of Bordeaux had a group of wine tasting experts review the flavor of a white wine and a “red” wine – except the “red” wine was simply the white wine dyed red. All of the wine tasters described the white as they normally would but the “red” as if it was a true red wine. They could not tell they were the same.

95% of purchase decision-making takes place in the subconscious mind. 

~ Gerald Zaltman, Harvard Business School, “How Customers Think”

But is it really that surprising that the human brain regularly takes shortcuts? Our minds are receiving an average of over five thousand marketing messages per day in addition to all of the other data we see and evaluate. If we develop technology to speed a process and create a “short-cut” it is considered a benefit. It only makes sense human brains have developed similar mechanisms to screen out the unnecessary…and, all too often, the messages marketers put forth.

Fortunately, there are ways to cheat the brain’s screening process.

Getting Noticed

One of the biggest struggles for a marketing message is grabbing attention. One of the keys to cracking this code falls to the Von Restroff Effect. Established by Hedwig von Restroff in 1933, the Von Restroff Effect notes how the brain will notice and remember an item that is somehow distinct or isolated within a list or display better than it will remember an item that is similar to the others within said list or display.

e.g. When asked to remember this list…

  1. Lift
  2. Ship
  3. Swim
  5. Ball
  6. Jump

…you will probably remember the word “yellow” but not much else.

Even better, the principle of “being different” can be applied in multiple ways. Some examples provided by Harhut include:

  • Emojis in email subject lines – currently enjoying an average 31 -34% open rate increase compared to non-emoji emails.
  • “Oops! I’m sorry!” messages currently see an added 47% open rate.
  • Injecting an element of surprise. Research from The Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London discovered the brain’s hippocampus works as a prediction/comparison engine – reacting when there is a difference between expectation and reality and providing an additional jolt of awareness.
  • Creating mystery or uncertainty capitalizes on the Von Restroff Effect as well as the Motivating Uncertainty Effect – in which the possibility of a reward is a motivator for action.
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Being Remembered

Fun fact, the human brain hates leaving things unfinished. In addition to embarrassing moments or mistakes, humans are far more likely to recall things that were left incomplete than those they finished. This is know as the Zeigarnik Effect. This is why people finish books, movies, and television series even if they are not particularly enjoying them…because they have to reach the finish.

How can financial institution marketers use this? Create a variety of stories, activities, and/or events about your brand and account holders. Some additional tips when applying the Zeigarnik Effect…

  • Use multi-media including imagery and video as well as the written word. Using more senses increases the level of engagement and activates more of the brain.
  • Have customers and members share their stories, reinforcing their relationship with your institution by leveraging cognitive dissonance (the state of discomfort when actions conflict with one’s stated attitudes or beliefs).
  • Don’t be afraid to go negative. Shared emotion magnifies the feeling. But not all emotions are created equal. The most generally effective are anxiety, awe, wonder, and fear.
Boosting Response

Generating responsive behaviors is, arguably, the greatest difficulty marketers face. How can you push consumers to find out more about what your institution has to offer? How do you motivate customers and members to learn about your additional products and services?

One of the simplest tactics is to capitalize on the Scarcity Principle – people want what they can’t have. Use clear expiration dates on offers or create exclusivity, e.g. “Special Offer ONLY for Facebook Followers!” The sense of a time limit or “secret club” helps people feel special and generate a sense of urgency to act.

Another tactic utilizes Availability Heuristic, or the tendency for people to judge future events and/or needs based on the availability of examples. For instance, if you hear a large number of home break-in stories on the news or among friends, you may be more likely to overestimate the probability of your own home experiencing an invasion. You may then begin to look into updating your homeowner’s insurance, doors, and locks. You might even investigate installing a security system. Similarly, banks and credit unions can use stories to trigger memories of when financial services were needed – and boost response in the process.


The human brain is lazy. Yes, even yours…and mine, too. Fortunately, there are proven ways to appeal to our standard wiring – leveraging stories, emotions, and even our own subconscious biases to gain attention, stick in the memory, and increase response.

A special thanks to The Financial Brand Forum 2018 and Nancy Harhut of HBT Marketing for an informative session with a great deal of information to share!

Discover how you can use these marketing tactics where cardholders least expect it - at the ATM! Click here to request a demo.

Topics: atm marketing, financial brand forum, neuromarketing, credit union marketing, bank marketing


Written by Rebecca Hellmann

Rebecca Hellmann has been researching and writing in the payments technology industry for over six years. Prior to the payments industry, Rebecca developed marketing, branding, and content for businesses such as Bil-Jac, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, and Homestead Furniture. She currently works as Director of Marketing for FCTI, Inc.
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