(Influence) Book Review: Buy-ology by Martin Lindstrom

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Victor Antonio, Sales Influence

Martin Lindstrom’s book is the next step in the evolutionary chain of scientific and motivational research when it comes to understanding ‘why we buy’.  From measuring the impact of marketing with sales figures to surveying or canvassing the masses to now peeking into the brain of the average consumer using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) equipment. 

This book is the result of a 3 year, multimillion dollar experiment in exploring the unconscious neuro-activities that drive our desire to buy or not buy.  Lindstrom provides his own definition of what Buy·ology is: 

buy·o·lo·gy (noun): The subconscious thoughts, feelings, and desires that drive the purchasing decisions we make each and every day of our lives.

An fMRI machine measures the magnetic properties of hemoglobin in our red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout our whole body.  When a part of the brain is ‘active’ it requires more oxygen then usual allowing the fMRI machine to isolate those stimulated areas.  From this neuro-scientist hope to correlate and study the relationship between an external stimulus and a person’s neuro-responses.  Simply said, if someone shows ad, as a marketer you want to be able to peek inside the person’s brain to see if the right areas of the brain will induce the watcher to act or better yet, buy.  An fMRI allows marketers to ‘look inside’ a buyer’s brain and see if the ads are having the desired ‘brain activation’ effect.  Sounds a bit like Matrix.

Equipped with fMRIs and slew of neuro-scientists, Lindstrom seeks to answer several intriguing questions and does so:
• Does product placement really work?  Answer: No
• Are fragrances and sound potent in influencing buying decisions?  Answer: Yes
• Does subliminal advertising still take place?  Answer: Yes
• Are logos or brands effective?  Answer: (read the book; the results are sure to be controversial) 
• Do religions influence our buying behavior? Answer: Yes
• Do health disclaimers work or make things worse?  Answer: (read the book; this one is mind-blowing)
• Does SEX in advertising really work? Answer: uhhh…no.

One of my favorite lines in the book is, “But 85 percent of the time our brains are on autopilot.”  Consciously we think we’re making a decision, but when you really analyze our brain activities closely you realize that our subconscious has already been pre-programmed by our past and experiences.  For example, Lindstrom states that by the time we reach 65 years of age we will have seen approximately 2 million commercials.  Lindstrom borrows a term from scientist Antonio Damasio who calls these stored messages, Somatic Markers–  bookmarks or shortcuts in our brain, which Lindstrom describes as:  

“Sewn by past experiences of reward and punishment, these markers serve to connect an experience or emotion with a specific, required reaction.”

This book is a great read for anyone interested in understanding a bit more of how the brain works and what ‘triggers’ people to make (or not) buying decision.  This book is one of the many now coming on the market that are going beyond the surveys (conscious buyer) and delving right into the where the real decisions are taking place, beneath the buyer’s consciousness.

I have only two minor (emphasis on minor) complaints about the book.  First, the book is great from a theoretical, high-level investigative view of marketing scenarios, but doesn’t provide the reader any real take-aways that you can apply to your business.  The book is good at explaining specific findings, but many of these findings don’t translate directly into something, we the readers can use or implement.  The findings raise more questions then they answer.

Second, Lindstrom is often times too wordy and gets carried away with his verbal cleverness that sometimes I felt like shouting, “Get to the damn point already!” or worse I quietly thought to myself, “I forgot, what point was he trying to make again?”  Conclusion?  Either Lindstom is too wordy at times or my A.D.D. kicked in a few times, ha!
That aside, if you’re in sales and are looking for new techniques or strategies to help improve your sales numbers, this is NOT that type of book.  This book lends itself more to research marketing than selling.  A book that does a good job at connecting neuroscience to selling is Neuromarketing by Christophe Morin and Patrick Renvoisé.

If you’re in marketing or advertising, this book will stimulate your thinking in how you can or may be able to use this new technology for your own company.  Lindstrom’s studies slaughter a few sacred marketing cows with this new science; so be open to his latest findings.  Although not definitive, his arguments and neuro-data are compelling.  

For those of you who are fans of books like Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy or the Vince Packard classic Hidden Persuaders, you’re going to love this book!
Victor Antonio, Sales Influence
“Finding the Why in (How People) Buy” 


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