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The neuroscience of innovation

Neuromarketing is a thing, now. Crazy, huh? Mirror neurons, innovation, neurosonics: these are all strategies or concepts currently of interest to the marketing world, and they're coming to get you!...
Just kidding. Nobody's really coming to get you besides spam bots and click-bait. Marketers do want your business, though! Therefore, if you fall more on the consumer end of things, it can't hurt to be aware of the phenomenon, right? And if you consider yourself a marketer, welcome to the club. There are a lot of us. Because of all the recent developments in marketing strategies, brand promotion is becoming more strategic and sophisticated than ever. It's vital to the health of your company to be aware of these marketing strategies.

Mirror neurons

Mirror neurons are the neurons in our brains that give us the predilection of imitating others: hence the importance of modelling in teaching. The mirror neurons are most effective in producing emotions as a result of witnessing others enact things. Since the emotions that spread most rapidly are joy, trust, anticipation, and surprise, it would behoove marketers to attempt to evoke these emotions in their target audience.

Tool use, teaching, and the sudden emergence of a rapid mirror neuron system were all boosted via evolution, claims Vilayanur Ramachandran. In eastern philosophy, there is no separation between you and others-this philosophy is grounded in neuroscience. Rather than pitting science against humanities, eastern philosophy says everything is connected: consciousness, self, culture & civilisation. What separates you from other human beings is merely the physical boundaries of our individual bodies in space. This is amplified by the fact that we learn through imitating and modelling, our mirror neurons amplify this natural connection between us all.

The neuroscience of innovation
©pogonici via 123RF

The logical take-away from these facts about mirror neurons is that you should a.) incorporate ads or promotional content that impresses its audience with feelings of joy, trust, anticipation, or surprise, and b.) remember that everything and everyone is connected, so market to others in a way that you would market to yourself. That is, don't market content that insults your audience's intelligence or sensibilities.


So how does this weird science relate to marketing? Basically, as Ramachandran outlines, if you witness someone else surfing and having a great time-for example-you'll likely want to surf, too. It's pretty basic. So the mirror neurons fire; we then get the urge to go surfing. In our minds, we are imitating the surfer before us. This mirroring, in turn, makes us want to actually go surfing 'in real life.'

In addition to utilising the concept of mirror neurons, there are actually firms that specialise in neuromarketing, these days. That is, marketing from a neurological standpoint. Neurostrata, for example, utilises NeuroMetrics, BioMetrics, and PsychoMetrics in order to better understand how consumers react to ads and products, on a brain wave-level.

How did this right-justified text set over a picture of a dolphin leaping out of the ocean make Carol respond, as opposed to this left-justified text of the same visual? Which action shot makes the mirror neurons in our brains fire more rapidly? What image appeals most to people's sense of empathy? Why do new mothers have heightened taste, touch, smell, and vision, and how would you market differently to new mothers, as a result?


In order to stand out as a brand, innovation is vital: the ability to be different; the drive toward invention rather than recycling the old; the desire to impact others. Innovation is what makes companies and their products stand out from their competitors. It has been the subject of much marketing talk, in years of late.

A great example of a company that is tapping into the ecotourism market is Patagonia - if you're not familiar with their business, they're a retail clothing company that is trying to swim against the stream, in terms of much of the negative impact many corporations have on the environment and developing countries' natural resources. I learned of their efforts to rebuild Chilean Patagonia via the documentary 180 Degrees South, a documentary about one man's quest to surf and climb his way across some of the lesser known areas of Patagonia.

Effective innovation includes the idea of disruption. That is, disrupting the flow of work or routine, within a company, in order to encourage creativity and change. This change in work flow is good for a company's level of innovation. Being innovative can take the form of utilising neuroscience in order to market to customers differently, or it might take the form of completely changing the commonly-accepted paradigm of a product's usual market.

Take, for example, tiny houses. The inventor of tiny houses likely never dreamed they could be put to good use as homeless shelters built out of discarded materials, but there's another form of innovative disruption for you! How can a company find a new customer base or audience for a product that is in demand, but currently out of reach for the majority of low-income citizens? Make something that's affordable, and market that, instead.

By creating miniature versions of the now-fashionable tiny house, Gregory Kloehn turned the entire real estate market paradigm on its head. Ironically, one of the most innovative aspects of his tiny shelters is the use of 'trash' and discarded materials in constructing his tiny homeless shelters--a cue inspired by homeless people themselves, of course! Cardboard boxes and tarps, anyone?

In conclusion

In order to truly understand the phenomenon that is neuromarketing, we'd need a much longer article. Hopefully the above concepts and resources have given you some takeaway strategies you can use to move toward being more innovative, however-both as a consumer and a producer of goods and services. Innovation trumps conformity, so have no fear! Be different, and revel in your creativity. It will allow you to stand out from the crowd.

About Daphne Stanford

Daphne Stanford is a writer of many things: poetry, creative nonfiction, and songs for vox & piano. On her off time, she writes, hikes, sings, and reads poems over the FM airwaves at Radio Boise. You can find her on Twitter, now, as well: @TPS_on_KRBX.

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