How Boring Need-Based Products Use Neuroscience to Engage Consumers

How Boring Need-Based Products Use Neuroscience to Engage Consumers


Marketers are always in quest of seeking testing the most persuasive messages that stick when it comes to motivating customers to buy products that fulfill their functional or emotional needs. Coca-Cola and soft drinks are great examples of a want-based product — your impetus to buy is driven purely by desire, and you’d be perfectly fine without it. Here, the positive emotional mirroring makes sense given the product, and it’s how this mirroring is done which makes the difference. But this type of advertising may have an especially important role in a different category of products altogether: Need-Based Products. These are products or services like health insurance, water, a bank account, etc you may not even like or be enthusiastic about, but you simply need to maintain your daily life. You may follow your favorite sports team or fashion brand on social media, but do you follow your health insurance company or bank on social media? 

Need-based products pose a unique challenge to marketers and 15Center’s Founder, Marketing Director-turned-Professor, Prince Ghuman experienced this first-hand while working as the Head of Marketing at BuyAutoParts (BAP). Auto parts sellers fit in two groups: selling optional auto parts like outrageous spoilers or selling replacement parts like radiators. BAP sells the latter, so if replacement parts don’t work, you can’t drive. In essence, BAP sold a ‘need’-based product, not a ‘want’-based product. The question Ghuman faced when marketing replacement auto parts is the same question health insurance companies face: how do we get our customers excited about a product they don’t want to (but need to) spend money on? Ghuman emphasized happiness for BAP’s need-based products and conversions showed a steep upward tick.

Instead of images of auto parts and cars, Ghuman replaced the images with photos of people doing what science might say is the world’s most powerful gesture: smiling. The people smiling were in context of auto parts — mechanics, average Joes and Janes, hobbyists, weekend DIY warriors, and customer service representatives. They were all were smiling and the results were outstanding. Web conversions increased 500% from 0.1% to 0.5% and web sales revenue increased from $8,000 a month to $400,000 a month. Infusing the product pages with human displays of positive emotions turned BAP from a phone-order company to an e-commerce retailer.

Two commendable examples of need-based products are Dollar Shave Club’s razors and Squatty Potty’s “stool for better stools.” So what do they both have in common? Viral video marketing and a brilliant use and display of humor.

 Source: Dollar Shave Club

Source: Dollar Shave Club

Dollar Shave Club displayed the effectiveness of humor in marketing when it launched its Our Blades Are F***king Great ad, starring its CEO, on YouTube in 2012, generating over 12,000 orders in two days. Squatty Potty’s comical use of the wide-eyed unicorn with very active bowels on its viral video The Best Poop of Your Life is responsible for its 600% increase in online sales and 400% increase in retail sales

Becoming sensations overnight wasn’t owed to pure luck, but deliberate orchestration. With 92% of mobile video consumers sharing videos with their respective social circles and enjoyment of video advertising increasing purchase intent by 97% and brand association by 139%, one should never underestimate the power of video and great storytelling with the mix of humor and irreverence. The positive emotions that both Dollar Shave Club and Squatty Potty elicit is represented on the way it communicates with its consumers online. By building such a powerful brand in four years, Dollar Shave Club was acquired by Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer product company in the world, for $1 billion.

While it goes to show that a sense of humor not only works in personal relationships but also plays a huge part in marketing strategies, the gesture of smiling stimulates a positive feedback loop—a reward mechanism—that gives you an unparalleled feeling of joy. If the brain feels good, you smile or laugh. If you smile or laugh, you’re telling your brain you feel good. It’s a not-so-vicious cycle you’d wish for everyone to keep circling on and on.

Ever wonder why the Mona Lisa has become one of the renowned paintings in the world? Because of her unique smile. Don’t believe it? Ask Scientist Andrew Newberg, who rated it with the highest positive emotional content.

Feed Your Brain

15Center founders Matt Johnson, PhD and Prince Ghuman are co-authors of Allure: The Neuroscience of Consumerism. To get early access, sign up here.

Together, they teach individuals and businesses how to ethically apply neuroscience to marketing via neuromarketing bootcamps to uncover consumer blind spots and help brands better engage with their customers. Get your ticket here.