Why Neuromarketing?

Let's start with a quick recap of our own story, and how we came to find the impact of neuromarketing.


William Ballance, co-founder and CEO, had left his job working at a data-driven e-commerce marketing technology company to launch his first company. Will planned on changing the way that schools connected with young alumni. 


As he started on (aptly named) Alum. He thought it should be no different than the scrappy world of data-driven e-commerce. Schools needed to get their giving rates and overall donation totals up, and he had a solution for them.


The problem with this theory was the nature of the customer. While the e-commerce world is full of entrepreneurial open-minded individuals scrapping to make conversions- the higher education space has a different mentality.


Will finally found a prep school in New York where he got the response he expected. The headmaster "wanted to be the first person in New York to use Alum".

What was it about this person that made him so different from the usual responses of "who has used this software before"?


Will, like many marketers, looked at everything available. Who was this headmaster? (Demographics, job titles, company metrics) What he had been doing (behavioral data) that led to this? Where did this person come from? (source traffic) 


Will had personas built. He had different communication strategies going, but the traction wasn't there.


What Will realized, was that there was something that was missing from this equation. How did these different headmasters perceive the world?

Personality, the most effective heuristic for understanding someone’s perceptions of the world around them, provided a great new lens for Will to look at his customer base from. While most of the headmasters cared deeply about the problem at hand. They scored lower for openness than he did.

The “pitch” wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t cognitively tailored to his prospects needs for security, risk mitigation, and process understanding. His New York adopter was more open and more extraverted than the average person he came across. This person was a big picture thinker. He wasn't just another persona.


This is really where most marketers are operating today.

  • They have an idea of the who

  • They know what they’re doing

  • They know where they came from

You can build segmentations here. You can leverage machine learning and other AI to move these funnels more quickly. These efforts will drive results strictly because you’re getting more efficient. Have you thought of the holistic system you’re making more efficient and at what cost? 


It is a guessing game. Your best-optimized system is still guessing and iterating on past beliefs and experiences.

What if you could supercharge those systems with a better preemptive understanding of how that individual wants to receive information?

Our belief at Sorter is that by fueling those systems with the richest egosyntonic, cognitive, and emotional information possible we will be able to create a more delightful digital experience for everyone. It’s not about creating addictive systems. It’s not about creating some system that pushes people to do things outside of their best interest. It’s about presenting information to people in a way that fits with how they’d like to receive it.

It’s the internet personalized to your biological terms.


When it comes to how people think, we have two sides to the spectrum: cheap, low resolution and ineffective and expensive, high resolution, yet difficult to scale.

On the cheaper end of the spectrum, we have been dependent on dated methodologies like surveys, focus groups, and interviews. Paired with an AI system, you can start to scale this, but it still has limitations

  • There is a difference between what people say they want and what they do

  • This, nor the AI systems that attempt to scale this, answer the problematic “how” when it comes to how to create the most effective information transfer.

    • They’re just optimizing behaviors around an end result. You’re just guessing more efficiently

On the expensive end of the spectrum, you’ll find more advanced techniques and Ph.Ds (your neuroscientists). When agencies are helping companies put together their Superbowl Ads, designing the aesthetics of new products, or deciding which clips to put into a movie trailer so you can’t help but be hooked- you’re starting to look at more advanced and more biological signals.

This is effective at understanding what kind of neurological phenomena you can expect across a population, but it’s certainly not individualized or affordable for most brands. Some tips and tricks can be disseminated from the enterprise learnings, but it’s certainly not going to be a perfect fit for every single one of your campaigns.


Marketers are stuck trying to optimize without a real understanding of who their customers are and what they want. This impacts the way so many of us are able to build relationships with customers. The behavior-based optimization tools that marketers are left shelling out for in order to have the same artillery as the big brands leaves them at a disadvantage. The lifetime value of the customer suffers because we're too focused on the short term because everything we're optimized for is short term conversions.

  • The experience isn’t necessarily optimal for the person receiving it

  • You could be unintentionally triggering the flight or fight system

    • Pushing someone through the process might help the bottom line now, but when the competition comes knocking don’t be surprised when they don’t come back.

Starting your optimizations from a better understanding of how someone perceives and feels about the world around them allows you to set optimization systems off with the proper objective function.

What's an objective function? 🤔 

An objective function is a technical term for the result a machine learning system is trying to optimize for. 🤖😎🤖 

With optimizations being focused on the greatest good for the customer. We can go from getting the next click to getting the experience right. When the experience is right, click-throughs and revenue will follow, but so will loyalty to your brand and referrals to others.


Think about the last time you touched great software 

It felt just right. Your experience was simple, it felt natural or intuitive. Maybe you didn’t “think” about it much at all. Those are the experiences that create brands that win. Those subtle touches that subconsciously resonate are what make you buy, use, and share tools. It’s no different for brands.

Are you making these moments? When you make those moments happen… was it because you planned for it? Or did you just get lucky?

It’s okay to admit luck. You’d need to be a mind reader In order to prescribe these moments. We’re working on it at Sorter, but we all still have a long way to go. 😉 

What we have figured out is that you can scale your understanding of peoples’ mental patterns through personality science. Personality is this awesome glimpse into how someone views the world around them. It’s a stellar heuristic for how someone processes all of the different stimuli around them and makes sense of the world.

Don’t you have to take a personality test to know someone’s personality? Not necessarily.

While it’s not easy to watch and measure your actions in the real world, what you do online can give all the clues you need. Digital exhaust can tell us a lot about the way people think and feel about the world around them.

This information is what allows us to tailor digital experiences so that you’re not complaining about getting the same terrible ads that follow you around the internet. I’m well aware that you don’t need to see cowboy themed horse saddle barstools as you scroll the web (no joke that’s happened). 

Our challenge is making sure computers get that too. This information allows us to better predict not just how you’d behave given a stimulus, but how to make that process as pleasant as possible.

This new way of processing someone’s data is powerful. Marketer’s responsibility to this point was to bring people in the door. With so much more power, it’s time to question if the scope of marketers has to change. 

Digitally driven consumers have been discussed at nauseam. Because we’ve lived it, we know a marketers role has expanded to look something like a:

  • IT: Can’t meet the consumers need for a trusting seamless experience without data security/privacy and integrations 

  • Operations: Agile is a must have buzzword these days, but the teams that win really are nimble

  • HR: The war for talent has made employee branding a must

  • CFO: Budgets are becoming a reflection of what can be measured

What about the ethics of what we do? Just because we’re really good at driving a behavior, should we? Just because we can house that information, should we?

GDPR and other privacy legislation is a good step at taking some of these questions on, but marketers can do more as well. Left to its own devices, algorithms will run us into the ground. We get this, but do you?

This data holds power. It’s time to add ethics to the expanding role of a marketer.

As Noah Omri Levin, Marketing Director at Search Discovery told us, "The rapid expansion of these technologies is a good thing. Since it isn't some slow trickle of progress, we are asking better questions about what we want our progress to look like."

We've all seen the flurry of news coverage regarding the invasion of privacy and lack of security. Both are valid concerns that need to be addressed with consumers. If someone's private information is handled securely and is handled by a team with a good ethical backbone, you can start to start to build real trust with consumers.

Fortunately, personality is an ingredient that holds a lot of inherent ethical benefits over other optimization mechanisms. Because we're starting from a more informed platform, we can optimize beyond peoples' impulses towards their view of the world.

Yes, personality is a proven tool for predicting and driving conversion. We wouldn't be a very good solution if we didn't cover that entry-level need. Personality is also an effective heuristic for showing us how to design images that people are drawn to and build copy that people are going to be more compelled by.

Personality is more than conversion. Because of its egosyntonic nature, people are also happier when they buy according to their personality.

What is egosyntonic?🤔 

Egosyntonic refers to the behaviors, values, and feelings that are in harmony with one's ideal self-image.

Personality is not just creating more effective mechanisms for selling goods (yes, we do that) but for creating more effective ways to honestly convey the value of your goods and services as people want to receive them.

As we continue to help foster research in the realms of psychology, personality science, neuroscience, and behavioral economics, we will not only become better marketers: We will have the information we need to be ethical and effective.