The pitch from a neuromarketing perspective

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By Bob Bailly

In the July 13 post on Francis Moran and Associates blog’s Great Articles Roundup, this excerpt was referenced and it caught my eye: The startup pitch in the corporate context.

You can tell a lot about a company by its approach to the business pitch. This post argues that the corporate business pitch could take some pointers from the standard VC pitch, which should always identify a clear problem, provide a compelling solution and be differentiated, aspirational, inspirational, and visually communicative.

The excerpt references a longer blog piece written by Joe Lee that contains great practical advice on the corporate pitch. I’m pleased to say his ideas are also supported from a neuro-scientific point of view.

Research clearly shows the brain can be categorized in three separate parts that act as separate organs with different cellular structures and different specialized functions.

  • The “New Brain” thinks. It is the cerebral brain that 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.

From my work in neuromarketing I’ve discovered overwhelming evidence that the true decision maker is the old brain. And once you understand this, your entire sales and marketing strategy should apply completely different communication principles in order to persuade this part of the brain.


In their book, Neuromarketing: Understanding the buy buttons in your customer’s brain, Christophe Morin and Patrick Renvoise describe a very simple approach to setting up a pitch.

Pain – What is the customer’s real pain, and how can you demonstrate that you understand what it is?

Claim – What is your solution to their problem, and how is it different from anything else available?

Gain – What is the value proposition. Is it financial, strategic and/or personal and how can your value be tangibly demonstrated?

Old brain – Sell to the old brain. Use contrast, begin and end strongly, be visual, be emotional, and use tangible evidence – all stimuli recognized by the old drain.

With this in mind, here’s what Joe advised in his excellent article, with my take as to why his advice is sound from a neuromarketing perspective.

Start with a key customer problem

What is the pain point, the customer frustration? What’s the problem that the new opportunity will solve?  Without a clear problem there is no solution.

It is the old brain that mankind has relied on for thousands of years for survival: the fight, flight, and feeding brain. The old brain is really focused on one thing – me. So starting with the customer’s problem – their pain and their frustration – is indeed the essential beginning to your pitch. And understanding that the old brain also pays attention more at the beginning or the end of any event, it is even more essential that a presenter grab attention early by focusing on their customer, not themselves.

In my work I recommend this “grabber” can be in the form of:

A rhetorical question: Asking a rhetorical question can get to the heart of their problem and imply you have a solution. It also seeks confirmation that your solution is required. For example: “What if I can show you how you can accelerate your sales time, increase your profit, and improve communications throughout your company? Would that be good for you?”

A prop: If you use a prop that is a visual and tangible representation of your point of view, it will be better remembered by the old brain than most of what you say. I’ve used a Mickey Mouse doll to explain brand theory and recently gave a speech using a baby blanket and a rock to make a point.

A story: The old brain is highly visual. Simply put, stories put our brains in visual mode. We are able to understand more quickly in our old brain than by trying to digest facts and figures in the new brain.

A contrasted set up of pictures: The old brain understands contrast best – hot/cold, near/far and alive/dead are simple examples. So if you can use pictures (even metaphorical ones) that show things like before and after, or them versus us, or your problem and our solution, you will gain faster understanding of your ideas.

Startup strategy – be really good at one thing

Companies like Mint and Twitter didn’t start out just trying to sell something. They identified a clear need that people had and relentlessly delivered a focused solution for that problem. They thought about the best way to solve the problem that was identified.

This is your claim or your difference, and it is the compelling reason why the old brain should care about you and your offer. I mentioned earlier that the old brain understands contrast. In fact, from the old brain’s point of view, no contrast means no decision. If your company is only one of a number of possible solutions, the old brain is not likely to respond. However, if you are the only or the one solution that works for specific reasons, you have a much better chance of success.

Remember the “I’m a Mac – I’m a PC” campaign? In it, Apple lumps every other computer manufacturer into a large generic category and then compares favourable Mac features only.

Sell don’t explain

Just because you’re in a company doesn’t mean you should stop selling. Let’s be clear here, a business pitch is about one thing – selling a convincing business opportunity. The best salespeople do it through storytelling, visualization, rationale, and connecting with the participants on an emotional level. Enable them to connect with the customer need that you have identified.

From a neuromarketing perspective, Joe is bang on. We are wired to remember emotional events (weddings, 9/11, births, deaths are never forgotten) over non-emotional (do you remember what you had for lunch last Thursday?) because emotional events are fight or flight stimulators, the basis of all decisions made by the old brain. Hormones, synaptic connections and memory are all involved.

And finally, the old brain is highly visual and prefers tangible proof about your proposition and about you. Fight or flight. Do I like you or don’t I?

Use numbers at the right place and time

Have some quantitative data to back up your claims but don’t make them the hero of your pitch. Make sure those numbers are credible and specifically relevant to your business. There’s nothing worse than showing a bunch of market numbers that aren’t relevant to your specific market or value proposition.

The middle and new brains are the parts of our brains that are looking for evidence to support or override the old brain’s decision. Combined, these “thinking brains” analyze the value proposition.

And how do these brains evaluate value? Research suggests we perceive value in three ways:

Financial: Anything that will increase returns or reduce costs.

Strategic: Anything that will increase performance or reduce waste.

Personal: Anything that will improve the emotional wellbeing of the customer.

As a general comment, although you need to prove your claims to the middle and new brains, the evidence need only be enough to support the decision the old brain has made.

Show how you’re different or better than current competitors

This is the kicker. If you’ve set up the pitch properly, showing how your business model is different or better should be a no-brainer and you should see a light go on in the eyes of your audience. The “ah ha!” moment where people say, “Yes, that’s exactly what we need!”

To ensure greater success in getting to that “ah ha” moment, consider both Joe’s advice and what neuroscience can teach us about making the best possible presentations. If you understand your customer’s pain and your claim is compelling, then the gain presented in a memorable way and understood by their old brain should ensure presentation success.

I work with many of my clients so they are able to do this in 25 words or less (the elevator pitch) or as a presentation lasting no longer than five minutes. Why? The old brain decides quickly, so getting to their “ah ha” moment earlier means a better chance of it becoming your hurrah moment later.

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