Marketing Lessons From The Neuroscience Of Pleasure

Willy Wonka once said to Charlie, “Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted.” “What?” ask Charlie. “He lived happily ever after.”

While the story is cute and all, it is simply untrue when it comes to pleasure. This article will walk you through the quirky neuroscience of pleasure and its effect on marketing and consumer behavior.

On the one hand, pleasure is intuitive. You know it when you experience it. You enjoy it and want more of it. But in reality, most people, and even marketers, are surprisingly oblivious to the depths to which pleasure drives behavior. In particular, one essential and quirky principle of pleasure deserves a closer look. The principle is deceptively simple – Pleasure is fleeting.

Despite what Willy Wonka says, in the real world of pleasure, once you get what you want, you don’t “’live happily ever after.” Think about a delicious piece of cake for dessert. You stab in your fork… You bring the first bite to your mouth… The pleasure has finally arrived. It is everything you hoped for and more!

Now, think about how much time passed between when you first experienced the pleasure and when you started thinking about the next bite. A second? Two, maybe? Almost as quickly as you experience pleasure, you’re already looking for more.

All of this cake eating points to is that you cannot bask in pleasure forever. It’s momentary. However, the exact fleeting nature of pleasure makes it a powerful motivator that gets you to act.

Moreover, the carrot needs to be dangling continuously. Satisfaction and contentment—at least of the longer-term variety—are at odds with pleasure. This is why the brain experiences satisfaction and pleasure all too briefly. Or, more accurately speaking, why the brain experiences less pleasure the moment satisfaction is achieved. You are built to want more, always. It is the pursuit of happiness, after all.

When it comes to applying the science to marketing, there is good news and bad news. The bad news for marketers is their customers cannot truly be satisfied. The good news is that they will keep seeking new ways to be satisfied via purchases.

Apply this to one of the four PS of marketing – products. Think about the fleeting nature of pleasure in context to your product portfolio. You can find ways to feed the consumers’ fleeting pleasure within your product suite by creating a natural progression between products.

Apple, for example, makes pretty minimal adjustments to their iPhone models each year and yet, has a line out the door for the newest model. EA Sports does something very similar for their sports-themed games, such as FIFA or NBA Live. A new iteration is released each year. This way, there’s always something new to anticipate and drive behavior for consumers.

Next, inject fleeting pleasure outside of a specific product line into an analogous product line. Expand the product portfolio with small and large products related to the initial purchase. For example, if you sell boots, think of releasing seasonal laces to upgrade the look of the boots.

The jewelry company Pandora executes this product strategy very well. For example, customers who buy a bracelet are periodically offered new charms and modular pieces to add to the bracelet long after the initial purchase.

This strategy is rooted in the neuroscience of pleasure and works to increase the lifetime value of your customers. By understanding how the fleeting nature of pleasure is coded into the consumer’s brains, you can increase the effectiveness of your product marketing. Curious to see how you can apply this to your marketing!

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