Review: The Buying Brain: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind by A. K. Pradeep

The world of neuromarketing seems to be shrouded in mystery. There are no university studies that conclusively demonstrate that one can improve advertising effectiveness or design better products using brain scans or biometrics. Virtually all of the neuromarketing research to date has taken place within private companies, who tend to release few details of their work both for competitive reasons and to protect client relationships. So, it was with great anticipation that I read The Buying Brain by NeuroFocus CEO, Dr. A. K. Pradeep. NeuroFocus, a unit of Nielsen, is the largest provider of neuromarketing services.

Readers will derive two main benefits from The Buying Brain. First, they will gain a much better understanding of how neuromarketing studies are conducted and the rationale for reaching conclusions about advertising effectiveness. Dr. Pradeep doesn’t reveal the detailed analytical techniques employed by NeuroFocus, but does give readers a good sense of the techniques used and metrics employed.

The second benefit is the actionable advice Pradeep offers based on the wealth of data accumulated by NeuroFocus. Even marketers who don’t have the budget to hire a neuromarketing company can apply the recommendations in The Buying Brain. Specific chapters address selling to Boomers, Men, Women, and “Mommies,” while other chapters look at findings related to advertising, branding, retail selling, product design, and packaging.

In the best neuromarketing tradition, many chapters start with a “story” – a case study of a particular problem NeuroFocus studied. The beginning of the story sets the stage for a longer discussion of the marketing issues involved and some the relevant findings, followed by the conclusion of the story and a few summary “takeaway” points. The chapter on packaging, for example, begins with the tale of an unspecified marketer whose product was losing market share to a competitor, possibly due to weak package design. Pradeep then launches into a detailed discussion on packaging variables and what NeuroFocus has learned about them.

California Olive RanchIn the middle of the packaging chapter, Pradeep inserts an additional case study, California Olive Ranch, who was designing a bottle for a new olive oil. The product was entering a crowded market with long-established brands, and using the packaging to attract customers and highlight the product’s unique features was critical. Two label designs, one featuring a stylized map of California and the other an olive orchard, were tested. Both designs were found to be more effective than competitor labels, but the “orchard” label topped the “map” label in every category. Pradeep discusses the findings and their additional recommendations in detail.

Returning to the problem that started the packaging chapter, the share-losing package was evaluated and found to be less engaging and memorable than its competition. The package was redesigned to correct some of the problems observed (e.g., competitive images were more engaging), and, according to Pradeep, sales rose.

The book’s strength, its insider access, will be viewed as a weakness by some readers. Dr. Pradeep gives us a first-hand view of how neuromarketing studies take place at NeuroFocus, but some will argue that he is promoting the firm and its particular approach to market research. Given the fact that so little has been written about the inner workings of neuromarketing studies and that competing firms were unlikely to grant Dr. Pradeep access to their own proprietary work, I think readers will find the emphasis on his own firm’s work is acceptable.

I would have liked to see more hard data and references in The Buying Brain. Many statements are made about buyer behavior that can’t be tracked to either research published by others or backed up by specific data in the book itself. While there is a “Notes and Sources” section for each chapter, these are far from detailed footnotes that would let the interested reader explore some of the referenced research in more detail. In addition, the book omits quantitative data and controlled studies that would serve to validate its many conclusions and recommendations. The packaging study, for example, gave no details as to the product type, how specifically the problems were quantified, how big the lift in sales was, and what controls, if any, were in place to verify that the new design was responsible for the increase. While omitting the kind of details one might find in a scholarly work makes the book more accessible for the lay reader, it won’t do much to quiet skeptics.

Overall, The Buying Brain is a must-read for anyone with marketing, advertising, and packaging responsibility. The insider’s view of neuromarketing in action is interesting, and specific, actionable advice make it a good addition to any marketing bookshelf.

As is typical here at Neuromarketing, rather than try to jam everything of interest into one review article, watch this space for some great neuro-nuggets from The Buying Brain.

Amazon link: The Buying Brain: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind.
Kindle link: The Buying Brain: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind

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This post was written by:

— who has written 957 posts on Neuromarketing.

Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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8 responses to "The Buying Brain by A. K. Pradeep" — Your Turn

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Ron Wright
Twitter: Sands_Research
5. August 2010 at 5:47 pm

Roger -

Your comment – “Given the fact that so little has been written about the inner workings of neuromarketing studies and that competing firms were unlikely to grant Dr. Pradeep access to their own proprietary work, I think readers will find the emphasis on his own firm’s work is acceptable.”

As a competitor to NeuroFocus, let me state that we were not approached by Dr. Pradeep to disclose or collaborate on the methodologies Sands Research uses in providing our neuromarketing services. We would have been happy to do so for his book but fully understand his desire to promote NeuroFocus’s approach.

We have been very open on disclosing our procedures of EEG data collection and analysis (webinars, white papers, etc.). We (and NF) utilize methods which are widely accepted by the cognitive neuroscience research community. However, there are some unique algorithms Sands Research uses for analysis which is proprietary intellectual property which naturally, we would not make public.

Basically there are two “camps” in the neuromarketing field. One camp uses accepted research methodologies of collecting whole head EEG data while using standard conductive gel to achieve clean data recordings. Sands and NeuroFocus are in this group along with companies based in Europe and Australia. The other camp are collecting muscle and heart rate signals and/or using a single head band of dry electrodes. A practice few in the cognitive neuroscience research community have accepted and adopted for brain research data collection.

I applaud Dr. Pradeep’s effort to broaden the understanding of neuromarketing and my copy will be on the bookshelf next to Martin Lindstrom’s “Buy*ology” as foundations in the growth of applying neuroscience to market research.

Ron Wright
President / CEO
Sands Research Inc.
http://www.sandsresearch.com

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Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
6. August 2010 at 6:50 am

Ron, I’m glad to hear of your company’s willingess to share data. (I’d add that my comment about competing firms was my assumption alone.) What the neuromarketing industry really needs are some published, controlled tests that demonstrate the effectiveness of properly interpreted EEG, fMRI, and/or biometric data in predicting ultimate buyer behavior after, say, viewing different advertisements.

Roger

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Caroline Winnett 5. August 2010 at 7:29 pm

Roger,

Thanks for your excellent review. Always very eager to hear your thoughts and comments on all things Neuromarketing. I’m so glad you enjoyed the book!

Caroline

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Phil Barden
Twitter: philbarden
6. August 2010 at 5:33 am

I’m looking forward to reading this – but a brief response to Ron’s post above. ‘Basically there are two “camps” in the neuromarketing field’ – I assume you mean in the EEG neuromarketing field. Clearly, fMRI is another approach in the overall field.

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Ephraim 6. August 2010 at 8:32 pm

Roger,
I too enjoyed reading Dr. Pradeep’s book and agree with you regarding the actionable advice Dr. Pradeep offers. Marketers who don’t have the budget to hire a neuromarketing company can apply the recommendations in The Buying Brain. Dr. Pradeep’s advice is very practical and usable. The specific chapters address selling to Boomers, Men, Women, and “Mommies,” was very informative and I found the other chapters regarding the findings related to advertising, branding, retail selling, product design, and packaging to be very enlightening. “The Buying Brain” brings neuromarketing closer to being the research of choice to understand consumers.

As Neuromarketing becomes more and more mainstream I look forward to reading more of your excellent comments.

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Joey 13. August 2010 at 10:55 pm

This book is offers nothing but sparsely laid common sense about neuroscience, very actual practical advice. Most of it just explains what Neurofocus ltd does and why it works, and is so great. I suspect its just part of a marketing campaign to sell Neurofocus ltd, plus make some money on the way.

The book has sparse insights into the buying mind, maybe I am just too well-read to be tricked by this kind of book. Most of the book describes Neurofocus’s various patented secret strategies for analysing why people buy, yet it never really discloses or gives out any solid advice, or what the scientific results was behind their EEG techniques.

Each chapter is like another sales presentation on what Neurofocus does and why it works, without ever really telling you what they discovered, apart from really vague common sense advice like appease to your customer’s sense. Elaborate examples often point out to the raise of sales after companies used Neurofocus, but never really show or tell in detail what the reader can do.

The so called revelations, other reviewers are praising are really common sense to us entreprenuers for a good past decade. Who didn’t know women were taking more of the market, or that baby boomers will trigger the next big thing?

Anyways I am investing in another book by a guy called Patrick, this one seemingly is going to offer more practical info. I hope amazon refunds this book which I bought for kindle.

Please consider strongly before making this purchase and putting money into Neurofocus Ltd. I am 100% certain there isn’t a lot of advice, just promotional waffle about Neurofocus as the guy from Sands Research here rightly pointed out.

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anon 12. October 2010 at 3:43 am

As a person who works at NeuroFocus, I find Dr. Pradeep to be extremely sharp. As someone who directly works on what you guys call the NF “secret sauce”, I am quite aware about the need for limited information to the general public.
I did not appreciate the book at all though, because our processes do not align directly with what Dr. Pradeep propounds. In the end though, he is a marketing guy and this is just one more way to sell our company.
As a leader though, he’s amazing and I am sure NF will scale heights.

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Robert 28. July 2011 at 12:13 pm

I share some of the sentiments above.

Unfortunately the book doesn’t offer much over glorified marketing for NeuroScience. At times I found the book painfully boring and extremely difficult to read however continued in the hope that I was finally going to get to the informative bit. It never happened.

Although there were tid bits of useful information, the vast majority was repackaged marketing knowledge from 10 years ago.

Throughout the book Dr Pradeep promised ‘surprising insights from the world’s leading marketing lab’. The only thing that really surprised me from this book is the fact that he would put his company’s reputation on the line by deceitfully marketing his company and using the guise that he is giving readers genuine information that is not known by almost anyone with any common sense.

If I hadn’t thrown the book away in disgust I would have tried to get a refund from Amazon.

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7 responses to "The Buying Brain by A. K. Pradeep" — Your Turn

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