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Would you like to significantly improve the effectiveness of your marketing communications? Of course, you would... We all would.

If you were to read Neuromarketing by Patrick Renvoisé and Christophe Morin, you would better understand how to get prospects to respond to your marketing efforts.

This article is the first of two intended to summarize some key arguments of—and encourage you to read—their book to better understand the how and why of effective marketing communication. That's because it can help you better understand how the brain functions—what it responds to and understands.

Neuromarketing also substantiates the business process for positioning that I've been advocating for more than 20 years: Use simple language, make a unique claim that solves a real business problem, and repeat your position over and over to claim it.

Neuromarketing's Three Parts of the Brain and Their Functions

The brain has three distinct parts, according to Renvoisé and Morin, and the best way to improve the effectiveness of your message is to direct your communication to the decision-maker area: the so-called old brain, or what the authors name the reptilian brain. It makes decisions by considering input from both the "new brain" and the "middle brain."

  1. The new brain thinks: It processes rational data.
  2. The middle brain feels: It processes emotions and gut feelings.
  3. The reptilian brain is much less developed than the other two parts of the brain, yet it makes the decisions: Though it takes into account input from the other two areas of the brain, the reptilian brain pulls the actual trigger for decisions.

In the book How the Brain Works, brain researcher Leslie A. Hart writes, "Much evidence now indicates that the reptilian brain is the main switch in determining what sensory input will go to the new brain, and what decisions will be accepted."

More recently, in Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner and psychology professor, brilliantly demonstrated that we have two primary systems in the brain. System 2 (the slow brain) is the so-called smart brain, and System 1 (the reptilian brain) is the fast but primitive brain. After 30 years of research, Kahneman concluded: "System 1 still rules."

Accordingly, to become successful communicators, marketers need to understand neuromarketing and how to get through to the reptilian brain.

The Reptilian Brain

This most primitive section of our brain has not yet had enough time, on an evolutionary scale, for written words to influence it. And because the reptilian brain is so primitive, just six types of stimuli reach it. In that light, let's look at the reptilian brain (note that some of the following content was taken directly from Neuromarketing).

The reptilian brain...

1. Is self-centered. The reptilian brain has no patience or empathy for anything that does not immediately concern its own well-being and survival. Your entire message should focus on your audience, not you: Your audience must hear what you can do for them before they will pay attention to you. Buyers really don't care whether you are No. 1 or the leader or the most innovative; they are in buy mode because they have a problem. You need to tell them how you solve it!

2. Likes contrast. The reptilian brain is most sensitive to clear contrast, such as before/after, risky/safe, fast/slow. Without a clear-cut choice, the reptilian brain enters into a state of confusion, leading to delayed decision or no decision at all.

Fundamentally, the reptilian brain is wired to pay attention to disruption or changes of state. Those changes may signal what is going on in our environment, so they receive priority in the way they are processed by our reptilian brain.

3. Needs concise input. Since the reptilian brain can't process language, the use of complicated words slows down the decoding of your message and automatically places the burden of information processing onto the new brain; as a result, your audience will want to "think" about making the decision more than they will want to "act" and decide now.

The reptilian brain can't process concepts like "a flexible solution," or "an integrated approach," without a great deal of effort and confusion. It appreciates simple, easy-to-grasp ideas like "more money," "unbreakable," and "24-hour turnaround time."

4. Focuses on beginnings and endings. The reptilian brain enjoys openings and finales, and often overlooks what's in between. Placing the most important content at the beginning is therefore a must, as is repeating it at the end. Here's why:

For survival, it is in the best interest of your reptilian brain to be most alert at the beginning and end of interactions, in case change or new factor is cause for danger. Anything in the middle of your message will be mostly overlooked because once the reptilian brain becomes comfortable, it often goes into a sort of energy-saving mode and pays less attention to its surroundings, often dropping information in the process.

Psychologists call this phenomenon the primacy and recency effects. "The primacy effect is the beginning; you remember it because that is where you started," wrote clinical psychologist Devin Kowalczyk. "The recency effect is the finish; you remember the end the best."

Your opening, when you're presenting or writing, is crucial. If you do not grab your prospects' attention in the beginning of an exchange, you may lose them forever.

5. Relies on visual stimuli. The reptilian brain is visual. The optic nerve delivers input to the brain 50 times faster than the auditory nerve does. The visual processing capability of our brain has evolved to this level as a matter of survival. You will jump back from a stick that appears to be a snake before you even think about it.

The brain is therefore both extraordinarily fast and dangerously hasty. It is hardwired to make decisions that are based mostly on visual input. By using visual stimuli in your marketing communications, you ensure that you tap into the processing bias that the brain has developed over thousands of years.

6. Is emotional. The reptilian brain is triggered by emotion. Therefore, we remember events better when we have experienced them with strong emotion. "We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think," said Antonio Damasio, head of the neuroscience department at UC Irvine.

Taking into account those six characteristics and integrating them into your marketing communications will give you access to the reptilian brain and immediately improve the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

The next article in this two-part series explains why specific tactics—such as repetition, use of simple language, and storytelling—will further improve the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

More Resources on Neuromarketing and Communication

Four Visual Neuromarketing Hacks to Boost Your Branding

Why People Really Do What They Do: 'Primal Brain' Author Tim Ash on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

Six Neuroscience Principles to Supercharge Your Marketing Campaigns

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Improve Your Marketing Communications With Insights From Neuromarketing (Part 1 of 2)

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image of Lawson Abinanti

Lawson Abinanti is the founder of Messages That Matter. For 15+ years he has helped mid-market and enterprise software companies stand out with messages that matter to B2B buyers.

LinkedIn: Lawson Abinanti