Neuromarketing and sustainability: How to look into the minds of your customers

Emotions in marketing are also crucial for sustainable companies. Learn here how you can create sustainable customer loyalty with neuromarketing.
Limbic systems have always been the subject of research.

It accompanies us every day: seemingly unstoppable climate change is advancing, floods suddenly dominate everyday life, plastic waste is strangling the ocean and the earth, people and animals are threatened by exploitation, droughts and extreme weather. In the wake of all this, thousands of images hit us every day. One of them you will certainly recognise: A koala with scorched fur and hands being given water by a helper after a forest fire.

Right here you can make an important observation that is invaluable for your understanding of human beings. Recall the image and imagine you see the injured koala in the burnt forest. What feelings does the sight trigger in you? What thoughts? From anger to fear and despair, you will surely reach a certain point: You will want to help.

Every time something touches us like this, no matter how big or small the thing itself is, it is clear that something deep inside us has just been addressed. But why is that? And what does this have to do with marketing for sustainable businesses?

A lot: because behind all feelings, thoughts and ultimately also (purchase) decisions there are emotion and motivation systems that we are usually not aware of at all in everyday life - and therefore offer the basis for targeted neuromarketing.

Sounds morally reprehensible? Don't worry: neuromarketing is not witchcraft, but used correctly and responsibly, it is an important tool to make people aware of the sustainability of your company and thus to do something good.

In our article, we will show you the principles of neuromarketing, which motivation and emotion systems are specifically relevant in the area of sustainability and how you can ensure that your company and your vision receive the deserved reach and commitment with precise knowledge of your customers and precise formulations.

Understanding emotions: What happens inside me when I see something?

The question of what makes us tick has occupied us since time immemorial. The processes in our brain are complex: we see something like the picture of the koala and absorb it - even if we try to suppress it. This instantly triggers a chain of feelings and thoughts, such as "This shouldn't happen. I feel powerless. What can I do?

The fascinating thing is that we are often not aware of these processes or even have no access to them at all, because so many processes happen as if automatically.

To understand this subconscious, countless studies have been and continue to be conducted every year. And to harness it, the advertising industry has always invested a great deal of money, from subliminal advertising to A/B testing, to enable accurate targeting of advertising efforts to the subconscious systems of potential customers. The union with the scientific approach forms a field of research all its own that is invaluable to any business that wants to get noticed in the world: Neuromarketing.

Because we humans are influenced by thousands of factors in our lives and everyday life - our culture, our social context, our age, our gender and especially our individual experiences. This makes for very unique expressions of thinking and feeling in each and every one of us.

However, fundamental trends and commonalities in our emotions and motivations unite us to an extent that determines our entire lives and that you can use for yourself as a company with the help of neuromarketing.

Neuromarketing 101: The Basics

Emotional systems determine how we feel, think and act.
Emotional systems determine how we feel, think and act.

The basis of neuromarketing is the empirically researched knowledge of different areas in the brain that are activated by certain stimuli. These are made visible by the so-called limbic map, a map of the different systems in the brain. But which areas are there? And what are they responsible for?

The first division is that of the three emotion systems:

  • Balance - the desire for security and stability, the need to avoid danger and change.
  • Stimulance - the desire for experience and discovery, for novelty and individuality, the need for unknown stimuli and the avoidance of boredom.
  • Dominance - the desire for power, status, superiority and autonomy, the need to assert oneself and leave the competition behind.

The modules fall under these three main systems:

  • In the balance system:
  • Attachment - the search for connection, ensuring the survival of offspring and the desire for personal care and help.
  • Welfare - ensuring the survival of the offspring on the part of the mother, which is also transferred to domestic animals.
  • In the stimulus system:
  • Play - particularly active in young children to improve motor and mental skills, but still pronounced in adults.
  • In the dominance system:
  • Hunt/prey - the inner drive of all bargain hunters.
  • Wrestling - the brain centre for football and co., active when watching and playing any competitive sport with opponents.
  • Sexuality (male/female) - a collaboration of different brain areas with significant differences between the sexes.
  • Appetite/disgust - the association of positive and negative tastes and smells.

Finally, a large number of motivational systems fall under these modules: For example, power and achievement in Dominance, creativity and individuality in Stimulance, tradition and security in Balance, and many more, especially in the overlapping areas between the systems and modules.

Sustainability and marketing: Neuromarketing for advanced learners

For neuromarketing, these divisions and systems are highly interesting because they enable links between products and their underlying emotions and motivations - and thus a precise targeting of marketing measures to activate precisely these emotions and motivations. The following applies: The more motivational and emotional systems are positively addressed, the more valuable the product becomes.

The balance system and the complex of care are particularly interesting for the topic of sustainability. Because this always comes up when it comes to family, friends or pets: every person and every living being that you care about and want to be well.

Therefore, all products and services from gifts to nest-building to social issues, social responsibility as well as care and protection of nature fall under the module of care. Because the underlying need, ensuring the survival of the offspring on the mother's side, also applies in a figurative sense to the preservation of all life on our planet and accordingly includes your entire (environment) world. After all, you want to give yourself, your family and, in the broadest sense, humanity the security of continuing to exist in good health and wellbeing.

An interesting aspect in connection with the caring module is oxytocin: The hormonal social glue activated in this module provides affection and strengthens bonds - and that, if you manage to address the caring module, also between you and your clients.

Finally, not to be underestimated are the power struggles in the mind that arise when several motivational complexes are addressed within us that initially oppose each other. Generally speaking, we feel divided between:

  • Hedonism and asceticism
  • Revolution and conservation
  • and egoism and altruism.

So it is perfectly normal to be torn: different motivations are at work. In terms of sustainability and environmental protection, for example, this often manifests itself in a very specific "all or nothing" way of thinking. This often becomes an excuse not to buy a product or use a service, because on the one hand you feel it makes sense, but on the other hand you have a guilty conscience that it's not enough.

From an entrepreneurial perspective, knowing the power struggles in one's head makes it easier to nudge potential customers in the right direction by directly addressing precisely this conflict - and simply resolving it by invalidating the other side.

What effect do emotions have in marketing when it comes to sustainability?

With neuromarketing, you bring emotion systems to light in a targeted way.
With neuromarketing, you bring emotion systems to light in a targeted way.

With the world's growing awareness of the consequences of human thoughtlessness on nature and our continued existence, it is becoming increasingly relevant for all companies how they stand on sustainability.

So if you are already a sustainable business from the ground up, you have a good chance of appealing to people who care about sustainability - and there are a lot of them, as you can see. But for this to work, not only do they need to see the sustainable nature of your business: You also need to meet their exact emotions and motivations.

Because you will achieve the greatest loyalty through so-called brain-fixers. These are products, services and also missions that tell a story and activate motivation and emotion systems so strongly that there is a great longing for them - i.e. also in the form of a strong brand that recharges these emotions again and again.

In addition, there is also the aspect of multimotivationality in every good brain researcher. Because every situation, every sight, every need can simultaneously trigger different areas of the emotional system or emanate from them. The more reasons, i.e. motivations, one has, the more active the brain is.

In the area of sustainability, too, it is not always about pure care, but there are subcategories: For one, caring is active in combination with an increased need for security, for the other perhaps more together with the need for nest-building. These multimotivational fine-tunings should be taken into account in the orientation of your marketing.

How can I use neuromarketing for my sustainable business?

The best way to use the power of emotions and motivations is to know exactly what makes your customers tick. Otherwise you run the risk of going in completely the wrong direction with your marketing measures and the presentation of your company.

After all, you'll catch a grandmother with different images and descriptions than a teenager or a millennial. If you press too hard on the emotional tear-jerker with the latter, they could easily bail out on you, whereas the granny is much more willing to use her savings for a good cause.

The key to understanding your customers is to create and use a buyer persona. Buyer Persona. With the help of this, you can gain a precise insight into the minds of your existing and potential customers. Because the most important questions for the design of your sustainable company presentation are these:

  • What do my customers feel, think and need?
  • What other components come into play besides care?
  • Are there age or gender differences that I need to take into account?
  • What type of client do I want?

Once you've established this foundation, it's time for practical application at the content level. Keep a close eye on your buyer persona, their needs, desires, challenges and especially their emotions and motivations. Based on this, you then choose your wording and images to present your company and your message exactly the way you want to be seen - and felt! - you want to be seen - and felt!

Note in principle:

  • Be informative, but not cold. Professionalism is one thing, but especially in the field of care, human warmth is crucial - and quite compatible with a competent demeanour.
  • Think about the systems and the buyer persona. When creating content, always be aware: What are you selling? How and why? And which emotions and needs do you want to address and with whom exactly?
  • Be authentic. Especially in the area of sustainability, this is a crucial point. Don't make promises that you don't keep. After all, you can tell when someone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes with greenwashing.

Specifically, you should also pay attention to the emotional and motivational systems. It is better to sell sustainable baby clothes with gentle formulations that convey a lot of security, but also comfort and well-being. For sustainable logistics software, on the other hand, you complement the aspect of care with the motivations of reliability and efficiency.

Neuromarketing: An important tool for your sustainable business

Insight into the minds of your customers is essential for you as a sustainable business. If you know how your customers feel and think, you can convince them why they should follow your good cause by targeting your content - and that's nothing to be ashamed of as a sustainable business.

Despite all the precision, there are of course points that are difficult to predict or assess from the outset. Even if you are convinced that you have struck a chord with your customers, incalculable things can arise, especially in terms of how something you send out into the world is received. This is where methods like A/B testing and - very oldschool - customer surveys can help. Through contact and connection, many question marks will quickly dissolve.

Because basically, knowing our emotional and motivational systems and empathy are the key to your clients. So make it a habit to think and feel your way into them.

You can do this in exactly the same way as we did with the picture of the koala in the burnt forest: go completely outside yourself and imagine you are seeing your text, your page or your product for the first time. What do you notice? What do you see? And most importantly, how do you feel?

Cover image by David Matos. Other images by inara schreibt and Fakurian Design.

About the author

Nora Scharer is Creative Director at inara schreibt. Psychological profiles and the development of unique storylines are her speciality. Language is her colourful execution tray.


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