Reaching into the consumer’s subconscious

German marketing consultant Frank Rehme calls it Neuromarketing. If it’s no use to reach out to the rational mind of the consumer, you have to aim for the subconscious. Perhaps we should stop thinking about humans as rational beings altogether.

First things first: Neuromarketing is no mumbo-jumbo. It is a research field introduced at Harvard University in the 1990s and has grown increasingly popular over the last ten years. In its purest form, the research deals with a consumer’s physical response to what he/she can see, hear, smell, touch and taste. Physical response means changes in electrical activity of the brain, heart rate, breathing, sweating and so on.

Emotional triggers

In the keynote Frank Rehme delivered at PIDA Germany 2013, he elaborated on some of the practical consequences this may have for packaging design. A first ground rule, he said, is to appreciate that consumers have gone from shoppers to specialists. They have the facts, they are well informed and mature. In the store, they don’t act on more information, they just respond to immediate, emotional triggers.

Frank Rehme is the founder of gmvteam, a consultancy agency based in Düsseldorf that offers support in companies’ change processes and innovation projects.

Unpacking is a ceremony

“To be effective, a package has to trigger the wish to buy,” Frank Rehme explains. “The package must be part of the promise to the buyer, so that he or she can imagine content and be motivated by expectations. Take Apple’s packaging, for instance – it’s visual and haptic. And to open a package is a ceremony, perhaps the single most important moment of the process. Which they understand at Apple. If you search YouTube for ‘unpacking‘ you get thousands of hits. It’s the moment of truth, too. Expectations must come true. The brain needs gratification.”

Advice to design students

“You must be able to look into the brain of the consumer. Buying decisions are not rational or deliberate. They are made in fractions of a second, they are intuitive and ruled by the subconscious.” So, if Frank Rehme had just three pieces of advice to give to packaging design students, what would they be?

  1. Walk in the shoes of the customer. Try to imagine his or her motivations, wishes, driving forces. Always make things easy. For example, always offer packages that can be opened without tools.
  2. Use simple signals. No time to contemplate, only act. Change the message. Make the consumer fall in love with the product.
  3. Make it sustainable. Recyclable. Nobody wants to create waste. And dimension the pack right so that it doesn’t contain a lot of air, for transport capacity reasons. Think sustainability from end to end.