The Art of Neuromarketing and Neuroscience

Have you ever thought about what part of your consumers’ brain you’re targeting through your marketing campaigns? One thing that might be useful to you is knowing that most of the time, people buy based on their instincts and not their logic. To be more exact, up to 95% of the time, your consumers’ choice to buy is influenced by factors that they are not aware of. So, getting to the bottom of why they are buying and what drives their decisions, is what you really need to focus on, in order to get more people purchasing what you offer.

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger, and we have a really exceptional guest with us today. He has accrued over 15 years of business experience in which nearly a decade of those years was dedicated to the tech and mobile space. And you can find him on numerous top podcasts where he shares neuromarketing insights on how businesses can grow and thrive. So, welcome Felix Cao! 


Felix Cao: Hi, Steven. It’s a pleasure to meet you and it’s a pleasure to be on your podcast. Thank you for having me. 


Steve Shallenberger: Oh, I’ve been looking forward to it. And before we get started today, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about Felix. He has been featured in major media outlets such as the HuffPost, Adweek, AppAdvice and has also appeared on a major Canadian morning radio show to talk about neuromarketing, and also other applications of that such as elections. And today, at his neuromarketing company called Happy Buying Brain, he is combining his 15 years of business experience with his educational background and biological science and psychology to help businesses truly understand what makes their customers’ brains tick, and especially when it comes to better achieving customer brand loyalty over their competitors. And so, this is what we’re going to talk about today, I can’t wait! And Felix, before we jump into this, tell us about your background, including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you, and maybe how you’ve gotten to where you are today. 


Felix Cao: Absolutely, Steven. I’d love to share the story of actually how we came about to where we are today. So, with my neuromarketing company, Happy Buying Brain it’s kind of like a perfect storm or a perfect marriage of the educational background combined with a long history of business experience, and all that coming together at the perfect time. And I’ll dive into each of those aspects and then that way we get to see how those three elements came together to take to where we’re at today. So, if you and I, Steven, met 20 years ago, you’d probably meet the shyest 18-year-old or 19-year-old university student. I was more focused on getting into medical school or more specifically optometry, so this really had a strong indulgence and interest in the biological sciences. So, during those years it’s more just being a bookworm and just absorbing all this theory, and all the information that comes from any books that I could get my hands on, pretty much and that also, at the same time had an interest in terms of psychology and how the mind worked. But all that time it was more, I didn’t really have that ability to go out there, and have that intimate, in-person conversation with a lot of people that now we’re able to form relationships with over the many years.  


Felix Cao: But what was a big turning point was that shortly after I’ve been introduced to the self-employment world – so that’s where it took me from more of a comic book, book smarts, and book theory type of world, and now more into every day, we’re talking to and meeting new people. So, the self-employment world really revolved around the insurance industry, the financial trading, investment industry. So, after spending a few years there, I really think it was an eyeopener in terms of how the real practical world is really worth more than just sitting at a desk, and just learning from what a professor was teaching us. And so, now we’re actually taking the information that we’re learning, and we’re applying it to conversations, where there is no pacific ABCD route, it can take on many different pathways. And this is being able to understand the verbal and nonverbal cues of what makes communication really effective. 


Felix Cao: So, that really segued us into the mobile world, which is technology in about 2010. During that time, we worked with a lot of influencers that had large followings during that time, we built social networks, games around pretty much everything. And what we saw approaching in 2018, 2019, was that we were heading into another technological or technology revolution, similar to how the 2000s brought about the internet. And the 2010s were more the iPhones, Androids, and mobile phones. But now, when we look at The Last Gate, we saw that virtual reality will probably still expecting something that’s really at the coast of really starting to explode. And we noticed that the core of a lot of these innovations is revolved around neuroscience. Anything that when you look at history, with that had even concepts that are very similar to any particular trends that become popular, they also become popular as well. So, we looked at The Last Gate and we figured out outside of technology, where can we apply neuroscience too, and when I looked at the business world, that’s how we came to the conclusion that neuroscience and virtual reality become a lot more familiarized and popularized and mainstream. And so, the concepts that actually embody the neuroscience aspect of it will become more mainstream as well. And that’s how we got to come up with our neuromarketing company, the Happy Buying Brain. 


Steve Shallenberger: Okay, that was a great background. That was very helpful, thank you! Let’s talk about it. What is neuromarketing?  


Felix Cao: Absolutely. So, neuromarketing is combining neurosciences with sales and marketing strategies to help companies solve their business challenges much more effectively. So, for your podcast – it’s about becoming your best, right? – so, really what we want to do is understand the brain on what’s really happening, how does it really influence behaviors, whether that’s consumer behaviors to influence consumers to make purchases, or sometimes is to overcome things that are preventing people from let’s say, reaching their potential or taking action in general? 


Steve Shallenberger: Right. So, you mentioned Becoming Your Best, thank you so much for that. And I love this whole idea of the Happy Buying Brain, so I’m thinking that we’re really talking about marketing at a different level. 


Felix Cao: Exactly. So, just to give you some context to it. So, traditional marketing is more to understand the “what”. So, we would understand the strategies that would exist, for example, in paid ads, any SEO for example, social media campaigns. But the neuromarketing side of it really takes it to an exponentially higher level, because we’re looking to now at the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ something happens. So, just like how we talked about in business, we also want to understand why something happens, right? So that way, we’re able to make tweaks to that situation. And then, we’re in better control to kind of set it off or position things for the outcome that we’re looking to achieve from it. 


Steve Shallenberger: Right. Felix, can you give us a case study of an example of an organization or a product or a service that may be approached by a traditional marketing approach, and how would you transform it, making it neuromarketing? 


Felix Cao: Sure. So, let me give you an industry example. So, if you look at the industry, let’s look at luxury brands, for example. So, the primal brain. So what it is your brain is really separated into two marks, just to simplify it. So, you have – everybody’s familiar with – your logical part of the brain, that’s more like your rational thinking, it’s there for the long term and for planning. But also, there’s very little shared or very little, right now people are talking about what is called the primal brain. So, the primal brain is pretty much the part of the brain that sets up your brainstem, so the base of your brain. So, it’s really responsible for two main things: it’s responsible for number one, your reproductive success, and number two, your survival. So, you’re probably actually guarded by what we call six primitive instincts and one of them is actually status. So, when luxury companies actually apply neuroscience or neuromarketing to their marketing campaigns, for example, they want to craft another core messaging, so that it helps the individual actually fulfill one of the six major primitive instincts that all individuals are looking to fulfill. So for example, when you look at a luxury brand, like, one of the sports cars, for example – like let’s say Lamborghini and so forth – they’re really appealing to the elite status because the elite status will ensure survival success is that usually the more status somebody has, they have access to, let’s say, more resources. And also, on the reproduction side, usually they have more access to mating opportunities as well. So that’s how a company would utilize neuromarketing to really connect with their consumers on that kind of level. 


Steve Shallenberger: Okay, So, what you’re saying then is that you’re taking your marketing to another level and using the six primitive instincts, and this is the neuroscience part of it and how you take it to another level.  


Felix Cao: Exactly.  


Steve Shallenberger: Okay. Well, that’s very interesting. So, how can neuromarketing – or at least having a strong understanding of neuroscience – help people become the best version of themselves? 


Felix Cao: That’s a great question, Steven. So, let’s actually reframe that. So, let’s ask what prevents people from becoming the best versions of themselves? Usually, it’s number one fear, and number two is rejection. Usually, those are the two main obstacles that really prevent people from either taking action or from reaching their potential. Would you agree with that, Steven? 


Steve Shallenberger: Well, I’ve never thought about it from that point of view. Maybe also, I was thinking when you asked that question, lack of knowledge, lack of knowing how to do it. 


Felix Cao: Exactly. So, that fits right into there as well. So, in a similar way, we kind of grew out of fear of not knowing, almost like how someone would enter a situation and what happens if they get asked a question that they don’t know the answer to. How would that impact how people view them? And of course, there’s neuroscience to that as well, is that the reason why the fear of rejection and the fear of uncertainty is such a strong inhibitor for people to take action is that… So we were to rewind back to our ancestral days. So, what that would mean is that the survival value of belonging to a tribe would essentially increase the chances of an individual’s survival by multiple times, simply because when you’re hunting, you have a wider success of, let’s say securing food source. Or let’s say if a lion came or some wild animal, then at least as a group, the group will have a much more successful time or a chance of defending themselves during that time. So, the fear of rejection or the fear of uncertainty actually ties in with what would happen to the survival of somebody if they actually got removed or kicked out of a tribe. So, if someone got kicked out of a tribe back in our ancestral days, their chances of survival and passing on their genes to the next generation dramatically decreases.  


Felix Cao: So, once we understand that, what’s happening on that primal level, so the primal brain, the best way described is it’s almost like an overprotective but irrational parent. So, here, once somebody is able to understand where that source of that mentality comes from, then it’s much easier to understand that these fears are, they’re not actually real dangers to their survival. And that can be the first step to coming up with the courage to take that initial step forward so that the process could get started, which a lot of people are definitely, it prevents them from taking action. And, for example, we ask the majority of people the famous saying, what’s scarier than death? The number one answer is public speaking. So, if we take a step back from that, there’s a lot of people that, unfortunately, have so much talent and so much to share with the world, that their fear and fear of getting rejected, for example, actually prevents them from capitalizing and pursuing these opportunities that could actually make their lives and the people that they touch a lot better.  


Steve Shallenberger: Oh, this is fascinating! And of course, as we’ve discussed these 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders that I’ve done a great deal of research on, are things that are these 12 principles we saw over and over and over again, among those that are high performers. But it really sounds like there’s even another dimension here as we think about the application of the 12 principles in regards to high performers. So, why should high performers learn about neuromarketing or neuroscience and the importance of understanding this primal brain and reaching new heights of success? I’m interested in how this dovetail. 


Felix Cao: Sure. I think that’s a great segue to your previous question in terms of how our brain processes fear simply because the primal brain is there, and one of the number one goals is to protect ourselves. So, anything that kind of feels not right, or we get that feeling in the gut, for example, that’s something that, unfortunately, prevents a lot of people from carrying through with that sort of action that would actually take them to the next pinnacle in their career or in their relationships, for example. So, the number one thing is understanding how does the primal brain works in relation to the logical brain. So, a lot of our decisions are actually stemmed from the primal brain as much – and this is a surprising study that was done by a Harvard professor by the name of Gerald Goldman. He released a paper in 2003 and he said that as much as our everyday behaviors, up to 95% are influenced by our subconscious mind. So, the subconscious mind is actually living in the primal brain, it’s kind of like it’s always on, but it’s also on autopilot, at the same time, and if it’s not trained correctly, then it also will default to irrational thoughts and behaviors, as well. So, that’s why it’s so important to understand when somebody is reluctant to do something is very rare that you hear them say “I don’t think about it.”. You’re more likely to hear them say “I don’t feel like it.” because that feeling or emotion actually stems from the primal brain. But the great thing about the human brain in total is that once someone becomes conscious about the changes that they want to make, what ends up happening is our logical brain could actually inhibit a lot of the let’s say the impulses, that the primal brain initially puts out. So, in a way, it allows, let’s say an individual or high performer to reach that next level, by being a master of that primal brain. 


Steve Shallenberger: So how do people, Felix, learn about the different dimensions of the primal brain so they can harness it, so it’s not in the way, but it helps them succeed. 


Felix Cao: Sure! I think number one right now is the courses out there, joining neuromarketing or neuroscience communities is a great way to learn, connecting with people that are in neuromarketing, as well as in the field of neuroscience – that would be the number one thing is to join communities and get connected with people. It’d be a great opportunity to share the abundance of knowledge, how to help somebody understand the primal brain, its role in our everyday decision making, and our actions. And then also, what can be done to make the primal brain work for us, so to speak, as opposed to just having it go off on its own and have it run in a million different directions, and really prevent people from becoming the best version of themselves. 


Steve Shallenberger: Right. And Felix, how does NLP – Neuro-Linguistic Programming – fit in with this discussion that we’re having? 


Felix Cao: I think it’s closely related to or associated with neuromarketing. I think it’s one part of neuroscience because we’re just understanding what it is for the NLP if you’re just applying the neurosciences to the application of language or how words are communicated between one person to another person. That’s how, for example, a company or a brand wants to get their core messaging and really resonate with their audience on that primal level. Then just using the right words, for example, maybe the big difference between a very effective and a message that connects with their audience on an emotional level versus one that may connect with the audience on a logical level. But if it doesn’t have that emotional grab to it, then the persuasive power of the brand messaging becomes greatly diminished. 


Steve Shallenberger: Right. Okay. Well, thank you for that. And with all the changes to everyday life due to COVID and disasters that are going on, what are some distinct advantages that neuromarketing and neuroscience offer to help people adapt and evolve in this new environment that we’re in? 


Felix Cao: That’s a very interesting question. So, right now, I think everybody would agree that we’re living in a very different and interesting time where, unless somebody has gone through a pandemic before, then they would have some sort of insight of what is going to unfold after this. But I think for the majority of the people around the globe, this is a new experience that has been around in business for one year, all the way through to something that’s very well seasoned. So, the best way to think about it is right now the primal brain is in this hyper state of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, there’s a lot of turbulence and chaos that’s happening, and discord that’s happening around the globe. So, right now, the main mission for brands in order for a company to connect with their audience, especially the audience that’s living in this new normal, is to understand first of all what a brand is. So, a brand really is this hover or an emotional state. So, you have the consumer right now their emotional state, with their heightened primal brain that is in this intensify the state of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, for example, they’re looking for right now, something to bring into their life, that’s going to restore stability, and control, and certainty. So, the brands have to position themselves to help the consumers to regain that level of control back in their lives that is so important that everybody is looking for right now as they look to make sense of the new normal, and especially what’s going to unfold moving into the future. 


Steve Shallenberger: Yeah. And Felix, on that note that you’re bringing up, when you’re working on neuromarketing like this and neuroscience, is it helpful to talk about and recognize the feeling that they’re having – the primal feeling, whatever it might be fear out of control anxiety – and say, but if you do this, it’s going to help you have a feeling of control, and renewed energy and focus? So, do you use both of these elements in the process? 


Felix Cao: Yes, you do. So, that way, you increase the effectiveness of brand messaging. So, that would be important to obviously address what type of emotions that people are feeling. So, that they feel acknowledged, that they’re not alone – because I think a lot of people, especially with social distancing, one of the main challenges that people are feeling right now is that they don’t have the same type of in-person connection and communication that they normally did prior to COVID-19. So, just letting people know that let’s say a brand or a company understands where the audience is coming from, and some of the struggles that they’re dealing with, and being able to provide the solution to their most pressing and relevant challenges is something that can be very effective. 


Steve Shallenberger: Okay, good. Well, I’m always just totally amazed how fast these podcasts go and we’re at the end of the podcast already. We’ve had a great session today, a lot of good thoughts. Any final tips you’d like to leave with our listeners today, Felix? 


Felix Cao: Absolutely. I think it’s understanding that the primal brain or the subconscious mind has such a big role in terms of our decision-making process and it’s something we should all strive to understand. And, unfortunately, if it’s not understood, then that could be something that gets in the way of somebody becoming their best. So, that’s something that once we understand the source of a lot of those called irrational thoughts that prevent someone from reaching those new heights, then that’s how they’re able to get those breakthrough moments. 


Steve Shallenberger: Oh, terrific, I love it. So how can people find out about what you’re doing? 


Felix Cao: Absolutely. So, I’m active on LinkedIn. If you search Felix Cao, I’m more than happy to connect with people on LinkedIn. Secondly, is also I have a blog on my website. So if you go to, and subscribe to my blog, then actually, that’s a great way to keep updated on the newest and the latest news on what’s happening in the world of neuromarketing. And the third way is if you want to contact me directly, there’s also a contact form on my website that you fill out and it will eventually get to me as well. So, those are the three ways that someone could connect with me and also be up to date as to what I’m doing and what’s happening in the world of neuromarketing. But out of those three ways, LinkedIn is always the best way to connect. 


Steve Shallenberger: Okay, terrific. Well, thank you, Felix. And we all want to have a happy buying brain, don’t we? Well, thanks for being part of our show today, it’s been a delight to have you. 


Felix Cao: I definitely appreciate it. It was a pleasure. 


Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you. And we wish you the very best in all that you’re doing. 


Felix Cao: Same with you. Thank you.  


Steve Shallenberger: And to all of our listeners, there we go, one more element of how we can become our best. I love these different dimensions. And never forget that as you work on these things, your light touches other people, your example touches other people. As you’re working on becoming your best, it literally is an extraordinary impact to lift your world and the world. So, we’re wishing you all the best. This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day! 


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