Roger Dooley, the author of Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing, stopped by the Word Cafe for a quick chat about his new book. Here are the highlights:

TS: How did you get started with neuromarketing, Roger?

RD: Practically my entire adult life I’ve been intrigued by the psychology of advertising. I’m an engineer by education, and I remember sitting in the library at school reading copies of Ad Age. I think back then (which was shortly after the “Mad Men” era of advertising), the whole field of advertising was particularly interesting. But for me, I was fascinated by the less obvious factors. These could be tactics that were subliminal or emotional, sometimes even just not talking about products and features. It was an interest that lay dormant for years and years. 

After school, I worked for quite awhile in the field of direct marketing and catalog marketing. And that was really a fascinating area, too. I love numbers and with direct marketing you could tell what worked and what didn’t because you had quantitative data.  But it wasn’t until 2005 that I got to bring all of this together and I began writing the blog about neuromarketing ( It’s there that I explore the intersection between brain science and marketing. That blog is what culminated in Brainfluence.

TS: I have to tell you, I really enjoyed your book. I read a lot of business books and some of them are easier to digest than others. Yours was really fun and interesting. For me, I think it’s because I share your fascination with the brain and why we make certain decisions or take specific actions. The power that our brains have over us is really important to understand. I’m glad that I found you!

RD: Thanks, Tea. It’s kind of a specialized field. And I started off with a little bit more of a neuro emphasis because there’s a lot of interesting work being done in neuroscience. In particular, the use of the fMRI to see how people’s brains react to different stimuli. What I found over time is that people were much more interested in learning techniques they could apply themselves, without all the fancy hardware. Big brands like BMW and Coke can afford the costly neuroscience-based marketing studies, but the little guys can’t really do that. But they could get excited about simple techniques — that were scientifically based — that they could pull off themselves. In the book, what I try to do is focus not so much on the science (there’s always an underlying piece of science to all the tips) but instead show how you might apply a particular tactic if you’re a marketer.

TS: That’s something that really stood out for me. A lot of times we get these fabulous books that talk about what the big brands are doing, but we can’t really put them into practice because we don’t have those resources. Most of us don’t have the budget to hook people up to an fMRI machine to see how they react to our marketing messages. I remember reading Brand Sense in particular and being fascinated with the stories and all the data they were collecting from their studies, but thinking, um yeah — this isn’t something I’ll ever be able to do. Thank you for putting your book together. Maybe I should have you give a quick definition of neuromarketing.

RD: Sure. Different people define it in different ways, but I prefer a broad definition that is basically any implication of brain science that includes neuroscience or behavioral research that can be used to improve marketing. There are some folks that try to restrict it to very specific neuroscientific techniques for marketing analysis. But really to me, it’s all a continuum.

For years, psychologists worked to understand what was going on in people’s heads and the brain was a black box. But the psychologists were still able to do a lot of interesting research and predict how people would behave in certain circumstances.  The breakthroughs in neuroscience have illuminated what’s going on, but they haven’t really changed human behavior. So to me, it’s all just a continuum. If it has to do with the brain and marketing, it’s neuromarketing to me.

TS: When you were putting this book together over the last 6 years, you must have come across some really great stories. Could you share one of your favorites from the book?

RD: Sure. I think that most people won’t acknowledge that they might be influenced by irrational factors. For instance, they won’t say, “That picture on the cover of that catalog really got me to make a purchase.” In many cases, they won’t even know that. Instead, they’ll say, “No, I studied the product’s features and benefits and I looked at the price and I decided I could afford it, so I bought it.” Of course, there are rational factors that go into making a purchase, but there are also many many subconscious ones.

One interesting fact that many people find surprising is the effect of a typeface or a font on people’s perceptions. Research was done where people were given a very short set of written instructions (like tuck your chin down to your chest, raise your arms over your head, etc.). Just about three short lines of text. And they asked the test subjects how long they thought it would take them to perform these exercises. When that text was printed in a simple font like Arial, people estimated about 8 minutes.

When they saw the same text in a harder-to-read font like a brush script, they estimated about 15 minutes. Despite the fact that there was absolutely nothing different in the text other than font, people thought it would take twice as long.

To me, this has huge implications for web developers, graphic designers and print advertisers. When you want someone to take an action, like complete a form, you definitely want to put that form in the simplest font possible. That way, they don’t feel like it will be a huge chore to complete the task and give up. We call that cognitive fluency. Basically, if people perceive that they might have difficulty making their way through the text, they’ll be less likely to take action. In some cases, though, a fancy font might work in your favor — especially where premium or luxury items are in question. You have to be careful, but making it seem a bit tougher to read will make it seem more worth the bigger price tag.

TS: That’s so interesting! I started my marketing career as a graphic designer and so I’ve got a special affinity for fonts and all things graphic. I’ve got a friend who’s a handwriting expert, and in comparing notes with her — how she determines someone’s personality traits by the way they write (which is very accurate by the way) — I saw a lot of similarities with how I chose fonts for branding and logos.  The personalities that we might ascribe to a particular font and how it’s displayed (the space between the letters, it’s “chunkiness” and so forth) are very similar to how experts look at handwriting samples.

RD: Yes, there are a lot of emotional qualities associated with different styles of fonts. 

TS: What were you most surprised to learn over the last 6 years?

RD: I can’t say there’s just one thing. Certainly the whole issue of priming and anchoring is of endless fascination to me. Sometimes it isn’t always that easy for marketers to implement, but it’s worth understanding. The concept of priming is that you can seed a person’s brain with words or images related to a concept and then later when they see that concept again, they’ll react favorably or not (depending on the image). For instance, one experiment had people indirectly exposed to an image of currency (it wasn’t front and center, just off to the side in the room some where). And subsequently in tests, those people behaved much more selfishly than those who weren’t exposed to the image. It’s subtle effects like that that I find really interesting.  I talk quite a bit about this with nonprofits who are looking for donations. You might think that you’d want to include an image of currency in your ask campaigns, when actually, those images will have the opposite effect and you’ll get less donations. Business-like or professional images can also have that effect. So, you might not want to bring a donor into your office to make an ask, since it’s been shown that things like business suits and briefcases will make people act more selfishly, too.

TS: Nonprofits pay attention! How would you use those images to your advantage?

RD: Perhaps in marketing for investments or recruiting ads where you’re try to appeal to people’s desire to earn more money, or to act in their own best interest.

TS: What would be a great priming thing to do if you were leading up to a book launch? Did you use any of these techniques to market your book?

RD: This is a case of the cobbler’s children going without shoes. The launch was less-than-perfectly timed. The Kindle version came out a month early and the hard cover version came out 3 weeks before the reviewers got their copies. Basically, the whole process wasn’t as smooth as it could’ve been. But I think that if you look at certain things — I’ve got endorsements from people like Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark and Martin Lindstrom — you’ll see that we did use some psychological tactics. While social proof might not be considered a neuromarketing technique, the whole credibility enhancement of having testimonials by highly visible people, does work. As humans, if other people like something, our tendency will be to like it as well. So certainly things like that will help book sales. 

TS: I’m always interested to see what the marketers do for their own stuff. That’s where we get great clues for what works and doesn’t work. I learned about your book via that guest post you did for Copyblogger. So that was a great tactic. Would you like to recap that post? I thought you used a great metaphor to explain the concepts of neuromarketing.

RD: Guest posting is a great way to get out of your usual way of explaining something. When I was writing for Copyblogger, I needed to look at how to write for their audience, not mine. Their audience is more interested in copy writing, so that was the first thing I took into consideration. That post was keyed by an article I saw about DARPA (the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) who are the military folks responsible for our early internet technologies. This group of technical geniuses were doing research on narratives — in particular how narratives influence people.

The article wasn’t specific on how they might apply these technologies, but you could imagine that they might be good for things like propaganda. Anyway, they learned that people who’ve been attached to an fMRI machine, who read a story to themselves, their brains will light up in the same areas as they would if they were really doing the actions in the story. They also had folks being read to and the listener’s brain synced up with the teller’s brain and again, their brains both lit up as they would if they were acting out the stories themselves. This tells us what we already know: that a great story is really engaging. We already know that people don’t find your top 5 features and benefits as interesting as a story. The neuroscience just confirms the power of stories and how and why they work so well.

TS: (laughs) We should make sure to use these powers for good and not evil!

RD: Right!

TS: This has been fun, Roger. Where can folks find you next?

RD: I’ll be at the Conversion Conference in SF in a couple of months and then SXSW. Folks can always find me at my blog: and on Twitter @RogerDooley.