I have a love-hate relationship with the “buy button in the brain,” first popularized by my virtual friends Christophe Morin and Patrick Renvoise in their book, Neuromarketing: Understanding the Buy Buttons in Your Customer’s Brain. The “buy button” is a brilliant metaphor – it cuts through the jargon of neuroscience and business with admirable simplicity and tactile overtones. Our brains like metaphors and sensory imagery, and the buy button offers both.

The Dark Side of Simplicity

The buy button has two drawbacks as a metaphor for what neuromarketing can do. First, it’s derided as overly simplistic by neuroscientists. They note that human decision making is complex and often involves a delicate balancing act between various areas of the brain as well as both conscious and non-conscious factors. I’m sure even Morin, now a card-carrying neuroscientist himself, would agree that the metaphor sacrifices some neuroscientific accuracy in favor of simplicity.

The second problem with the buy button is that scares the bejesus of gullible consumerists who believe that marketers actually can create ads that turn consumers into drones incapable of making their own decisions. As ludicrous as this sounds, every few months a consumerist critic (or, as I prefer to say, a “neuro-alarmist”) trots out the buy button rhetoric as a call to action against corporate evil.

Enter the Neuro-Nudge

Not long ago, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein wrote Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. That book, also highly recommended, focused on the power of decision architecture to influence behavior. Making a 401K retirement plan an opt-out decision instead of opt-in increases participation, for example – a highly desirable goal in a nation where defined benefit pension plans are all but gone.

I like the term “nudge” a lot, as it implies a gentle push but neither coercion nor certainty of outcome.

I’ve been using the term “neuro-nudge” in my more recent neuromarketing speaker gigs, and I feel it captures the essence of much of the advice you’ll find here at Neuromarketing and in my book Brainfluence. None of these techniques will overcome a terrible product or awful marketing. Rather, in conjunction with a solid product and well-executed marketing, they can provide a little push in the direction of turning a browser into a buyer or a prospect into a customer.

I also like the neuro-nudge metaphor because it applies to many situations – non-profit fundraising, for example, or management/leadership topics.

Got Metaphor?

What do you think about buy buttons and neuro-nudges? More importantly, do YOU have a good metaphor for what brain and behavior-based techniques can accomplish for marketers? Leave a comment with your thoughts!