Funny thing your brain.
In the last few million years of evolution the human brain has refined and tweaked its wiring to near perfection.
It has built enough power to develop language, process staggering amounts of information, and run a pattern recognition machine that is the envy of all the animal kingdom (my own brain has even learned to decipher my accountant’s emails, which –trust me– is no mean feat).
And yet, what does this state-of-the-art, full-spec piece of engineering do pretty much all day?
It counts calories!
Seriously! We descend from a world of scarcity, where a few extra calories could have made the difference between life and death. Imagine finding yourself face-to-face with a lion (or my accountant, for that matter), and you only have a few seconds to fight or flight. I bet you’re wishing you had a little extra porridge this morning…
And before you brush this off as evolutionary nerd-talk, let me bring it closer to your own experience: you are trying to run a business (or hold a job) in a less-than-favourable economic climate, while at the same time trying to be a good parent, a caring spouse, and keep your body in decent shape. You need A LOT of mental energy for that. You can’t afford wasting it.
And yet, every day we are exposed to between 3000 and 5000 commercial messages (!!), which use up a big amount of brain fuel.
So, what does the brain do? As soon as a message is not vital, or simply too confusing, the brain literally shuts it out, in order to conserve energy for more important tasks.
Besides, all these messages come from all kinds of sources, and trying to make sense of them is like multi-tasking, which is always a bad idea: making the brain shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel it needs when we ask it to concentrate on our own message.
We’ve all experienced it. Someone is talking to us about something we’re not particularly interested in (typically it’s my accountant), and on top of that they don’t get to the point and they use confusing language.
To get something out of it, we have to concentrate really hard, and it becomes a real effort. We are burning through fuel too quickly. So we just switch off, and would not be able to repeat what we’ve just been told.
Ok, so what does that have to do with marketing?
Well, this could well be the most important thing you need to know about marketing, ever:
Clarify your message or people won’t engage.
Let me put it another way:
In a complex world, the brain craves clarity. Unless you message is clear, any other marketing effort will be absolutely useless!
These are 3 very basic things you can do to help the brain of your listeners engage with your marketing message, and cut right through the noise and the fog:
Appeal to its sense of survival
This sounds like a tricky one when you sell lawn care or legal services, but it becomes clear when you think about what survival can mean.
I see three main traits to survival:
It is basic because it’s about basic necessities, and because it’s urgent, so anything too complicated, irrelevant or inconsequential gets ignored. As we’ve seen above, the brain always filters out confusing messages.
It is selfish because the brain is concerned with its own survival. A marketing message, in order to be effective, needs to be about the listener. Either it’s about them personally, their problem and their desires, and how you plan to help them, or it needs to be from their perspective.
Make sure you make it obvious that it is about them.
Seemingly in contradiction with the previous point, is social: in order to survive, and to thrive, we need a tribe, and we need to know that the tribe will be there to protect us when danger approaches. And so we need things like social networks (in the original sense of the word), a sense of community, and status.
This means that you can make your message really effective if you talk about how you’re going to help them find a loyal tribe, which could mean, depending on what you do, that you’ll help them be loved/liked by people, be respected by their peers or have the approval of their superiors.
Another aspect is status: This is important in any tribe because it is what will help us secure a mate, scare off enemies and win powerful allies. That’s why we spend thousands on a Rolex when a 30£ Swatch does exactly the same thing.
- Keep it simple (at least to begin with)
- Make it about them
- Talk about how you’re going to help them to: be liked, be respected, gain status.
Speak to the customer’s pain
It’s a common mistake to only focus on the benefits of your product or service, without taking the time to talk about the problem. The reptilian part of the brain (which is the gatekeeper, and is the one we’re focussing on in this post) is more concerned about avoiding pain than it is about gaining pleasure (that’s the job of the mammalian brain, which we’ll talk about another time) so telling someone how great you’ll make them feel may not be very effective if you don’t also grab their attention by establishing a problem.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t explain what you can do for your customers (it also doesn’t mean that you set out to make people feel bad about themselves!). Quite the opposite: everyone has obstacles they are trying to overcome, and you need to know what they are. You can only do this by listening and getting to know them, and you need to show them that you understand their problem.
And then you need to make it very clear how you’re going to alleviate their pain.
- Establish a problem your customers are facing
- Describe the problem as vividly as possible
- Explain how you’re going to remove that problem
Don’t ask your customers to burn up too much mental energy
I said this in the introduction, but it’s so important that I actually added it as a separate point.
Our brain, in spite of accounting for only 2% of our body mass, burns 20% our energy, so it is very concerned with conserving calories.
The best way to make it easy for the brain is, as we said at the beginning, practice clarity in every word of your message.
Whether it’s your website, your keynote speech, your elevator pitch or just an email, make a habit to put yourself in the shoes of a very busy person, who is only scanning your content and is also thinking about a million other things (and, painfully, doesn’t really give a crap about what you have to say, unless she feels there’s something in it for her).
With my clients I always use the analogy of the Lighthouse as a way to mean the single thing we want to achieve with our message, or the single point we want to get across.
At every sentence, keyframe, or slide, ask yourself these two questions:
- Is this taking me closer to my Lighthouse?
- Why should they care?
Can you answer the last two questions? Are you clear on how your brand is helping your customer solve a problem?
If you’re answer is not a resounding YES, then please don’t bother with that email campaign, the new website or that cool video you are commissioning, and try to get clear on the points above first. Until you do I promise you that you are literally wasting money and time with your marketing efforts.
Work on building some clarity today! You’ll thank me later.