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Understanding the role of the human brain in creating & sustaining impactful brands (Ajit Weekly News Interview)

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By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, July 2 (Ajit Weekly News) In a rapidly evolving world of artificial intelligence and augmented reality where the average smartphone lasts a mere two to three years and electric cars are the new buzzword, a better understanding and nuanced and apposite application of neuroscience-based approaches will considerably increase success rates in areas like marketing, HR management and leadership, says Prof Arvind Sahay, a highly respected faculty member of marketing at IIM-Ahmedabad and the Chairperson of the NSE Centre of Behavioural Science.

“The brain is the foundation of all human behaviour. And human behaviour is the foundation of all business actions. In particular, areas like marketing, human resource management and leadership, a better understanding and nuanced and apposite application of neuroscience-based approaches will increase the hit rate of managerial actions considerably. One recent study in Germany suggests an increase in predictive power of marketing actions by 30 per cent,” Sahay told Ajit Weekly News in an interview.

“I started a course on neuroscience and consumer behaviour, amongst the first of its kind in a management institution in the world, in 2012-13. There was limited content available. I had to source it from research papers and develop some of my own thinking. Over the years and as courses evolved and more content became available, as one started doing research at IIM-A, it became natural to think about putting it all together for a larger audience,” said Sahay of his book, ‘Brands & The Brain’ (Penguin Business).

“It is a fascinating area to study with huge implications for business functions like marketing, human resource management, leadership, trading and investing, etc,” said Sahay of the book, which is sub-titled ‘How To Use Neuroscience To Create Impactful Brands’.

“There is a wealth of research over the 30 years to 2022 that is now available along with one’s own works on cases and neuro research. The challenge was to put it together in an accessible way for the business reader with managerial and action implications,” he explained.

How does behavioural and neuroscience influence our thought process?

“Our thought processes are influenced by how the brain works. The brain wants to see patterns and contrasts because it provides dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters that are the basis of feeling and behaviour. So, we look for products and services and brands that fit better into patterns in our minds and provide something new at the same time because that gives us more dopamine and serotonin (among other neurotransmitters),” Sahay elaborated.

Decision making, he pointed out, is a combination of CURE (conscious, unconscious, reason and emotion). “Brands like Maggi are now mostly driven by unconscious emotion – they are a habit. The most powerful brands are unconscious automatic choices for the consumer,” he said.

Why does a brand click and why does another not?

“The brand that provides me the highest dollops of my required neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin,) and is able to provide the pattern and contrast that I am looking for is the one that I will buy. Over time, if this persists, then the brand becomes close to a habit. And the company is close to brand nirvana,” Sahay maintained.

What then, are the brain-operating principles behind the marketing of brands? Sahay enumerated these as:

. Provide relevant neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.

. Do not make the consumer’s brain work too hard.

. Provide patterns and contrasts.

. Use mirroring appropriately.

Get into the memory – the most powerful brands combine conscious and unconscious memories

This apart, key neuro-marketing tools for building brands are eye trackers that can help assess which parts of my brand attract attention, while EEG (electroenchephalography or electrodes planted on the scalp) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) “help to assess which elements of my brand lead to what functional and emotional benefits in the brain of the customer and how this stacks up against the competition”, Sahay explained.

Neuro tools, the author writes, are a new toolbox that is available to brand marketers and can enhance accuracy of insights and predictive power by up to 20 per cent over the current methods that are available to marketers.

“Like all methods, however, it is important to apply it correctly. A lot of marketing research and a lot of marketing effort gets a bad name because of poor conceptualisation and execution. The same applies to neuroscience, neuro tools and their application to improve brand management practices. Neuro tools that are now available to brand marketers, hopefully, will not fall into the same category. Like any other tool, the success of neuro tools for brand management will be a function of its skilful and appropriate usage,” Sahay writes.

What has been the response of the stakeholders to the book?

“It’s been quite enthusiastic! After my sessions, people usually end up going and buying the book. I am currently engaging with a company that is applying the ideas for assessing employee value proposition initiatives before roll out.” Sahay said during the interview.

What next? What’s his next book/project going to be on?

“Scaling up the research lab at the institute (the NSE Centre of Behavioural Science IIM-A) for one. I’m not looking at another book just now – but may look at one in the coming year or two,” Sahay concluded.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at [email protected])

–Ajit Weekly News

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