The Marriage of Science and Marketing


The marketing industry has been transformed in recent years. In the past, there was a vague understanding that certain types of advertising could affect purchasing behaviour, but there was no real scientific approach to marketing. Some companies conducted basic research, but most simply created advertisements based on what emotionally appealed to them, not necessarily their customers.

In the 90’s and 2000’s marketing methods became much more scientific. Researchers have discovered a lot of new things about consumers, and marketers are using those findings to create more effective advertising campaigns. This doesn’t mean there won’t be any more spectacular failures in the future, but they likely won’t be as common.


A Baby’s Smile

Using cute babies to sell products isn’t a new development. We’ve always known on the subconscious level that their cure little smiles were appealing, but we never really gave any thought to what might be going on inside the brain. There is actually real science behind what’s happening here.

That adorable little baby puts a smile on our face and smiling triggers our brain chemistry. There was an article about this in Psychology Today a few years back that explained it quite well. When we smile endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin are all released making us feel better about ourselves.

Dopamine is a chemical that makes us feel pleasure and endorphins are the body’s natural pain reliever. When you throw in serotonin, which lifts your mood, the overall effect is positive on the body. If we can use babies in advertising effectively, it can trigger these emotions and could potentially lead to an increase in sales.


No Mr. Spock Among Us

There are plenty of things that marketers have learned about consumers using scientific research. For one thing, we don’t necessarily think rationally when making purchasing decisions. We all like to think we make rational decisions, but our emotions and subconscious often take over. For those Star Trek fans out there, there aren’t too many emotionless Mr. Spock’s among us.

According to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of our buying decisions are made on the subconscious level. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With all of the things we have to process in a day, either online or in the real world, it can be a little overwhelming. Our subconscious can access all of our experiences over a lifetime and help us to make some good decisions – they’re just not conscious ones.


A Bigger Bag

Another key thing that marketers have learned from scientific research is that consumers will usually make purchase decisions based on perceived value. The product in question may be a better deal, but it might not be – the key is that we feel like we’re getting a bargain.

A good example is a bag of potato chips. The bags have gotten bigger over the years, but the amount of potato chips in those bags hasn’t increased. The makers of our favorite snacks have used marketing research to appeal to our desire for a better deal. Our perception of reality is skewed by a clever marketing ploy.


Creating a Strong Brand Identity

Brand loyalty is also something we can understand better using science. Apple for example did a ton of research before they released they’re ground-breaking iPhone. They found that customers wanted a product that did everything and the iPhone delivered. They stuck with the Apple model of keeping tight control over their ecosystem and it’s paid off with a great deal of brand loyalty.

iPhone users are loyal to a fault. There may be other phones with better cameras or more storage, but they won’t switch no matter what. Any company that wants to overcome this kind of brand loyalty has to create an overwhelming argument for their product. Marketers have to use every tool available to them, including scientific approaches.


How Classical Conditioning Sells

Marketing is the science of persuasion and it’s a lot of hard work. Most of us are familiar with the classic scientific example of Pavlov’s dog. Humans are just as much creatures of habit as that dog was. In this case, Pavlov would ring a bell every time he fed his dog. Eventually the dog learned to associate the bell with food and would salivate even when there was no food present.

Marketers know through research that consumers exhibit similar behavior. They used this knowledge to develop advertising that appeals to our Pavlovian conditioning. The baby example we used earlier is a good example. If a product becomes associated with a smiling baby, there’s a good chance we’ll develop a positive opinion of that product.


Marketing Needs Science

Consumers these days are far more knowledgeable than they were in the past. They’ve also become very loyal to certain brands. If a marketing department wants to be able to change consumer behavior, they have to have a strong argument to convince them to make a switch. It’s only through a combination of traditional marketing techniques and applied scientific principles that they can achieve the success they’re looking for.