What Can Public Relations Learn from Neuromarketing?


Gary McCormick
Note: This is guest post by Gary McCormick, chairman and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America (more bio info below).

When The New York Times published its fascinating article last month on the emerging practice of neuromarketing, I, like many other public relations professionals, took notice of this intriguing science and began researching its uses and benefits.

Suddenly, dozens of questions came to mind: How did this science develop? What are the foundational principles of the practice? (Did it evolve from traditional marketing, neuroscience or a combination of the two?) Are there any established best practices and standards that marketing and public relations professionals should follow?

The latter question is, perhaps, the most pressing for me and my professional colleagues in the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). As the Society’s chairman and CEO, I expressed our general feeling of intrigue about the benefits of neuromarketing, but also some concerns, in a Nov. 21 letter to the editor of The New York Times.

Like other still-emerging practices, neuromarketing presents tremendous opportunities to savvy public relations practitioners who can envision how its blending of technology, biometrics, measuring techniques from neuroscience and traditional marketing practices might benefit their clients. But like other emerging technologies and practices, there are inherent risks that may arise if neuromarketing — or similar promising concepts — is not thoroughly understood, and if its impact and level of influence is not respected by public relations professionals.

All of which begs the larger question: What value does the public relations profession wish to gain from neuromarketing techniques?

Below are a few of my thoughts on this question; I’m interested to know your thoughts, as well.


How do we best explain the value of neuromarketing, both to clients and the lay person, in a manner that does not induce negative thoughts of subliminal or subconscious messaging techniques?

Due to previous attempts by marketers and advertisers to play into people’s subconscious-purchasing decisions (e.g. brainwashing), the public is often wary of any attempt at influence in a manner that is not inherently upfront and transparent. As public relations professionals, and as a professional association that has as its cornerstone the industry-leading PRSA Member Code of Ethics, we seek to inform the public in a transparent and honest manner about all forms of messaging and communication they receive, the motivations behind that messaging and how it was developed. Anything less simply will not pass muster with our members and the ethical values of our profession.

Understanding Consumer Influence

What are the techniques public relations practitioners can take from neuromarketers to better understanding how and why consumers are influenced by specific messaging? What subtle changes could practitioners make to their communications and messaging strategies that would engender a higher degree of influence and understanding among our publics?

In its definition of public relations, PRSA makes it clear how vital it is that organizations “recognize the need to understand the attitudes and values of [their publics] — and to develop effective relationships with — many different stakeholders, such as employees, members, customers, local communities, shareholders and other institutions, and with society at large.”

Communications & Messaging

Which types of communications elicit the strongest and/or most positive feedback from consumers? In other words: What drives and influences people with their purchasing the decision-making processes?

As I noted in a previous blog post on this subject at PRSAY, the PRSA executive blog, the next decade, like its predecessor, will likely offer an array of fascinating opportunities in the development of emerging practices and technologies that will enhance the strategic business value of public relations . . . if used properly and within ethical standards and best practices.

And one of those emerging practices is neuromarketing, a truly fascinating new science and practice that has broad and promising implications for public relations.

  1. michael says

    I’ve been using neurolinguists and neuromarketing for years as a broadcaster to craft messaging that elicits a vivid response from consumers.

    A rule of thumb “those who speak in the most vivid and imaginative way are those who are most remembered”.

    Writing any sort of copy…whether sales or marketing materials, the writer must use vivid action words that elicit a response…a call to action…a motivation that can drive behavior.

    Writing copy is not about the brand…it’s about how the end user will engage once they process it…it’s a great art once learned!

  2. Rich Calo says

    “Those who speak in the most vivid and imaginative way are those who are most remembered”.

    As an anthropologist who works in the advertsing world, yes, this works best and always has. That’s why the tribal storyteller has typically been so influential. And why the best way to “sell” a product is still to create a story around it, especially if that story is infused with mystique. Those who best tell a variant of that story, are the ones who make the most sales (there were, after all, gifted story-tellers, and those not so gifted).

  3. Aimee Woodall says

    As you suggest, neuromarketing techniques have the potential to change standard PR strategies. Who doesn’t want to understand the customer better? But at some level, measuring the rate of change of the dilation of consumers’ pupils is a little extreme. We looked at Campbell’s recent stab and neuromarketing here. (http://theblacksheepagency.com/blog/index.php/site/deets/so_many_many_reasons_theyre_so_mmmmmm_fooled#i)
    In the end, we believe in science. But we also believe that a successful PR campaign needs to start by logically standing in the customers’ shoes.

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