Segmentation from a neuroscience perspective

How homogenous are target groups really?

It is obvious that a target group ought to comprise of people with identical motives and goals, value ideas and behavioral patterns.

Many of the established segmentation models define a target group either based on sociodemographic criteria (gender, age, income, location etc.) or psychographic characteristic traits, such as introverted vs. extroverted, traditional vs. modern, upper class vs. lower class and others. The question is, if these target groups necessarily feature the same motives and values? If not, how can marketing activities and advertising trigger ‘wanting’ in the subconscious part of the brain, if ‘wanting’ is based on motives and values?

The psychographic segmentation according to LimbiCODE® personas

One homogenous target group

People who have the same or similar motives and values decode messages similarly as a reward, punishment or as irrelevant. Of course, gender, age and income are relevant which is why the LimbiCODE® segmentation also includes sociodemographic factors. Interestingly, today people with the same limbic profile but  very different age groups still act similarly. Thus it’s no surprise that we find at an Open Air Concert or on a trekking trip to the Himalayas participants who’s ages are as far apart as 40 years. On top: Not everyone owning an expensive watch or a sports car is necessarily wealthy, but the limbic profile of people, who act in a certain way, is identical or at least very similar.


What we know about the six LimbiCODE® personas

Based on LimbiCODE® tests as well as research during the past ten years, we know the following aspects of the six LimbiCODE® personas:

  • Motives
  • Value system
  • Behavior (anxious, courageous, open, introvert, extrovert, etc.)
  • Attitude (progressive, conservative)
  • Style of speech and word choice (direct, clear, hard, discriminating, integrating, harmonious, etc.)
  • Music style
  • Colour preferences
  • Design preferences (important for interior design of shops, product design, packaging design, etc.)
  • Preferences for certain kind of stories (important for advertising)
  • Dramaturgy of advertising


By linking the limbic positioning of panel participants, we have detailed information about

  • Sociodemographics (gender, age, domicile, education, income)
  • Shopping behavior
  • Media consumption
  • Car brand
  • Online and offline affinity

The limbic instructions

The three limbic instructions are governed by hormones and neurotransmitters respectively

Our personalities are shaped by genes, epigenetic processes as well as experiences. These factors are responsible for the varying levels of hormones and neurotransmitters in every person. These messenger substances govern the way we act. Imagine a control system operating three influencing factors (instructions), which work on the subconscious level.
Every person has a certain part of each of these three instructions. The individual personality profile – the motives and values as such – is shaped by the specific characteristic of these instructions.


What personality characteristics are the three instructions responsible for?

The more dominant an instruction is, the clearer the motives and values are apparent in a person.

Motives, values and behavior of the six LimbiCODE® personas

Nomen est Omen

In order to simplify the work with these personas, the names of the six types relate to the main motive of each persona. This has its advantages but may also cause confusion at the same time. If a term has a negative connotation in a user’s mind, he or she will find it difficult to get over that negative connotation and to see the personality in all its facets. It is vital, however, that the terms “preserver”, “performer”, “hedonist”, “harmoniser”, the “disciplined” and “pioneer” are being perceived as an abstract and that negative or positive connotations are being ignored.

Main motives, values and behavior of all six LimbiCODE® personas

Short and concise

The description of the six personas is, of course, a major simplification and focusses only on the most important aspects. Needless to say, that the individual segments are far more complex and have a greater variety of facets,  but the consolidation  allows for easier recall of the main characteristics and thus is much user-friendlier.

The LimbiCODE® map of Switzerland

Validity and reliability of the LimbiCODE® tests

In cooperation with the Zurich University of applied Science (ZHAW), Winterthur (Dr. Kurt Ackermann / Dr. Nina Heim), a test was developed, which allows to draw up the limbic profile of the Swiss population.

The ZHAW confirmed the reliability of the LimbiCODE® test regarding the following criteria:

  • Validity (factor analysis)
  • Reliability (Cronbach’s Alpha, α=.70)


ZHAW certificate (PDF)


Our cooperation partner intervista market research verified the following criteria:

  • Re-test reliability in February 2020 with the same test panel (n=500)


Quantification of the target group

In addition to the psychographic data we can subdivide each target group along sociodemographic parameters. In order to calculate the market potential, we can subdivide the six LimbiCODE®  persona according to gender, age, education, income and language region.

The distribution of LimbiCODE® personas in Switzerland (some examples)

Are you really happy with a 70% flop rate?

Why is there a flop rate in consumer goods concepts of 70% and more despite market research?

Many companies rely on market research to test products or advertising prior to their launch. Many market research aspects, however, deliver primarily analysis in the area of explicit – the conscious – systems and neglect the implicit influence, which is the crucial area.

There are, however, more reasons why standard market research cannot prevent most flops.


Clustering of statements and evaluations

When analyzing market research results, often the core target groups’ answers are simply being assessed based on their sociographic criteria. However, when analyzing the results based on limbic segmentation, we found that the survey participants almost always had different limbic profiles.

So based on sociographic aspects alone it is not clear, if the target group has reacted positive or negative – which would be core information in order to take marketing decisions.

The analysis of market research results based on psychographic profiles (LimbiCODE® personas) offers an interesting alternative to established segmentation models. So if the test results are segmented into the six limbic types, they are significantly more meaningful, as the values and motives of the various types are known and the answers / valuations are therefore of greater relevance.


“Liking” and “Wanting” are based on two fundamentally different valuation systems From a neurobiological point of view there are two different impulses, which are processed in different areas of our brain and which are controlled by different hormones / neuro transmitters. Unfortunately, it is impossible to distinguish these differences within cognitive market research.

We may “like” things, but still won’t buy them. “Liking” is a valuation, which originates in the explicit system, i.e. the conscious thinking. You may like a certain dress or restaurant and rate it with an ‘8’ on a 1-10 scale. However, various aspects such as the price, the location, a lack of occasion to wear the dress or other circumstances may prevent you from buying/dining there. For example, when offsetting the price vs the value (reward vs punishment) “liking” is to weak to compensate the ‘punishment’ perceived by the potential loss of money (or other aspects).

To trigger a purchase, “want” is needed, which originates in the limbic system (reward system). “Want” can be so strong that people purchase items, whether having the financial means or not or other aspects clearly stand against the purchase or use of the item in question. Whenever possible, we should opt to measure the “want” rather than the “like”.


Explicit vs. implicit test method

Some questions such as the assessment of flights or hotels can by means of explicit market research easily be answered. Using an implicit test procedure in this specific case would be very difficult, if not impossible.
Implicit research methods include picture association tests, which are based on the response-time-paradigm, observations of behavior or eye tracking proceedures online or in a tachistoscope or emotion tracking.
Implicit motivations are “automatic“, “spontaneous“ and “intuitive”, but verbal expression is very limited, thus to try measuring these motivations explicitly will not results in reliable insights.
Specifically when assessing visual stimuli such as advertisements, posters, TV spots, etc. implicit research methods are better suited, as they give indications regarding the emotions which are based on the subject’s individual motive and value system.

LimbiCODE® in pratice

Analysis and comparison of the Ticinella-TV spots from 2009 and 2013

With a self-initiated and financed survey (n=967),  two TV spots of the brand Ticinella were revaluated by the ‘Institut für limbische Kommunikation’ using the method “emotional tracking” and LimbiCODE® segmentation.

The emotion curves show how the various sequences appeal to the subjects in a positive or negative way. The cumulative results point already to certain conclusions, but only the analysis of the emotions according to LimbiCODE® shows whether the target audience rated the TV spots favorable or not. The analysis of the limbic personas not belonging to the core target audience only have value in the context of a cross-check, but remain irrelevant for the evaluation of effectiveness.

Method “emotional tracking” measures feeling, not thinking

This market research method requires the respondents to rate the TV spots appeal while watching it by moving the mouse to the left (if negative) or right (if positive). Since there is only very little time to make the assessment, this method generates a strongly implicit response, meaning the assessment is mainly influenced by feelings rather than the mind.
The emotional tracking scale ranges from –500 to +500. These extremes, however, have never been reached in practical use as survey participants don’t move the mouse so extensively.
TV spot assessments ranging below +200 must be regarded as unsatisfying.

Target group of the brand Ticinella

In order to assess the TV spot, the limbic core target group had to be defined.
As this project was not conducted on behalf of the producer (Rapelli), we based the target group assessment on our experience. Placing the target group in the southern part of the LimbiCODE® hexagon, is based on the following facts:

  • Distribution: the main distribution channel is Coop
  • Pricing: the brand is neither part of Coop’s premiumtier nor in the low-price category, but in the mid-price segment
  • Market research: The assessment of the emotion curve of the2013 TVspot supports the assumption that the target group is based in the southern part of theLimbiCODE® hexagon

LimbiCODE® in market research

TV Spot 2009

Evaluation of the TV spot Ticinella 2009
(Women & Men, Age segment 14 – 65 years)

Interpretation of the emotion curves

  • The first thing to notice is that the TV spot appeals most to performers, who, however, are not part of the target group. The aspects ‘luxury’ and ‘erotism’ are the predominant reasons why it appeals to that segment. Analyzing the TV spot according to gender shows, that men are more responsive than woman, which is not ideal since 75% of all shopping (source: survey by Migros 2010) is conducted by women.
  • Preservers and the disciplined, who belong to the target group, didn’t really respond well to the spot (values between 40 and 110)
  • Harmonisers who are also part of the target group, rejected the spot altogether
  • Thehedonists and pioneers evaluate the spot as mediocre, but are not target group
  • The spot appeals more to men than women, which is not surprising at all
  • The overall evaluation according to theLimbiCODE® personas and gendershows, that the spot does not appeal to the target group.

TV Spot 2013

Evaluation of the TV Spot Ticinella 2013
(Women & Men, age segment 14 – 65 years)

Interpretation of the emotion curves

  • The 2013 spot appeals much better to the target group than the one of 2009
  • However, due to the emotional curves even the 2013 TV spot has room for improvement
  • The spot is evaluated best by the disciplined and preservers, which are the core target audience
  • Performers and pioneers remain neutral, which is neither a disadvantage nor crucial, as both personas are not part of the target group
  • The somewhat clichéd intro,as well as the premium concept (ingredients), and the (slightly erotic) togetherness while eating result in the lowest scores from the hedonists and harmonisers, since these two personas have a different value set
  • The spot appeals more to women, who conduct about 75% of all shopping (source: survey by Migros 2010)
  • The 2013 spot scores much better than the one of 2009 and it appeals to the limbic target audience as well as to women. The spot, however, has optimizing potential.


  • Based on the scores, the 2009 spot (below) can only be described as weak. Moreover, it’s evaluated best by performers, which is a clear sign that neither pictures nor story correspond with the motives and values of the actual target audience (preservers, disciplined and harmonizers), which is why it cannot get decoded in a positive way.
  • The 2013 spot is much better. It appeals to the preservers and disciplined, who form a major part of the target group. The spot, however, does not appeal to the harmonizers, who also belong to the target group.
  • The 2013 spot has some optimization potential. Based on a detailed analysis of the emotion curves, certain sequences could be changed in order to align them better with the harmonizers’ motives and values.