Martin Lindstrom is a brand-builder and author of multiple bestsellers including Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy.

Martin is a person I have come to know and respect. He is a Time Magazine Influential 100 Honouree and helps everything from Fortune 100 brands, like PepsiCo, Nestlé, Carrefour, McDonald’s and Shell, build their brands to small- and mid-sized businesses.
This is just a small snapshot of Martin’s fascinating accomplishments, but I’ll let him tell the story…

STEFAN: When people ask you, how do you normally describe what you do?

MARTIN: We work with both Fortune 100 brands on building their brands and small and mid-sized businesses to create the best possible foundation for their brands to grow and thrive.

Over the years, my team and I have also turned into a kind of brand-ambulance service. We help companies across the world when they’re hit by a crisis, losing market shares, witnessing consumer rejections or hammered with major price drops in the market.

I’ve learned that true brand-building work is less about fixing the logo or producing a nice ad. True brand building is to look into every aspect of the business; the sales force, the distribution, the R&D pipeline, the overall alignment of the management. At the end of the day, all those aspects play a major role in how brands perform. Once these issues have been identified and solved, we’ll proceed with the more conventional forms of brand building.

Many people associate your name, and rightly so, with the popularization of NeuroMarketing, an area you have written multiple books within. What would you say have been the biggest developments in NeuroMarketing over the past 5 years?

NeuroMarketing has evolved from a shiny new toy back in the late ’90s when I first discovered and evolved this approach to become an invaluable tool in the way companies build brands.

Today, companies like Microsoft and Google use NeuroMarketing to test navigation and user interface designs; perfume companies test the emotional engagement consumers has with their aromas and find new ways of conveying the impression of a smell in a print ad; to companies such as Mercedes-Benz developing new dashboard designs for the car of the future using NeuroMarketing.

In short, NeuroMarketing has become the primary testing tool when diving into our deep minds to understand the essence of human emotions. Said in another way, it makes intangible consumer feedback, like a wink with an eye, tangible and useful for developing brands, products or new services. Click here for the ADA article on the company’s compliance with it.

From a general perspective, in a world where digital media is capturing an increasing share of time from the average consumer, how has the role of the marketer changed and how do you think it will change in the future?

If you ask most marketers out there, they’re all confused about their roles and about how to handle digital media as a whole. The issue is that the social media space is literally changing every week. What we thought worked last week is dated today.

The biggest challenge of them all is that the average age of a marketer is in the mid-40s. Yet, in order to stay on top of today’s social media evolution you’ll have to be in your early 20s. Combining the experience of a mid-40’s with the curiosity and digital mind-set of an individual in his or hers early 20’s would be ideal. They are unfortunately rare.

The role of today’s marketer should be to redesign the marketing (and senior executive) floor ensuring that companies become more nimble, flexible and courageous. Here’s the issue; most of the Fortune 500 brands are slow, conservative and afraid. It’s a sharp contrast with the reality out there, the social media space, which requires almost the opposite. These two different worlds need to be aligned. If not, then the larger corporations will slowly drift away from the consumers and end up as museum custodians pretending to be on top of the latest, but seen behaving like an 80-year-old. In order to make this happen, one needs to change the entire organisational structure of the company, redefine the roles of legal, compliance and communication.

This should be 80% of the challenges of a marketer today. This issue simply has to be solved before one proceeds with a systematic adaption of new-media-thinking.

Many people would normally associate most of our senses with things that happen in the real, offline world.  What are some of the new trends in NeuroMarketing you see for the coming months and years?

Firstly, combining big data with neuroscience insight allows for a micro-macro perspective. Secondly, Contextual NeuroMarketing will allow us to test a brand in its real environment and not in a lab. Thirdly, in order to identify and conclude what the findings of a couple of scans really means, Projective NeuroMarketing will allow us to use real social media as a brain trust further evolving the observations made via brain scans. Social media will help us in our brainstorms once obtaining the neuroscience data from thousands of people scattered around the world.

Maybe you can elaborate a bit on this?

We’re currently witnessing a merger between Big Data, NeuroMarketing and anthropology generating highly advanced consumer insight, which in some occasions are able to predict 95% of what the consumer is likely to do before he or she is even aware of it!

The merger between these very different sources of consumer insight has enabled marketer to secure a micro-macro zoom button. They can observe even the most innocent consumer behaviour, like my discovery while conducting consumer interviews that several girls had stopped using hand creams. They can zoom out and realize that she isn’t alone; the whole world has stopped doing so. Zoom in and realize it is because she’s using her phone seconds after leaving the bathroom and she can’t use the smartphone with cream on her hands. Zoom out and realize via social media that this will revolutionize the entire cosmetic industry. New product innovations, which are screen resistant, will have to be invented.

That’s a very interesting insight! Smartphone penetration is even influencing how we use hand cream. Who would have guessed? On a very different note, besides from visually, how do you see brands distinguishing themselves from each other with fewer sensual impressions in the interaction with digital brands?

In 1915, the Coca-Cola Company issued a brief to its external bottle manufacture. They wanted them to design a bottle so smart that if you were to drop the bottle on the floor and it would break in to thousands of pieces, you’d still be able to pick up a single piece of glass and recognize it. I call these “devices” for Smashables. They can be everything from a pattern to a colour, ritual, icon, sound, movements, or shape.

Every signal can be branded and owned by a brand. Just think about Tiffany’s blue box, Marlboro’s cowboys, LEGO’s small men, or even dots, Apple’s navigation format. All those Smashables tell a story about the brand without even mentioning the brand name or showing the logo. All our neuroscience work shows that this will be the future. It not only works, but Smashables also has a bigger impact than the actual logo.

In short, Smashables will be the future platform to operate with for most digital channels.

Many digital companies, such as Facebook, Google, Airbnb, Amazon, eBay, etc. are far less tangible than traditional companies and the consumer’s interaction with them becomes less sensual; some have no physical product and most have no human interaction. You have described the use of sensual marketing extensively in your books, how do you see the role of the senses change in the digital economy? How can brands like the above use sensual marketing to strengthen their brands?

Google and Amazon are currently opening bricks & mortar stores. Some of the most successful players out there are following this trend. Here’s the fact: you hardly touch people these days, you’re afraid, wonder if they have the flu, bacteria, sexual harassment… So instead, we touch our iPhones! Here’s the issue: the more we suppress our senses, the more we yearn for them! Therefore, more and more product and brand innovations will move offline. They will become sensory. They will often take on-board a clicks & mortar role, like the innovation we did for LEGO many years ago where we crafted physical and virtual LEGO computer games: crafting on the floor, playing on the screen.

I can definitely imagine that the neuro-scientific space is moving almost as fast as the digital. What is something the general marketing stand gets wrong?

They work in isolation from the rest of the company, fail to secure a company-wide alignment, steer around R&D, distribution, logistics and operation. My fundamental view is that if you’re to develop a great brand you need to launch great products or services. The only way to do this is to understand the consumer, to live with them, and to bring the entire company close to the consumers. Then to align the entire organisation around these observations and together develop new products and services. At this stage, you know what you’ve developed is truly aligned with the consumer, not only making the marketing effort easier, and more relevant, but also creating a case which is very certain of hitting a home run.

In short, the marketing stand tends to forget involving the whole organisation, ending up developing solutions in isolation; solutions the consumer often fundamentally doesn’t want.

The way the data obtained are interpreted will change. When I wrote Buyology, the entire cigarette study was rooted in the centre in the brain called Nucleus Accumbens. Back then, this region was seen as the one and only centre for craving. Today we know that several other regions are involved and thus the way we draw our conclusions has changed. The techniques of how we obtain these hasn’t.

It’s interesting to see how the trends that seem to shape the foundation for digital companies also set the trend for the offline organization. When it comes to great marketers or brand builders, what are some of the names that come to mind?

I think Mads Nipper at LEGO did a great job. He was the mastermind behind the LEGO movie. He’s since moved on and is now the CEO of Grundfos. Another one is Nandu Nandkishore, EVP at Nestle. He truly understands the consumer.

What are some of your most successful campaigns in the past that you have been involved in or evaluated and why do you think they worked so well?

There’s a lot spanning from the introduction of Pepsi Throwback to some of our Nescafe or Carrefour work. A recent, less conventional case would be our work for Lowes Foods in the U.S. where we were asked to transform an entire supermarket chain. What I’m proud of is that we cracked the code of “tomorrow’s supermarket”, by infusing sensory clues, storytelling, consumer engagement, local engagement…into one. We established 3 major Lowes Universities with one single purpose to train our staff in amazing customer service. We even employed stage managers and community engagement teams with the sole role of engaging themselves in the local communities. Today Lowes is one of the most successful supermarket chains in the U.S. They are small but growing at an amazing speed and all this due to truly understanding the consumers and questioning conventional supermarket approaches which seem to be dead a long time ago.

(STEFAN: You can watch a case video here)

What are some brands that already now apply the marketing principles and tactics of the future, say, the next 5-10 years?

I hope that all of our clients are doing so. LEGO for sure, Red Bull, Facebook….and a lot of start-ups are. However, today only a few Fortune 100 brands are, for the simple reason that they’re afraid of and confused about what to do.

In building up a brand what are some of the most successful activities you have been involved in or seen?

The first one that comes to mind is handling the healthy wave and addressing this at McDonald’s some years ago as part of the European restaurant transformation.

Developing the expansion strategy for Majid Al Futtaim in the Middle East is another one. Majid Al Futtaim is behind Ski Dubai and needed to craft a vision, which could make them become the leader in the region. With 26 malls, now the owner of Carrefour and the owner of more than 200 million visitors a year I believe they’ve fulfilled this vision.

Crafting the first digital strategy for LEGO back in 1995 was a great project too. Aligning the group towards the digital revolution and later on introducing the idea of Smashables to the group allowing them to craft the LEGO movie without actually showing their logo, just their Smashables.

What are some valuable lessons you have learned the hard way and what is some good advice you got early on in your career that made a difference to you or that you would have loved to get earlier?

Believing that building brands are all about design! I realized some 12 years ago that only a few of my concepts back then actually became a reality, which is when I decided to understand operations and the entire organisation. Today, we’re just as focused on the organisation as we are on brands. One could say that we’re aiming to win the battle before the war has even begun.

Something I learned early on is that everything is a brand: Products, services, you and I. The true goal in life is to build brand equity, not to earn money. Once you have brand equity established the money will follow.

I started my own advertising agency when I was 12 years of age, so I established my knowledge at a very young age, which has helped me tremendously. Only problem: I was born and raised in Denmark. I love the country, but should I really have grown faster and perhaps reached the stars earlier, and learned how to speak English without my stupid accent, then I should have moved to New York City when I was 18 years of age. I never did.

Today that is, even more, the case: take advantage of a global world! As my final question, besides from your own, what are 2-3 books that you would recommend marketers to read?

I don’t read books, as I’m afraid of copying stuff from them – I only write them. Sorry, it may sound arrogant, but it really isn’t meant that way.


Photo: and

One thought on “Martin Lindstrom on the Future of NeuroMarketing and What Fortune 100 Companies Have to Learn About Marketing

Comments are closed.