Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom
Publisher: Broadway
Year: 2009
Pages: 256

Were you to take seriously Paco Underhill’s forward to Buyology, or the publisher’s jacket press, you’d likely be under the impression that Martin Lindstrom is the second cousin of Jesus in the marketing world. Actually, I can’t dispute or verify that: relatively well-published, Lindstrom very well may be a branding guru among those in the know.

I picked up Buyology because I’m in that kind of mode from my MBA classes, and the premise of the book (buying decisions are largely unconscious) intrigued me. Except for Lindstrom’s penchant for repetition and the “This is going to blow your mind!” hype1, I thought it was actually a good book.

The opening of the book tended to repeat itself: Lindstrom would present a typical marketing notion (say, that a logo is an important branding technique) and that promise that what he learned would totally turn the science of marketing on its head. Repeat. It got really aggravating after a while, and had it not finally subsided and given way to decent material, I would have chucked this book with little regret. Let that be a lesson to you writers: less self-serving exposition, more meat and potatoes.

Lindstrom recently headed a scientific study to use FMRI technology to compare people’s conscious responses to marketing inquiry to what’s actually going on inside their heads. Lindstrom’s first example is that of smokers who, though they said that the sometimes-graphic2 warning labels on cigarettes actually suppressed their desire to smoke, FMRI showed that they actually activated the craving centers of their brains. Their conscious revulsion to the explicit images had nothing at all to do with the way their brain connected the familiar (if disgusted) image to the satisfaction of its chemical addiction.

Much of the book goes on that way, much of it having to do with taking previous notions of successful marketing and branding and turning it on its head. Some of it deals with the FMRI, but I think the majority cited other studies or Lindstrom’s own previous experience. Regardless of book jacket press, he is a bona fide marketer, having worked with a lot of firms, so I have to give him credit in that respect. It was genuinely interested to read about his experience with the Mars Corporation, Nokia, and others.

Though “neuromarketing,” as Lindstrom calls it, is certainly an interest fields, and certainly marks the likely future of marketing research, it is hardly groundbreaking to anybody whose spent any time studying psychology or sociology. Ultimately, it’s the realization that what people say in focus groups doesn’t accurately predict how they will react in a real market situation. In this way, Buyology‘s hype falls a little flat, since it pulls back the velvet curtain on what amounts to a simple magic trick.

  1. I deplore this technique, which is almost never merited. See Freakonomics and Outliers for examples[]
  2. Don’t think of American labels; think of Canadian labels.[]
§3841 · June 22, 2009 · Tags: , , , , ·

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