25 Feb 2015

How to Use the Psychology of Mirror Neurons in Marketing to Grow Your Business

posted in Conversion




So you feel like you are doing everything you can to market your website to potential customers. You’re running native advertising spots, elaborate Adwords campaigns, and extensive remarketing efforts, yet people don’t seem to want what you have to offer.

The problem isn’t your product or service. It’s that people aren’t just going to contact you because you ask them nicely; they need to truly believe that something’s in it for them, that working with you will put them one step closer to the happiness and satisfaction they crave. How do you go about influencing the behavior of these potential customers?

Enter the science of emotions -- specifically the science of mirror neurons.

Actually, if you haven't been under a rock for the last few years, you know that the psychology of how emotions relate to purchasing behavior -- and especially how successful advertising campaigns stimulate our mirror neurons (and empathy) -- is a hot topic among online marketers.

It’s no wonder.

Understanding the science behind emotions and mirror neurons can help you appear more likeable, increase your brand engagement, and up your conversion rate.

The reality is that for successful online marketing to work, it can’t just involve the “throw it and see what sticks” approach.

In a parallel universe, a wall of spaghetti throws itself into a pot to "see what boils." Successful marketing is not done haphazardly.

Successful marketing must be done strategically; it must be carefully planned out. And careful planning means research. It also means staying up-to-date with the latest marketing trends, like the importance of brands flaunting their humanity.

It means understanding, and using, the science of emotions (and mirror neurons) in your marketing campaigns.

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Emotionally Connecting to Customers

If you want to grow your brand and up your conversion rate, you need to consider how customers emotionally connect with you and your company. This is because studies show that people rely on emotions and not logic to make almost all purchasing decisions.

website all the feels

In fact, marketing campaigns that are geared towards a customer’s emotions are twice as successful as campaigns that appeal to a customer’s logic or reasoning. Even ad campaigns that appeal to both logic and emotion are less successful than campaigns that only appeal to emotions.

campaign effectiveness and profit gains Emotional marketing campaigns are given the Three Brain Seal of Approval. Source 

We may think of ourselves as logical people who make decisions like a modern, everyman Socrates, but the science doesn't lie. This article from Psychology Today lists damning statistics that only further illustrate how emotions are king (or queen) for driving purchasing behavior:

Statistics on emotions influencing consumers

As you can see, people use emotions over facts and reason to evaluate brands for trustworthiness or likability.

By now it should be obvious that the intersection of emotions and buying can’t be ignored -- because that intersection influences so much of our buying behavior.

So how does one actually go about influencing customer behavior through emotion? The answer may surprise you.

What connects all of these -- from ideas like human-to-human marketing to the science of how emotions influence buying -- is the attempt to replicate the experience of an actual human connecting with another actual human within the structure of a website.

As Bryan Kramer, author of There is No B2B or B2C: It's Human to Human says in a related blog post, “Businesses do not have emotion. People do. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

And what all these ideas and research point to is that they exist and function through a tiny set of cells in your brain called mirror neurons.

While mirror neurons are becoming increasingly relevant to the science world, applicable to everything from psychology to evolutionary theory, they have a much broader application potential than that.

Before we go into how the science of mirror neurons can work for you and your business, let's provide some background information on what they are and how they work.

Get in losers. We're going to do science. Let the power of science compel you to smarter marketing. Source 

The Science of Mirror Neurons

In the 1990s, scientists in Parma, Italy noticed something unusual about a monkey they were using in a study on the science of physical movement.

The experiment involved attaching sensors to the monkey’s brain to map which neurons controlled specific movements, like, say, reaching an arm out to grab a nut off a table.

One day, while eating an ice cream cone, one of the scientists looked at the monitor displaying the monkey’s brain activity and saw that part of the monkey’s brain lit up. And it was the same part of the brain that lit up when the monkey was eating.

But the monkey wasn't actually eating anything.

After ruling out broken laboratory equipment, they determined that the monkey’s brain was actually mirroring the scientist's actions, or as the monkey watched the scientist eat, its brain acted as if it was also eating.

They called the cells responsible for this strange mimicry “mirror neurons.” And while there are only a few other animals that have them -- like elephants, dogs, whales, and primates -- all humans do. And they affect everything we do or think about.

Mirror neurons are why you feel sad when your friend tells you a sad story. They’re why you wince as if you've been kicked in the crotch if you see it happen to someone else.

Related to this, Jacob Braude of Fast Company writes:

[R]esearchers revealed that the word "cinnamon" activates the same part of your brain that turns on when you actually smell cinnamon. You understand the word by simulating the actual experience in your unconscious—just like you are doing right now. Can you almost smell the cinnamon? That’s simulation.

In fact, without mirror neurons, scientists speculate, shared human experience would be darn near impossible.

Unsurprisingly, the science of mirror neurons is of great importance to marketers.

Mirror Neurons in Advertising

Let’s say you’d like to get people to purchase your services after visiting your website. You might try to engage smart marketing practices to accomplish this, like using some of the strategies in this Entrepreneur article on the emotional triggers that get people to take action.

You might read that Susan Gunelius, the article’s author, believes that, “Your [website] copywriting should accomplish two goals: It should make consumers feel something, and it should make them act on those feelings.”

From this you’ll garner that to get people to fulfill your site goals, you’ll need to foster a specific environment that makes people willing to feel and act in a certain way. So how are you going to create that environment? How are you going to get visitors to feel and behave in the ways that you want?

Foster an environment on your website that drives people to feel and act in a specific way.

Let’s go back to that quote about mirror neurons by Jacob Braude, specifically this part: “[R]esearchers revealed that the word ‘cinnamon’ activates the same part of your brain that turns on when you actually smell cinnamon.”

Because the word for a sensory experience gets our minds to act as if we are physically experiencing it, one can shape the copy and images of a website to create desired sensations and actions in site visitors.

So, if I want to get a site visitor to smell cinnamon, perhaps because I’m a company like Cinnabon where cinnamon is my raison d’etre, I’ll use that word prominently in the site copy. Or better yet, I’ll use an image of all my drool-worthy foods that contain cinnamon along with the word cinnamon in the site copy:

cinnabon with cinnamon highlighted Now my tongue won’t stop crying for cinnamon. 

It doesn't matter that a site visitor isn't actually smelling or tasting that cinnamon. Their brain will show neural activity as if they are.

And once our brains think we are doing something, we are more likely to actually do it. So if you get a site visitor’s brain to think it’s performing a specific action, like, say, eating a succulent cinnamon roll with cream cheese frosting (stop crying, tongue!), they are more likely to purchase (and eat) that cinnamon roll.

In addition to influencing site visitors to feel or act in ways you want, brands that work to stimulate their customers’ mirror neurons also come across as more interesting and likable. For example, a study about the effects on mirror neurons by TV commercials found that:

The more each commercial spoke to the mirror neuron, the more positive the respondents were inclined towards the advertised brand and the stronger their interest to purchase. Likewise, the commercials showed an increase in both direct interest, appeal, and likability and also in the potential for follow-through and recall.The bottom line? Used skillfully, mirror neurons can help brands to create far more engaging communication strategies that can powerfully deliver their emotional proposition.

So if you want to get people to fulfill the goals of your website, you have to have site copy and images that get them to experience what it would be like to use your products and services.

This can be anything from sensory-rich descriptions to photos or videos that show someone engaging in the actions you want your site visitors to mimic.

For example, this Lush product page for one of their bubble bars uses sensory descriptions in order to get me to imagine what their product would smell and feel like if I use it:

Lush Blue Skies & Fluffy White Clouds Copy

Phrases like “[e]xotic frankincense oil has a woody, grounding aroma” and “feel yourself float through swirly blue skies and fluffy white clouds” trick my brain into actually thinking I am smelling and feeling these things.

Lush doesn't stop there. If you scroll down the page, you’ll find a video of instructions on how to use their product:

lush how to use video

The video shows a woman demonstrating the step-by-step process of using one of their bubble bars. And because of those mirror neurons, every action I watch the woman perform, my brain acts as if I am performing, too.

Both of these things -- the sensory copy and the instruction video -- ramp up my brain to buy and use one of their bubble bars.

Mirror neurons don’t just relate to basic mimicry and simulation. They can also be used to create specific, predictable reactions in website visitors that also help boost your conversions.

Mirror Neurons and Pain

You can also increase the success of your marketing campaign by getting your customers to feel some pain. This seems counterintuitive -- after all most of us avoid pain like the dickens (I know I do). But the idea of getting your customers to feel pain (or discomfort) when they visit your website as a strategy that boosts conversion is well known. In a piece for Marketing Land on the psychology of what makes people click on a landing page, Neil Patel writes:

[H]ere’s the thing about pain: in marketing, it’s good because pain produces action. And action is exactly what we want when a user is on our landing page. We want them to click, right? To click, they need to feel a little bit of pain. We need to remind them of the discomfort or lack of comfort they are experiencing due to the absence of your product or service. [emphasis mine]

So to get people interested in your product, you want them to feel a little pain. You want to remind them of discomfort so they can see that their discomfort is caused by not having a product or service you offer. Above all else, you want them to see your product or service as an urgent option to remedy that discomfort.

That means creating environments that simulate a specific negative experience in site visitors. And what makes site visitors have that simulated experience? It’s those mirror neurons again.

For example, check out the homepage for the animal charity, Hope For Paws:

Hope For Paws homepage

Hope For Paws rescues homeless dogs and cats.The biggest thing on the homepage is a dramatic video of an animal rescue, which starts playing immediately after the page loads.

The particular rescue video shown above details the rescue of a Siberian Husky (named Miley) who was found living on a trash heap and was near death.

Miley is skeletally thin and covered in swollen, suppurating wounds, and she is barely able to walk to the animal rescuer's van.

It’s upsetting to see an animal like this -- especially one that we as humans value so much in our own lives. Seeing an animal suffering to that degree makes me empathize with it -- it makes me feel pained and disturbed.

And the reason I emphasize with its suffering is because my mirror neurons are causing me to mirror the suffering I’m seeing.

Because humans usually seek to avoid pain or discomfort at all costs, I am going to look for anything I can find to alleviate it. Now that I feel this pain, I’m going to be open to a remedy to alleviate that discomfort. Cue the rescue shelter:

hope for paws miley getting treatment

The video shifts to the people who work at the center to rehabilitate the animals. We see Miley being lovingly bathed, bandaged, and fed treats while she recuperates and waits to be adopted.

When I see people engaging in the physical actions that rehabilitate Miley, like bathing her, my brain lights up like I am actually doing those actions -- like I am actually the one bathing and taking care of her.

And because my brain thinks I’m already doing these actions, I’m going to be more likely to do those actions in real life.

Now the video moves on to how Miley is doing several weeks later.

hope for paws miley super happy Weeks later, Miley is a happy -- and gorgeous -- Siberian Husky.

Hope For Paws made me mirror the pain I saw, and then mirror the actions the rescue workers used to remove that pain. So now when they show Miley as happy and energetic -- and completely recovered -- the complete cessation of pain I see creates a complete cessation of pain in me.

This would be the perfect time for me to see a CTA button so I can act on all that emotional mirroring by donating money to their organization. And Hope For Paws delivers not just one, but three CTA buttons on their site for that purpose. There is one at the end of the video and two others built into the homepage design:

hope for paws hompage ctas highlighted It’s a magical triforce -- only with a lot less Zelda. 

Once they have influenced you into feeling pain, they make it really easy to remedy it.

And because mirror neurons are not something we control or are conscious of, I may not be conscious of how or if that influence is working.

That’s why my first thought when I looked at this video was, “Oh, that poor puppy.” It was not, “This page uses mirror neurons effectively.”

Unwittingly, I had followed along with the emotional script Hope For Paws wanted me to feel when I watched the video. It wasn't until I started analyzing the marketing strategy for this homepage that I understood why the video appealed to me on some kind of gut level.

In fact, the cessation of pain I witnessed was actually so compelling that I ended up spending an entire evening watching every other rescue video on their webpage. I also cried three times.

Now you may not have the kind of charismatic business that moves people to tears like this, but you can still create and then remedy a little pain in your visitors to up your conversion rate. It’s a strategy every business can incorporate into their webpage with a little tweaking.

And don’t worry if the idea of making your customers feel pain is outside your comfort level. The great thing about marketing towards our mirror neurons is that we aren't really aware that this process of mental mimicry is occurring when it actually happens. It’s unconscious -- not something we control.

In the end, it’s one of the reasons why using the science of mirror neurons in marketing is so powerful. It’s hugely successful in getting site visitors to do or feel what you want, and when done right, site visitors won’t actually notice that they’re being influenced at all. And that’s every marketers dream, right?

Mirror Neurons and Marketing [A Resource List]

The science of mirror neurons is completely fascinating, and there were resources and articles that I found myself unable to keep away from while writing and researching this post. (Unlike a lot of ideas in marketing, this concept seems to sell itself.)

I've compiled a list of my favorite resources on emotion, mirror neurons, and marketing. If you want to learn more about them, these eight pieces (in no particular order) will jump-start your learning process.

1. Ankit Oberoi’s The Science of Storytelling & Memory and Their Impact on CRO

This is the piece that ignited my interest in emotion and its relationship to marketing. It’s a fabulous treatise on how storytelling, emotions, and mirror neurons intersect in the most successful marketing campaigns. It’s one of those pieces I love so much that I constantly look for a way to reference it in my writing.

2. Courtney Seiter’s The Science of Emotion in Marketing: How Our Brains Decide What to Share and Whom to Trust

This fascinating post maps out how different emotions get us to behave in order to capitalize on them for marketing and branding. There’s also some nice information about which emotions are more likely to get something to go viral.

3. Jeremy Rifkin’s The Empathic Civilization

Want to learn about mirror neurons in a more visual format? This TEDTalk discusses both how we evolved empathy and the role of mirror neurons in our lives as illustrated by animated awesomely quirky whiteboard drawings.

4. Dr. Hildegard Keller-Kern’s I Feel What You Feel: Mirror Neurons and Advertising

This post gives you some examples of using mirror neurons in advertising. It also has some advice on how to create a new marketing campaign with mirror neurons in mind.

5. Jacob Braude’s Mirror Neurons and Their Role in Marketing

This piece really illustrates why understanding how mirror neurons work is so essential for successful marketing and advertising. It’s one of my favorites.

6. Jeremy Smith’s 3 Conversion Psychology Principles to Test on Your Landing Page

This great resource is about the psychological triggers (like happiness or pain) that get people to click on your landing page. Its take on the role of pain in compelling site visitors was especially interesting.

7. Derek Halpern’s Social Media Marketers’ Best Kept Secret: Mirror Neurons

If you want a piece that discusses mirror neurons and marketing at their most digestible, this is the one. It’s short and to the point, but I found myself referring back to it a lot.

8. Jess Marranco’s Human-to-Human Marketing: A Trend for 2015 and Beyond

This is another piece that I’m always finding ways to reference. It’s all about the successful strategies behind likable, empathic brands.

Have a great example of an ad that stimulated your mirror neurons to sell a product or service? Share it with me in the comments or shoot me a tweet @HRodabaugh.



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