Last updated: Neuroscience: Decoding the mind for effective engagement

Neuroscience: Decoding the mind for effective engagement


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There’s always been a theory that the stock market and slot machines operate on an algorithm, and if we could just decode that equation, it would be the key to instant riches. The same is true for sales. In our world of supercomputers, there ought to be a system to automate a process for instant wealth, right?

Nope. There are way too many variables. Our STEM-y friends will sheepishly admit to that even while they quixotically pursue an equation to unlock the secrets of the universe.

On the other hand, there are plainly observable patterns in the universe. Day follows night and winter comes after autumn. We may not be able to predict whether it will be a harsh winter, but it will surely come. While it would be folly to try to defeat the natural order of things or even to predict it with massive amounts of data, it’s entirely possible to understand it.

The same can be said of the marketplace. The key to winning is not to outsmart the marketplace, but to understand it. That means we need to understand the human minds that populate it.

Here’s where neuroscience comes in.

Neuroscience and marketing

Why do people behave the way they do? Why do they click? Why do they buy? Neuroscience gives us those answers.

For example, the human brain has trillions of synapses, and it processes 11 million bits of sensory information every second. What’s truly remarkable about this is that only 40-60 bits per second are on a conscious level. The rest? Powering our subconscious.

What this means is that if we’re not connecting with our audience on a subconscious level, the impact of our marketing is going to be extremely limited.

The flip side is that if we can engage with our audience with powerful subconscious connections, we open up the possibility of building a strong relationship.

The power of emotions

It’s also worth noting that the brain is a product of adaptation. For humans, this means that thinking and reacting is a matter of survival. When confronted with a message ― marketing ― a prospect will make a nanosecond decision regarding whether it’s coming from a friend or a foe, triggering a fight or flight response. It turns out that being confronted with a marketing message is more emotional than intellectual.

The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio found that individuals with damage to the part of the brain that triggers emotions (in other words, individuals who could not feel happy, sad, angry, or other emotions) had an extremely difficult time making any kind of decision, including purchase decisions. Emotions are an essential ingredient in human decision-making.

Put another way, if our marketing is not evoking an emotional response from our audience, we’re making it mentally difficult for them to engage with and buy from us.

With this in mind, we can connect with our audience on a deeper level by focusing on three things:
  1. Storytelling
  2. Aesthetics
  3. Context

Craft a compelling story

Unfortunately, many marketing programs fail because we simply leverage demographic data to make assumptions about our prospects and then pelt them with statistics or features-and-benefits lists. Human beings (and yes, prospects are human beings, not numbers) don’t typically respond positively to that. It’s going to trigger that fight or flight response and they’ll be on the next train out of Dodge.

Product specs have their place in a marketer’s toolbox, but that is generally for when the prospect is making a decision. At the top of the funnel ― or the beginning of the buyer’s journey ― we need to romance them a little before we get down to business.

Keeping neuroscience in mind, we need to build trust first with an empathetic story.

The human touch: Neuroscience and aesthetics

In today’s world, prospects are beyond arm’s length. Hundreds of years ago, marketing took place in a literal marketplace where a buyer and seller would meet face to face and could size each other up with millions of sensory inputs every second. Today, when a marketer sends out a message, it’s as though it drifts away into the ether.

The best way to combat this problem is with well-crafted stories that we can be certain will resonate with our prospect’s subconscious. We also need to have a firm understanding of aesthetics to know how our choice of color, line, space, vocabulary, tone, tempo, and so much more will affect how our message will be received.

Remember, our message will be received by a human being, so we should craft it with humanity.

That all-important matter of context

Finally, acknowledge that we cannot know when, where, or how our message will be received. Will our prospects open that email on the train or in the bathtub? Will they be distracted by their baby crying, or will they be relaxing on the beach? Where will they be on the buyer’s journey? Are they just starting their fact finding or are they comparing various offers?

We also need to pay attention to how people like to consume information. While some prefer to read, others are more visual, and still others are more auditory. What’s more, their function in a company may be that of a user, key influencer, or decision maker.

Also, our prospects may work in a variety of industries, or lines of business, or sizes of company, or geographies. The best way to appeal to them is to create content that tells the story in their “language.”

We can combat this challenge with the “digital chop shop,” which means that we repurpose our central message in many different ways using multiple mediums to increase our chances of interfacing with each prospect at the optimal time and fashion.

Yes, we can put out a white paper, but we also can film a video trailer of that paper for those who prefer visual inputs or record the whole thing as an audio book for those who feel the need to get away from their screens while still taking in content. And, importantly, we can extract information from our primary content to create derivative content that appeals to discrete niches, telling the story in a manner that appeals to them.

Win trust + loyalty
with a data great strategy

This post was co-authored by Tom Shapiro, author and CEO, Stratabeat, Inc. He recently published “Rethink Lead Generation: Advanced Strategies to Generate More Leads for Your Business.”

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