Anticipation is marketing gold – and dopamine is the currency that leads to a richer bottom line. Do you have the Midas touch? As a marketing professional, you’re interested in influencing behavior to help your business succeed – and that starts with dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a central role in goal-directed behavior. Whether you’re eating your favorite food, purchasing a product that makes you happy, or engaging in a hedonistic conquest, dopamine drives your behavior forward. Put succinctly, dopamine helps you take action.

In your role, you want customers to engage in behavior that’s in alignment with your business objectives. What type of action do you want your customers to take? Do you want them to read a blog post, click a digital ad, open an email, or attend a webinar? If you said yes to any of these, you need to keep reading. 

Anticipation spikes dopamine

The key to creating marketing content that drives behavior in a direction that’s beneficial to your business is to tap into your customer’s complex reward circuitry – a system that’s fueled by dopamine. What comes to mind when you think of dopamine? If you’re like most people, you might associate dopamine with pleasure or reward. But there’s more to the story. 

The brain produces dopamine in response to rewarding experiences; however, the largest surge of dopamine doesn’t come from obtaining the reward – it comes from anticipation. If you want to drink a glass of wine, and you’ve experienced the reward of wine in the past, you might uncork the bottle, pour it into a glass and take a small sip. But the largest dopaminergic spike in your brain occurred before your first sip. 

Marketing science in action

In content marketing, you use information to connect with your audience. According to researchers at UC Berkley’s Haas School of Business, “information acts on the brain’s dopamine-producing reward system in the same way as money or food.” In other words, your marketing content, which is a form of information, can be leveraged to tap into your customer’s reward pathways. What does this mean for you? 

Commercials and videos

Imagine that you’re launching a series of commercials (or videos if you’re working with a smaller budget). As a neurotransmitter that facilitates goal-directed behavior, dopamine can motivate your audience to watch commercials with added interest – as long as you set the stage with the first commercial. If anticipation spikes dopamine, and dopamine drives behavior, you can develop anticipation between commercials to facilitate the desired behavioral response.

In 2006, Dos Equis launched the Most Interesting Man in the World campaign, which featured a grey-haired adventurer who impressed with charisma and fanciful exploits. The campaign tapped into your reward system through humor and storytelling. If you found the humor funny, for example, and you wanted to know how the next commercial would further define the Most Interesting Man in the World (while making you laugh), you were certain to pay close attention to each new commercial. The results? From 2008 to 2013, Dos Equis grew by 116% in the American market, thus turning it into “the fastest growing beer brand in the country.” 

How do you create a reward-driven campaign using commercials or videos? One tactical approach is to develop a cohesive narrative that plays like a movie over multiple commercials. By making sure each clip contains a reward along with a small cliff-hanger, you can get your audience to anticipate what the next commercial might reveal, thereby giving your brand access to one of the most valuable things in a competitive business environment—your audience’s attention. 

Email marketing 

Do you want people to open your marketing emails? Of course, you do. As you already know, the first step is to provide value. But that’s not enough. You need your audience to anticipate value. To do this, you need to make your inbox name become associated with rewarding content. 

How exactly does this work? If your emails contain rewards, such as insightful information, curious content, or humorous content, your name becomes a cue for the reward, thereby informing your audience that a reward is on the way. For your next campaign, therefore, determine what type of reward you plan on using – and be consistent to ensure your name becomes associated with the reward inside of the message. As soon as you’re able to create anticipation of what’s inside a message, you’ll not only see a spike in dopamine, but you’ll also see a spike in your open rates. 

Driving results 

When used correctly, marketing science can drive better results than traditional marketing. The key is to generate intrigue through value-based content that makes the reader anticipate the next communication – regardless if it’s an email, infographic, webinar, commercial or video. As you tackle your next marketing project, therefore, remember the golden rule of content marketing: get your audience to anticipate value. And once you do that, you’ll be able to influence goal-directed behavior that leads to a stronger bottom line. 

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Jade Bunke is a leading authority in marketing science, brand strategy, and demand generation. As a marketing scientist with expertise in buyer behavior, Mr. Bunke blends creative marketing with aspects of cognitive neuroscience, social psychology, and behavioral economics to yield optimal results.