Dopamine, reward system and neuromarketing


In previous post we've discussed long about how targeting user's motivationwill increase our conversions.

Today we'll get deeper on this topic. As deep as our brain can be. We'll be learning how motivation works from a scientific point of view and how dopamine is released, what it does, and how it affects our purchases.

Ready? Welcome to the Dopamine world.

What is Dopamine and what it does

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. That's it.

A neurotransmitter (as the name reveals) will transmit info from one neuron to another via synapses. Dopamine will send a message from neuron to neuron connecting different parts of the brain.

Easy, right?

Dopamine is largely associated with the reward system, as it's the neurotransmitter that makes our brain get us moving to achieve actions that will bring us pleasure, satisfaction or some kind of "reward". Well... that's Motivation, isn't it?

Dopamine is NOT the "pleasure elixir" as it used to be call. Dopamine activity will get us moving and doing things, but is not the main responsible for making us feel good. Several experiments with rats proved that blocking dopamine on the animals would stop them to go and eat. If they had to spin on a wheel or push a button, they would stop doing it. But when given food, the rats felt pleasure and looked pleased to eat. That's an important difference to keep in mind.

¿How does it works?

OK, so when Dopamine is released on our brain, it will send the message that we want to do something. ¿How does it actually work? Let's add a little of  science to the post.

Dopamine is generated mainly in an area called Nucleo Accumbens (so called "reward system"), located in the Mesolimbic Pathway.

Mesolimbic pathway

As we can see in the image above, the Nucleus Accumbens is located deep inside the brain, on the limbic system, which takes care of emotion, behaviour, motivation and long term memory.

Here comes the science. This nucleus is connected with the Frontal Cortex (a more rational side) through the Mesolimbic Pathway. It is, in short, our emotional side taking control of the machine. Awesome.

Let's talk with Karen Prats, a young expert in Neuromarketing:

"95% of our shopping decisions are taken unconsciously. Even when we think that they are deliberated one, like choosing which car to buy. Our "logical" brain is just incapable of processing that large amount of data and make a clever decision. So most of the work relies on the emotions and reward expectations."

And here is the interesting part for Conversion Rate Optimizers:

"Dopamine is generated in the heart of the reward system. But, it's only triggered when we face a decision or a situation related with some goal. Without goal, there's no reward, so dopamine won't be working. This means that we must address user's deep motivations and goals".

That's the science behind why Call To Actions and web Copy are sometimes more important that any other element on the Landing Page.

Captura de pantalla 2012-08-29 a la(s) 20.41.43
Captura de pantalla 2012-08-29 a la(s) 20.41.43

Image from . Click to see the original post

Not only text and Pictures will activate our reward system and make us release dopamine. All our sense are able to activate this process. And the most the merriest.

That may be the reason why no matter how sure I am that I need to have a Green Salad... If I see a Giant Yellow M at lunch time, I'm lost.

"OK, i can have a salad there too" I lie to myself.

The moment I step in the Restaurant, the game is over.

I'll find myself ordering a burger meal with french fries and a pack of nuggets. The smell, the view, the memories and decades of advertising will do the rest. The motivations behind are only mine, and well.. I couldn't tell why I'm just "loving it", but what McDonalds does to me is what others will feel steping in an Apple store. Everyones motivations are different and unique, but the result is the same: dopamine shot and our wallet taking a ride.

By the way, it's been a matter of study that Bacon and Cheese can be dopamine boosters too.

¿How does my brain what decision is bringing me more reward?

Actually it can't. How could it? Our reward system will take a decision based on the data available: past experience, senses and what it knows, has learnt or has seen in others.

First: past experiences. This is awesome stuff. Every time we have an experience which give us more reward than expected, our brain will generate Dopamine. Why? It's a Marker. It can, eventually, become a life-time marker. Out brain wants to save this info, this decision, in order to choose it again in the future.

Lets see this great video:

Martin Lindstrom calls this in Buy·ology  "Somatic Markers".

OK. Giving a great Customer Experience to our customers will make us memorable. Not big news. Well... knowing the science behind it may help you focus on it. And give some surprise to selected users too.

What is way more interesting is that reward analysis can be make of "learned stuff", it is, thinks we know or we've been told or have seen in others. Well... I never had a BMW (yet) but I do want one.

We are talking, of course, about Advertising and Branding.

No need to spend much time talking on how Apple does it.

Branding, Advertising and the Website are key points to keep our users expectations hi, and generate dopamine while they are both using our website and deciding what to buy.

Several experiments proved that only watching some big companies Logo's would make Mesolimbic area activate. Martin Lindstrom did a similar experiment, and showing Ferrari and Apple's logos vs Microsoft or weaker brands one's, would activate different brain areas. The reason -now- is easy. Those companies have placed their brands on our limbic system. No need to have better features than the rest... they are just there.

One real life example of this fact is the famousCoke vs Pepsi experiment (repeated over and over time). When consumed blindfold both drinks will cause the same effect on user's brains. Even most of them will claim Pepsi tastes better. When watching the brand, Coke's dopamine release will outperform Pepsi and be the chosen soda.

Pepsi can spend millions advertising features like a better taste. Till they realize where does the decision to have one or another comes from.

Well... that's just a summary of all the capabilities and secrets that Neuromarketing can bring to CRO. How to apply them is up to you, but before you leave, let me know what you think. Is this the future? Is this bullshit?

We need your voice here!