As a self professed science nerd my study of choice over the last decade has been neuroscience, so much so that I’ve built a consulting practice centered on a notion that we can improve our selling success by incorporating its scientific findings.
This field of study has been called neuromarketing, but others, like Robert Schiller, have also linked these concepts to their own fields of interest. He writes:
“Neuroscience – the science of how the brain, that physical organ inside one’s head, really works – is beginning to change the way we think about how people make decisions. These findings will inevitably change the way we think about how economies function. In short, we are at the dawn of ‘neuroeconomics.’
“Efforts to link neuroscience to economics have occurred mostly in just the last few years, and the growth of neuroeconomics is still in its early stages. But its nascence follows a pattern: revolutions in science tend to come from completely unexpected places. A field of science can turn barren if no fundamentally new approaches to research are on the horizon. Scholars can become so trapped in their methods – in the language and assumptions of the accepted approach to their discipline – that their research becomes repetitive or trivial.”
Whether you feel neuromarketing, neuroeconomic or even neuropolitical thought is appropriate, here are some ideas you might want consider if you’re in the business of selling technological products or services.
Much has been written recently about how humans use the most primitive regions of their brains to make decisions, and that these decisions are not always (or even usually) rational. In fact, rational thought can often get in the way of action – how else can we explain suicide bombers?
In previous articles, I’ve discussed the scientific underpinnings of our human penchant for non-rational decision-making and how much individual and group behaviour is predictable by understanding our evolutionary history.
Studies clearly indicate that while evolution of human behaviour seems to have followed adaptation principles that seem somewhat random, they are really an assembly of behaviour and activities that help us cope with whatever current circumstances we face.
Dr. Marcus says that our brains have not been designed from the ground up. He describes it as a kluge, something that is “a clumsy or inelegant – yet successful – solution to a problem.” He points out that “adequacy, not beauty, is the name of the game.”
In evolutionary terms, we are alive today because the primitive centres functioning in our brains are clearly focused on our survival. In effect, this means that the other various regions of our brains have been able to overcome structural deficiencies because they worked well enough to keep us alive.
You can’t believe how many startups I’ve dealt with that don’t understand this principle also applies to their businesses. Rather than selling, they often focus on designing and fine-tuning an application or device that has yet to find an audience, wasting precious resources in the process. If survival is what the old brain is focused on, then selling your ideas should be what you are focused on. I had a colleague who put it this way: “Sell it first, then design and build. If no one wants to buys it, why bother figuring out all the features it could have.”
One head, three brains, one decision maker
What other “neurofacts” might you find of interest?
On the way to the development of mankind, our brain went through several distinct evolutionary phases. The anatomy of the modern brain provides the history of this development. First, there was a brain stem, which is the lowermost and most primitive layer of the brain. It is the part of the brain that oversees such functions as reproduction, self-preservation, blood circulation, breathing, sleeping, and the contractions of muscles in response to external stimulation. This brain stem sits on top of the spinal column at the base of the skull. It is the “old brain,” sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain because all vertebrates, from reptiles to mammals, possess it.
As it turns out, this is the brain that makes all decisions. The old brain does its job so well that it took almost 300 million years of evolution for this brain to be augmented by a “middle brain,” sometimes known as the mammalian brain. And another 100 million years or so later (only three million years ago), the “new brain,” the cerebral cortex, responsible for cognitive processing, appeared in early hominids. Research in neurosciences demonstrates that although these three brains communicate with each other, each one has a specialized function. Simply put:
• The new brain thinks. It processes rational data and shares its deductions with the other two brains.
• The middle brain feels. It processes emotions and gut feelings and also shares its findings with the other two brains.
• The old brain decides. It takes input from the other two brains, but it controls the decision-making process.
Sell to the decision maker
It took a couple of marketing people, Patrick Renvoise and Christophe Morin, to recognize the marketing implications of one powerful insight: If we make decisions in a clearly defined part of our brain, why not direct messages in a way that that part of the brain can understand?
In their 2005 book, Neuromarketing: Is There a ‘Buy Button’ Inside the Brain, Renvoise and Morin point out that while the old brain is the survivalist brain, it is so primitive it responds to only a few stimuli. To put it bluntly, your offering will be judged quickly using the old brain’s response to these inputs:
The old brain only cares only about “me.”
The old brain is a very self-centered entity, and general considerations about anything else do not reach it. Think of the old brain as the center of me. Do not assume that it has any patience or empathy for anything that does not immediately concern its survival and well-being. The success of Facebook is clearly an example of this phenomenon. With over one billion members, each and every site is an image of its owner. It is “me” magnified. But never forget, the “me” you’re trying to reach with your product is not you – it’s your end user. And your app must solve a problem that user actually cares about.
The old brain seeks contrast.
Before/after, with/without, slow/fast, I’m a Mac/I’m a PC contrasts all allow the old brain to decide. Contrast is a safe decision engine that allows the old brain to make quick and safe decisions. Without contrast, the old brain enters a state of confusion, which ultimately results in delayed decisions.
Facebook’s Instagram, which started as a photo-sharing app, recently introduced a video-sharing product to counter other offerings such as Twitter’s Vine, and both are promoting themselves as simple solutions for video sharing. What’s the difference? Perhaps Instagram is hoping it’s more convenient to use and already has a base of users or Vine thinks it provides a more comprehensive solution and has a large base of users, but comparisons like a recent Calgary Herald article I read makes it easy to understand the distinction between these two sites, and I know which one I would prefer. And what about those other thousand or so competitors in this space?
Who cares? (To be fair, a good comparison of the top eight can be found at PCMag.com)
The old brain responds to tangible things.
Numbers work for the new brain, but the old brain can’t make a decision based on numbers alone. The old brain is constantly scanning for what is familiar and friendly, what can be recognized quickly, what is tangible and immutable. The old brain cannot process concepts like flexible solutions, integrated approaches, or scalable architecture without effort and doubt. Tangible solutions provide financial, strategic or personal benefits. Saving money; easier to use; sharing with my friends — these are tangible examples.
The old brain is visual.
Neuroscience demonstrates that when you see something that looks like a snake, your old brain warns you instantly of danger so that you react even before the new brain recognizes the danger as a snake. This implies that visual processing enters the old brain first, which can lead to a very fast and effective connection to the true decision-maker. Sites such as Pinterest have garnered over 70 million users worldwide by recognizing the simplicity of “pinning” pictures to a virtual bulletin board for sharing and reference.
The old brain responds strongly to emotion.
Neuroscience has clearly demonstrated that “emotional cocktails” create chemical reactions that directly impact the way we memorize and act. Ask any Apple user how he or she feels about their device, and often love enters into it. In early days Blackberry users likely felt the same, but I would also suggest they’re feeling more forlorn these days. Perhaps a Samsung Galaxy will hit their hot buttons, but regardless, an emotional connection has to be involved for customer loyalty.
At the end of the day and as I’ve written before, we avoid our evolutionary past at our peril. My final advice: In trying to convince a 400-million-year-old brain to use your latest technological magic, keep it simple.
This is the next contribution to this blog by Associate Bob Bailly, a Calgary-based neuro-marketing practitioner. You can contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org