The human brain is astonishingly capable. So much so that even the best researchers and doctors have yet to scratch the surface on various aspects, processes and complexities concerning it. So, how can we as brands, designers and marketers skilled and trained in other fields hope to capture the inner workings of our customers’ minds and better understand their response to brand strategy and packaging design?

The answers are neuroscience, the study of the nervous system, and neuromarketing, the study of consumers’ responses to marketing.

“Neuromarketing aims to better understand the impact of marketing stimuli, by observing and interpreting human emotions,” says Simone Oude Luttikhuis, marketing coordinator at the Neuromarketing Science & Business Association (NMSBA), an organization which provides professional support to neuromarketers and neuromarketing scientists around the world. “The rationale behind neuro-marketing is that human decision making is not so much a conscious process. Instead, there is more and more proof that  the willingness to buy products and services is an emotional process where the brain uses a lot of shortcuts to accelerate decision making.”

A More Strategic Approach to Creating

If brands don’t consider the brain’s ability to reroute, refocus  and choose seemingly on its own, they may be missing out on selling opportunities.

“Right now, marketers and designers tend to use their intuition and past work experience to help guide them as to what will work with their consumers,” says Daryl Weber, former global director of creative strategy at Coca-Cola, now brand consultant and author of “Brand Seduction.”

“There is an opportunity to be much smarter and more scientific about it by understanding your target consumer’s brain and how it will interact with your brand and design.” 

Tuning In to the Unconscious

For years now in our industry, talk has centered on the emotional engagement of customers. This method of getting people to take notice of and interact with your brand has not wavered in  its validity.

“Neuromarketing studies which emotions are relevant in human decision making and uses this knowledge to make marketing more effective,” says Oude Luttikhuis. “The knowledge is applied in product design, enhancing promotions and advertising, pricing, store design, and improving the consumer experience as a whole.”

But in researching what will stick with consumers, you need to get past what shoppers think they want—to what they actually want.

“There is an over-reliance on traditional market research measures such as focus groups and surveys,” says Weber. “While these can give you a sense for the conscious feedback from consumers, they miss out on the all-important unconscious side of brands. The conscious reactions may actually be misleading and false, as it is very difficult for people to truly understand why they buy something. Better options include qualitative projective techniques or emerging neuromarketing techniques—these are intended to bypass the conscious mind and peer directly into the unconscious brain.”

Packaging These Emotional Responses

 “How a product looks, feels and functions is affecting the consumer experience as a whole. Applying neuromarketing principles and neuromarketing testing can provide insights on the emotional effects of design choices,” says Oude Luttikhuis.

“The consumer packaged goods industry depends largely on human interactions. How consumers experience the quality of these products is basically an emotional process. This explains why the best offer for the best price does not always win the quote. Neuromarketing brings in some heuristics on how to act for a better quality—or for a better perceived quality, because most of the time the decision is taken before the service is delivered.”

The senses are integral to helping customers’ minds sort through all the stimuli and choose your brand at the shelf. Customers crave a meaningful response to their potential purchases—most of the time without even consciously knowing that.

This past year, Sappi North America released the book: “A Communicator’s Guide to Neuroscience of Touch,” which synthesizes decades of research and evidence to demonstrate:

  • The brain is built to respond to touch;
  • What we touch shapes what we feel; and
  • People who merely touch or imagine touching an object begin exhibiting a sense of ownership.

 “One of the many effects of the increasing influence of digital communication on our lives is the growing importance of actual physical interactions—or an analog life,” says Simon Thorneycroft, founder and CEO of independent brand packaging firm Perspective: Branding. “The music industry is a great example that goes way beyond whether vinyl sounds better than a CD or streaming. With a record, the first thing consumers do is touch the package cover. They leaf through their collection and are dazzled by the artwork before sliding out the record itself and placing it on the player. Carefully, they place the stylus down on the record and await with anticipation the sound. All that takes commitment, time and anticipation to actually ‘experience’ what comes next.

“The journey starts with the packaging: the way it feels; the way it smells; and the sound it makes as the cover opens. It is actually seducing a consumer to pick up one record versus another. Why? This is partly because of the neuroscience of touch, known as haptics. Packaging is one of the only applications of design where our senses are multi-dimensionally activated.” 

Sight is the first sense customers use at the shelf, but research has found that if customers physically interact with your brand’s product by touching or picking up the package, they are that much more likely to buy.

“Our insights were informed by research done by Dr. David Eagleman, who concludes that, ‘Humans’ sense of touch has created a cognitive and neural system wherein haptic communication influences how people feel about brands,’” says Thorneycroft.

Putting it Into Practice

“Package design is essentially the combination of graphic design, structural design and material selection,” says Thorneycroft. Here are three ways he says to incorporate the insights of neuroscience into packaging:

• make it visible

Because 50 percent of the brain is active in visual processing, graphic design must not only grab a consumer’s attention, but as a consumer scans the shelf, it must have stopping power.

• make it visceral

Create designs that communicate a feeling about the brand/product that either reinforces the attraction to the brand or influences purchase. Because 70 percent of sensory receptors are in the eyes, this needs to be done visually.

For example, when redesigning and testing International Delight non-dairy creamer, it was uncovered that consumers had a better taste memory/impression when the handle of the cup was turned toward the viewer. It became “my” cup of coffee versus any cup of coffee, or even that of another person.

• make it memorable

Find something memorable in the brand essence and translate it to the package design. When a consumer closes her eyes, she should be able to sketch your package from memory. Remember, touch increases trust and affiliation and drives retention even a week later.

“As mentioned earlier, be careful of traditional market research findings, as packaging design in particular will affect us unconsciously,” says Weber. “Gain a deeper understanding of color psychology. Every color has different meanings and associations connected to it, so having a clear understanding of this, rather than just what feels right, will help back up your choices. 

“Make sure you know what associations your package design is lending to your overall brand. Does it make it feel sleek, elegant, modern or minimalist? Does it make the brand feel warm and cozy? Go beyond the literal to find the deeper emotional associations being built by your package design. Make sure these associations fit with the brand’s overall brand strategy so that everything aligns to the same idea.” 

Successful Solutions Lead to Sales

Brands that use neuromarketing techniques and principles in their package designs and marketing materials have the advantage of finding and leveraging the more primal and emotional drivers of their target audience.

“Packaging design directly affects our experience and, therefore, our purchasing behavior,” says Thorneycroft. “This is why it is key to driving positive sales performance. Get your packaging right and you will increase sales.”

for more information, visit:

Neuromarketing Science & Business Association
NMSBA Shopper Brain Conferences
Daryl Weber
Perspective: Branding