The Neurological Revolution: How Technology is Reshaping the Brain

The Neurological Revolution: How Technology is Reshaping the Brain

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Our “Inside the Mind” series provides a deeper dive into modern marketing-psychology trends.

By Dr. James McFarland, People Scientist

For consumers and marketers alike, we obviously live our lives split between the digital and the physical. But are there deeper implications? Whether your C-Suite openly acknowledges it, every business today is a digital business. In fact, nearly 80% of consumers decide whether to engage with brands based on their evaluation of the company’s online presence. To enter the proverbial boxing ring, leaders must differentiate by leaning into strategies powered by modern technology. But to be a heavy-weight contender, brands must understand how this technology is transforming the psychology of consumers’ brains.  

Consumer Neurology Changed by New Tech 

The biggest challenge consumers face today is filtering the torrent of visual and auditory stimuli across marketing channels and reorienting their brains to function in a world of endless (and mostly superfluous) information. The entirety of human knowledge (cheers to the world wide web), as well as a highway of service, entertainment, and social networking options, are bombarding humans 24/7. And easily accessible with a single touch, word, or glance. Soon, thanks to brain computer interfaces, a single thought could be all it takes for consumers to engage with the online world. 

Adapting to this influx of ever-present information and radical tech evolution, consumers now churn through content faster than ever. Consequently, they are becoming much more deliberate about which types of content they allow to capture their attention. One recent report suggests that 61% of consumers will abandon a website if they don’t see the information they are looking for within five seconds. Essentially, the modern consumer’s brain is being conditioned to prioritize dopaminergic rewards in its everyday digital activities. As a result, there is reduced interest in activities that do not have a similar reward system in place. In other words, instant gratification is becoming the norm for the human psyche, and the modern brain is becoming very adept at quickly sifting through content to find personally salient and rewarding information.  

Current research in psychology is tracking even more ways the modern brain is transforming and processing information. Consumers are exhibiting a general loss of spatial awareness, limited explicit memory, and shallower understanding of written information. All due to the consistent outsourcing of these types of cognitive efforts to modern technology. Over the last twenty years there has been a significant rise in the rate of “digital amnesia” among the population.  A phenomenon where we allow ourselves to forget memories, facts, and other information because we are entrusting technology to remember.  Our brain is registering that birthdays, phone numbers, or the specs on the new computer we are interested in buying is a waste of its time. Instead, it just needs to remember how and where to retrieve that information when it is needed.  

Today, consumers are quite literally using their smart devices and online connections as an extension of their brains’ capacity for memory and sequential thinking. The main takeaway is that the modern brain no longer prioritizes the encoding, sequencing, and/or retrieving details about a product or service, so much as it focuses on how to easily acquire those details in a straightforward and rewarding manner. It comes down to convenience.  Which begs the question, thanks to modern technology, what exactly are consumers focusing their attention on and how is this changing the way they perceive and react to advertising? Better yet, as marketers, how should we respond? 

The Five Big Brain Shifts and How to Approach Them 

  1. Limited Consumer Attention in a World of Endless Information: To engage the modern brain, marketers need to focus on creating concise and relevant content that quickly communicates their message. Simple and clear is the name of the game here. Utilizing eye-catching visuals, compelling storytelling, and clear calls-to-action will help brands stand out in the sea of information. Short-form video content typical of platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels are great ways to keep audiences engaged. Including short informative videos like these can increase time spent on your social media channels or website by 88%.  
  2. The Outsourcing of Cognitive Efforts to Technology: Marketers should focus on developing strong visual and auditory System 1 cues, such as logos, slogans, and jingles, that are easily recognizable and memorable. One example can be found in the rise of voice assistants and smart home devices. Companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple have created distinct auditory cues, such as the “Alexa” wake word, the “Hey Google” phrase, and the Siri activation sound. These auditory cues not only reinforce each product as a (literal) household name, they also provide instant brand recognition and help users access the critical information, products, and services they need with one gesture. 
  3. The Modern Brain’s Focus on Specific Rewards: The modern brain is wired to seek out and prioritize activities that offer immediate rewards. To tap into this psychological need, marketers should leverage the reciprocity principle by providing consumers with valuable content, such as educational insight, entertainment, or problem-solving resources. In exchange, consumers will be more likely to engage and develop a sense of loyalty. One great example is the marketing strategy of HubSpot. By offering free educational resources, such as e-books, webinars, and blog articles, HubSpot taps into the psychological need for immediate rewards, and consumers feel a sense of satisfaction and gratitude when they learn something new or find a solution to a problem, essentially for free. 
  4. Instant Gratification as the Norm: To meet heightened demand, marketers must ensure that their content and offerings are easily accessible and user-friendly. Utilizing tools like chatbots, mobile friendly apps, and personalized recommendations can help brands provide instant gratification and seamless user experiences to their customers. Consider the success of Amazon’s one-click ordering and same-day delivery service. This feature has revolutionized online shopping, empowering customers to make purchases with minimal effort and receive their products in record time. 
  5. Prioritizing Search Efficiency Over Information Retention: Marketers should focus on optimizing their websites and content for search engines and incorporating user-friendly navigation and search features. Additionally, maintaining a clean, uncluttered, and consistent appearance across platforms (along with unique messaging) will help brands stand out with consumers. Take Starbucks, a brand that emphasizes its unique atmosphere and premium coffee offerings. The company’s SEO strategy, consistent branding, including its green and white logo and cozy store designs, helps customers easily recognize and connect with the brand – be it in-person or online.  

Conclusion 

Advertising and tech innovation will certainly drive advertising in 2024. But it’s time to think beyond top trends and consider how human psychology is evolving to this landscape. The deep neurological changes that technology is forging on modern brains are having a profound effect on our cognitive processes and emotional well-being. As marketers, understanding the psychological principles at play and finding a proactive approach to the digital revolution will help you survive these neurological shifts.