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Thoughts on Neuromarketing, ZMET and Thinking Fast and Slow

What is neuromarketing and is it in any way or form viable for smaller companies? What are your thoughts?

” Neuromarketing, marketing designed on the foundation of neuroscience, is the most recent mechanical method utilized to understand consumers (Kolter, Burton, Deans, Brown & Armstrong, 2013).”

This is very much a discussion, so your input is very appreciated! Please comment with your own thoughts on the subject and let’s see if we can’t find further insights into this!

Neuromarketing is a term that’s been coming up in discussions and articles I’ve been reading in the last year, so I thought I’d do a quick overview as to what it is and how (if) some techniques can be of use for smaller companies and brands. My interest stems from my own experience of being somewhat of a live adblocker, I rarely get engaged by any advertisement or marketing (consciously at least) and reading “Thinking fast and slow”. By looking at several studies from the last few years (Homburg, 2012, Kotler, Armstrong, Saunders and Wong, 2010) we can see that we have an information overload for the potential consumer between 95% to 98%. What this means in reality is that an extremely small amount of commercial information gets processed in a meaningful way – if you have to prioritize your day, adverts are likely to be quite low on your list. Ask yourself what the last advertisement you read/saw was, and if it lead to a purchase or not. “Thinking Fast and Slow” on the other hand piqued my interest in what has been written about marketing to the different systems, and if there’s anything there that can be used for smaller companies.

My initial thought when I started thinking about neuromarketing was basically “Oh, cool! People are trying to sneak through my information barrier by engaging with the unconscious me!”, which then turned to “wait what” and later into “is there any interesting way to use this without going full evil mastermind” so please have in mind that this is not super sciency – it’s my thoughts on parts of the subject.

Neuromarketing originated in the 90’s with the ZMET-technique, or the Zaltman metaphor elicitation technique, which basically is a process that tries to gain insight to the things we unconsciously let influence us. Its foundation lies within a few basic theories:

  • Conscious thoughts occur as images.
  • Most thought, emotion and learning occur without awareness.
  • Emotion and reason are equally important.
  • Cognition is embodied.
  • Memory is story-based and readily distorted.

While conducting a ZMET interview the main objective is to try to understand the unconscious structures that influence our thinking while we interact or consciously reflect on any given subject/thing or the like. It’s since been used by large companies like google, coca cola and procter & gamble.

As with all marketing, the better you understand your customer – the better you can communicate with them. The ZMET process involves having your interviewee collect a number of photos over a couple of days/a week, related to a certain question, and then ask the interviewee about what the pictures represent through storytelling. In the end you should end up with less pictures than when you started, and these should be presented in a collage which the interviewee help create. From the data you’ve gathered you should be able to get a deeper understanding of the interviewees position in relation to the subject/thing.

I’ve personally not tried it, and it is a patented method, but there’s probably some use here even for minor brands and companies. Mixing it with ordinary market research might yield a deeper understanding, but it needs testing to confirm any use for laymen like ourselves. Doing this in combination with ordinary interviews at play testing (mixing the tester batch) could be a good way to start out.

Read more about the ZMET founder and his thoughts on the subject here: The Mind of the Market: Extending the Frontiers of Marketing Thought

Another prominent voice in the neuromarketing field is Roger Dooley, who’s been working in marketing since the early 80’s, and who’s work in neuromarketing has resulted in a ton of speaking assignments as well as a book called Brainfluence. It’s been generally well received, and looking through reviews and thoughts on the books a few things caught my eye. Some are quite obvious (if you’re using a person in your ad, make sure that the person looks at what you want the consumer should see, as we follow the gaze of others) and others a bit more complex (tests on what types of fonts to use for actions or when you want a consumer to remember a certain part of information). One thing he brings up, which is directly related to games, is about how to use and gain trust. To gain the trust of your consumers you will have to trust them as well. NDA’s, restrictions and other “safety”-barriers does not signal trust, and won’t work to your favour in gaining it. Looking at humble bundle, vlambeer and other companies it’s easy to see that this is indeed something that both works and is applicable. The book seems interesting enough to get on my “To-read”-list, so I’d recommend checking it out yourselves if you find this stuff interesting.

I’m wondering what would happen if we released a game with a “do whatevs for 14 days, if you like it you can pay here”-model. Sign up, download, play. In 14 days the game won’t be playable. Ways to get around this are easy, just register with another email, but it would be interesting to see the conversion rate. Mediocre are doing a version of this where they basically give you the whole game for free (Smash hit, Does not Commute) but if you want save states you need to pay. Spotify does another version where it basically gives you 3 months for free (or almost free) if you go premium, and if you enjoy it you can continue that plan for $9.99. As you’ve already registered you CC, you’re more likely to keep on paying (and playing). Less friction = more conversions. It’s obviously important that you make sure that your customer knows that after 14 days you need to pay (or whatever deal you’re trying to make) to continue, as to make sure they don’t feel ambushed when it comes around.

 “Thinking Fast and Slow” seems to have piqued more people than me, and definitely people with more experience in marketing than me, so I’ve been reading up on alot of different analysises and thought pieces to make sure I'm not completely off the rails in my own thoughs.

What you need to know is basically that the book looks at our decision and thought process as belonging to two different systems, defined as follows:

System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious

System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious

The book suggests that people generally think we’re making rational choices, where the research points to us to the opposite. We think we’re more rational than what our actions show.

So how does this impact you when you’re doing marketing for a product? We tend to spend a lot of time looking for ways to present pains and solutions. If you’re thirsty (pain), we have water (solution). Water is good because it alleviates or takes away the pain. Logical enough, right? But if we are less logical than we think, then we also need to reflect on whether we should strive to be the logical choice or the intuitive one. Or, as Daniel Kahneman puts it: "Thinking is to humans as swimming is to cats; they can do it but they'd prefer not to." This also means that whenever we have too many choices we might be less likely to buy stuff, because it overloads us. How this is impacting steam or, especially the appstore seems quite apparent to me: Top sellers gonna be top selling. With a furthering in customer recommendation algorithms stores like these can overcome the overbearing amount of choice – but this obviously impacts smaller studios and games. How do we get picked up by algorithms that we don’t know or can analyse as Apple/Google and Valve are all fairly opaque?

Not being as rational as we think we are also means that user interviews will be flawed, because we will most probably lack understanding and insight into our own decision making process. This opens up for things like the ZMET process as a complimentary tool. Using a combination of interviews and ZMET-isch processes could help you to find the positive association your customers already have in regards to your brand, game or the genre you’re in. This in turn helps you market your game in a way that caters to those positive associations.

So how could an experiment with the aforementioned information work? I’d try to gather as large a sample of play testers as reasonably possible (time/money etc) and then do something like this.

  1. Split individuals into interview groups and ZMET-groups.
  2. Playtest
  3. Do individual interviews mixed with focus groups with the “ordinary” group.
  4. Give individuals in the ZMET group a question (or a few, but keep the number of questions as low as possible) and instruct them on their “assignment” (Bringing pictures that they feel relate to the question).
  5. Structure data from ordinary interviews
  6. Hold individual interviews with the ZMET group
  7. Structure data from ZMET interviews
  8. Compare the different data sets and see what differs/is similar

This might, for example, bring out interesting connections between your game and similar games (or genres) which might be a good segment to start marketing towards. It all depends on your questions, bad questions will always lead to flawed data. This might be more time consuming than ordinary testing, but I think it could produce a deeper understanding and possibly a better position for you to market from.

In regards to people using fMRI and EEG equipment as a help for monitoring responses to different subjects/products and brands. It’s been criticized as">“more glitter than gold” and seem a bit less useful than the aforementioned ZMET process or Dooleys book. For smaller companies and brands I’d wager that it’s useless, as expensive equipment etc, combined with the knowhow that’s needed to derive any information from the data, won’t be worth the time nor the money. Basically how it works is that you either get stuck into a very expensive tube (fMRI) or get some electrodes attached to your head, and then you’re presented with products or parts of products and your reactions are recorded as positives, negatives or neutrals. These results are then used together with a customer interview to understand if you need to change anything with it. It might make sense for bigger companies (as in Coca Cola etc) that really want to dig deep, but it’s nothing to spend time on if you’re a startup.

So, what are your thoughts? What did I miss? Will you try it?

As a thanks for your time, I bring you this old gem by the aformentioned Cialdini:


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