Using neuroscience in customer research

Article

22, Sep 2020. 06:21am

After a morning run, I don’t have a lot of time to make breakfast, so I just search my kitchen cabinet for an RXBAR, and am delighted before I even open the package. The feeling isn’t just because it’s a deserved treat, but seeing the simple packaging alerts my brain that I’m grabbing a familiar and nutritious protein bar. When I’m in the grocery store looking at all the protein bars, and see RXBARs, my brain signals the gratifying feeling of eating one after my run. That feeling influences me to continue buying RXBARS. 

The idea that neural activity in the brain triggered by thoughts, feelings, and actions can influence me as a shopper has been studied by marketing professionals for several years. According to Harvard Business Review Neuromarketing: What you need to know, neuromarketing, also known as consumer neuroscience, studies the brain to predict consumer behavior and decision making. To study the brain, the primary tools are fMRI scans (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and EEG (electroencephalogram). fMRI measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow, while EEG reads brain-cell activity using sensors placed on a subject’s scalp. 

Economical alternatives 

Those primary tools are effective but costly, so neuromarketers have sought other, more  economical methods, like eye tracking—a method that is used to back up other kinds of analysis. Entrepreneur Neil Patel says that using heat maps on a website landing page lets us see what is catching the visitor’s eye and what the visitor is clicking on. 

We put the heat map to the test in a short survey of 31 subjects at pharmaceutical company Truepill’s website. The male and female subjects ranged in age from 30 to 69, and had no previous knowledge of the company or the field it’s in. We wanted to understand what a visitor would learn about the company’s brand, work, and goals from its website home page. 


To begin, we asked the subjects what the company does. The overwhelming response was “something to do with healthcare.” Truepill is a pharmaceutical company that specializes in enabling digital health businesses to ship medications nationwide. Their logo design is the only giveaway that the company has anything to do with pharmaceuticals, but that wasn’t clear to the survey subjects. Here’s what the response word cloud showed us:

Subjects were also asked what the company does to make their clients’ lives easier: out of 31 responses only 10% said with “medicine;” 50% didn’t have an answer; and 48% had varying answers. Truepill’s landing page specifically talks about “healthcare” and “patient experience” but doesn’t seem to have strong enough keywords or design elements to tell visitors what they do.

On a scale of one to five, one being not likely and five being highly likely, we asked subjects how likely they were to recommend Truepill. About 39% were highly likely to recommend the company, 23% ranked it three to four on the scale, and 10% were not likely to recommend the company. 

Of course, we put the heat map to the test and asked surveyors where they would click on the landing page to request service. 


Most surveyors clicked on the “contact” button because they believed they could get contact details of the company and virtually speak with a representative to learn more about the company’s services. But many also clicked on seemingly less important areas like “Learn More”, relating to their recent equity raise.

The overall learning from the participants’ feedback is that the design and messaging don’t tell visitors enough about Truepill on a first impression. Additionally, improvements could be made to the interactive design elements (links, buttons) to create a clear call-to-action to move the user through the website.  

Take that perception in

Understanding the perceptions behind a customer’s decision is an effective tool for your team when designing packaging, understanding what feelings your brand evokes in customers, or how effectively customers are engaging with your company’s website.

Interested in utilizing these tools for your own website, packages design, or digital platform? Contact us for help on utilizing surveys to validate your creative work. You’ll learn which tools to use, how to structure your questions, and where to make improvements to align your communications with your audiences’ interests.