Dr. Nikolaos Dimitriadis: “We cannot read your mind and see your thoughts. We can only see the processes that generate your thoughts.”
Dr. Nikolaos Dimitriadis is an award-winning communications professional, educator and consultant, and also a certified neuro-marketer. He is the author of the book Neuroscience for Leaders: A Brain Adaptive Leadership Approach, and co-author of Advanced Marketing Management: Principles, Skills and Tools, which will be out this November, just in time for the SEMPL Media Trends Conference. The book introduces the “transformational marketer” who has to adopt four essential skills: neuroscience, predictive analytics, innovation, and decision-making. The professor, who is very enthusiastic about developments in neuroscience, will talk at SEMPL about brain-friendly communication and the need of empathy in leadership.
It was Martin Lindstrom who popularized the term “neuromarketing” in his book Buyology. But that was already a decade ago. From your observations, how successfully have marketers adopted neuromarketing techniques in the last ten years and applied the findings in their marketing communications activities? Which advertisers (i.e. global brands) rely heavily on neuroscience to reach the consumers?
Martin Lindstrom was one of the first who made neuromarketing more popular even among people beyond the business world. He did some very interesting and sometimes controversial studies, and became very vocal about neuromarketing. For some time, he was a global representative of neuromarketing.
But it was not Lindstrom who came up with the term. It all started in 2002 with the book Neuromarketing by Christophe Morin and Patrick Renvoise from SalesBrain, one of the first neuromarketing agencies in the world. These two French-Americans discovered neuromarketing long before Lindstrom, and were actual pioneers in this field. I also got my first certification from their company and became a certified neuro-marketer.
Since the late 90s neuromarketing started to appear around the world and neurotechnology took off. Science progressed very rapidly and now there is hardly any country in the world without at least one neuromarketing agency. Latin America, the USA, the UK, and Asia are very big on neuromarketing. Actually, you would be surprised to find out that China is leading in applying neuroscience not only to marketing and business but to every social interaction. They use neurotechnology in schools to make sure that kids receive brain-friendly education. They also use it in public transport. Some bus drivers in China wear mini EEG (electroencephalography) devices under their hats that measure their frustration, burnout, and focus. This way they can optimize their work experience, make transportation better, lower the number of accidents and save lives. There are also architects who are using neuroscience and neurotechnology to see if what they design is brain-friendly. Even museums are using neuroscience to make sure that the experience of a visitor is optimized according to his/her brain, attention, emotion and interaction with the art pieces.
What we have seen in the last twenty years is not only the application of neuroscience in marketing. It is becoming more pronounced and there are also more academic studies about it. So, for me, the real revolution is the application of neuroscience everywhere. It is actually happening faster than I thought it would and it makes me very satisfied.
There are some ethical considerations regarding the use of neuroscience for marketing purposes. How can marketers tackle them responsibly to gain – and keep – the trust of their customers?
This is a very important question, but there are two misconceptions about neuromarketing. Can neuromarketing read your mind? It cannot. We cannot read your mind and see your thoughts. We are actually talking about the brain. Think of the brain as a foundation where thoughts are generated. We can only see the processes that generate your thoughts. We can define if the brain is happy about something or if it is preparing you to reject something. We can see how the brain pushes you to decide one way or another. We are able to see if a certain message is making you confused. We are also able to see if a mobile application requires more brain energy when placing an order. We only want to find the best ways to communicate in terms of not wasting people’s brain energy, attention and motivation and give them messages that their brain can decode more easily. Then people can decide if they like something or not.
This brings me to the second myth. We cannot ‘brainwash’. What we do is called the science of persuasion. It means that if you do not like something, we cannot and do not want to force you into doing it. Instead, we need to understand how your brain receives information and optimize it in order to save time and money. I think that it is crazy that some companies create products that are very good for you and they develop them with you in mind, but the way they conceive and create an advertisement, a website or a packaging does not come to your brain in the way that your brain would understand, accept it and then buy it. So, this is a missed opportunity for the company that worked so hard to develop a product that satisfies your needs. You would benefit from this product, but their way of communicating is not brain-friendly. This is a problem that a neuromarketer has to solve. Nowadays, we are talking about ‘consumer neuroscience’ rather than neuromarketing because of its negative connotation.
I should add that neuro-marketers follow European and global ethical codes from the European Marketing Association and International Neuroscience Business Association, drafted by Christophe Morin and Patrick Renvoise, and other ethical and legal codes of conducts like GDPR.
What is the idea behind “brain-friendly” communication that you strongly support?
The way we communicate with each other is based on an out-dated model of communication and decision-makling. The model called “homo economicus” is based on the idea of economists and philosophers from the 18th and 19th century when the world was changing; there was an industrial revolution and world trade was expanding. There were some non-scientific ideas that were not tested; they were just observations and assumptions, such as those that human beings are actually rational and they utilize all the information they have. Based on the actual benefit versus cost they decide in a very mathematical way of thinking and decision analysis. So, if you are irrational and emotional you destroy this decision-making process. And we created communication, argumentation and education based on this model, which has been scientifically proven as non-human and our ways of communication are not human-friendly and brain-friendly. Some public messages are very direct and easy to understand. Although your rational part of the brain fully understands the message, there is another part of it, which is stronger. That part is influencing your behaviour and will push you to do the opposite and just blindly follow what other people do. This is called social proof.
Unfortunately, brain-friendly communication and common-sense communication are colliding because we do not have knowledge about neuroscience. Brain-friendly communication is understanding that our message has to satisfy different parts of the brain that have different informational needs. Then there is a higher possibility that the person will behave in the way that the message says.
Why is it important for marketers to adopt brain-friendly communication?
First of all, many marketers and their agencies try but often fail. There are statistics in my new book Advanced Marketing Management that comes out in November, showing that marketing is failing more often than it is succeeding. Less than 10 % of marketing activities succeed. Chief Financial Officers, Chief Operation Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Executive Officers stay in companies longer than Chief Marketing Officers. Why do companies replace CMOs more often? In the time of crisis, companies often cut the marketing budget first. 80 % of CEOs do not trust their CMOs. This is a sign that something needs to change. A few years ago, we thought that “digital” would save us and marketing would finally become predictable and scientific. But it failed because “digital” is just a tool, a channel, and not a fundamental marketing approach. It is a fantastic tool, but it cannot solve strategic problems. Since last year companies have already stopped investing in digital marketing. They are aware that social media involves high risks. It all means that the fundamentals of marketing need to change.
In your new book that you mentioned, you introduce the “transformational marketer”. How does a CMO have to transform for the new era in marketing?
The main question is who is leading the transformation of the companies. Since marketers are the ones who know customers best, they should be in the forefront of any transformation, change and strategy, but they are not. They are losing a huge opportunity to finally lead the corporation. There is a very small percentage of marketers becoming CEOs. The latter are usually from the finance, production and technology departments. A new marketer will not only be a functional leader in the marketing department, but he will have the holistic skills to lead a whole corporation together with the CEO.
In the book, we identified four fundamental skills for marketers, which are neuroscience, predictive analytics, innovation, and decision-making. A new marketer must have predictive skills and has to be very proficient with the data. He has to have great creative problem-solving and decision-making skills. In universities they are taught how to make a media plan, how to do microanalysis, or how to develop advertising brief. But these are just specialist skills, which do not make you a strategic decision maker.
We have also updated the 4P’s of marketing. Now we have an empathy product instead of just product, which means that the product should satisfy the emotional needs of a customer. We replaced the price with the experience price. We have great studies from neuroscience and psychology about the ways the price affects our decision-making. The price is actually an experience and thus a very important part of the customer experience.
The third P, place, becomes the ever-present place because now everybody is exposed to the brands everywhere. And promotion is now an engaging promotion because it has to engage customer in every possible way.
You have also developed a Brain Adaptive Leadership Approach. How can leaders change their mindsets and habits?
The great message of neuroscience to humanity is neuroplasticity, natural brain process, which means that the brain changes every day physically and biologically. The number of neurons and connections between them does not remain stable. Two thousand new neurons appear every day in your brain. As somebody that is passionate about neuroscience I have many disagreements with psychology, which is a different science. For example, neuroscience does not agree with the concept of personality. Psychology says that our personality is static and it does not change after decades of development. Personality is an ensemble of habits that are strong and unchangeable. In neuroscience we talk more about mindsets and cognitive or emotional styles that you can change much more easily. Based on neuroscience people can change, our brain changes every day and that creates more cognitive flexibility. I developed a concept of brain adaptability in my first book Neuroscience for Leaders where I argue that a leader is responsible for his own brain and the brains of people around him, which have to help them in life and generate creative ideas. It is our brain that is responsible for our thoughts, behaviour, emotions. Your brain is affected by the ways you eat, who do you talk and interact to, what do you read, what do you watch on TV. As a leader I have to make sure I create an environment where the brains of my people are optimized.
You often argue that leaders lack empathy because their egos overshadow it… Why is empathy important in the business world?
I am not a big supporter of mindfulness and yoga. In fact, I am a very big believer of actively acting on your emotions, even negative ones, which are extremely powerful, and not passively observing them. Neuroscientists found out that the main emotion that drives innovation is frustration. If you are completely satisfied with what you do, you do not want to change it. I believe in the dark side of emotion. We have to find ways where it works and where it destroys us.
Empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is a very natural human ability to understand and feel; it is our brain’s radar to check your or somebody else’s intentions. If we do not have empathy capacity, there is no hope for compassion, support, care and collaboration. Unfortunately, empathy is actually decreasing in the world. It has decreased by up to 11 % in the last thirty years in the Western world. 20 % of CEOs are psychopaths. Our management and corporate systems are not brain-friendly. They promote specific brain processes and brain reactions that are not based on empathy, partnership, and collaboration but on egoism and manipulation.
But it seems that the new generations are more mindful and conscious about the world and the people that surround them…
I think that this is an interesting paradox. On one hand, millennials and even younger generations are more conscious about buying, but in some other behavioural patterns they are more self-centered than other generations. I think that the problem is that we are feeding them with too many messages of self-importance. Many studies have shown that when you increase self-importance in a person, you switch off empathy networks. Do people care about each other like previous generations? I am not sure.