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How to Apply Neuromarketing Principles to Improve Marketing Effectiveness (Part 2 of 2)

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Neuromarketing, written by Patrick Renvoisé and Christophe Morin in 2002 and revised some 10 years ago, carries a message that will still come as a surprise to most marketers—in particular those who practice "me too" messaging or use buzzwords like "state-of-the-art," or "empower" or "gamechanger" or "cutting-edge," to name a few.

After reading Neuromarketing, you will never again claim to be "one of the leading providers" of anything, use time-worn buzzwords, or focus on anything except how you solve the pain of the prospects in front of you—because that's all they care about!

The How and Why of Effective Marketing Communication

I recently reviewed the notes I took years ago when I first read "Neuromarketing." I had forgotten the brilliant job the authors had done of explaining the how and why of effective communication.

Neuromarketing substantiates much of what I've been advocating for more than 20 years in my positioning-related consulting, including workshops: Use simple language, make a unique claim that solves a real business problem, and repeat your position over and over to claim it. All of which is why storytelling plays an important role in effective marketing communication.


Most Important Principles of Neuromarketing

This is the second in a two-part article series in which I highlight the most important principles in Neuromarketing, which is now undergoing a third revision. (When the new edition will be available has yet to be determined. "It's OK to mention the new version," co-author Renvoisé told me, "but we don't want to give any date for the release as it usually takes longer than we think to finalize the script!") The good news is that you don't have to wait for the new edition of Neuromarketing to start applying the principles articulated in the current edition of the book.

In the previous article, we examined the six stimuli that get the attention of the decision-making portion of the brain. This article explains specific tactics that improve the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

But first, let's quickly review some of what the first article outlined.

The brain has three distinct parts: the new brain, the middle brain, and the old "reptilian brain."

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

The best way to improve the effectiveness of your communications, therefore, is to direct your message to the decision-making reptilian brain.

Because the reptilian brain is so primitive, there are just six types of stimuli to which it responds in a favorable way:

  1. It is self-centered—always searching for ways to relieve pain and increase comfort.
  2. It can pay attention only to the beginning and ending of lengthy communications.
  3. It is visual.
  4. It likes contrast.
  5. It best understands simple language.
  6. And, finally, it is triggered by emotion.

Master ways to factor those six types of stimuli into your marketing communications, and you will be on your way to marketing success. Here's how.

How to Communicate Your Positioning and Improve Your Marketing

The following sections highlight ways to use those stimuli to communicate with your target audience. Note that some of the content was taken directly from the book.

Differentiation is critical to effective positioning

Powerful, unique claims attract prospects because they highlight the difference, gap, or disruption the reptilian brain is seeking in order to justify a quick decision. To reach the reptilian brain more effectively, you should use (and be able to prove) a statement that makes a clear contrast, such as "Only XYZ product streamlines and accelerates..." or "ABC is the only consultancy that..."

The reptilian brain responds favorably to clear, solid contrast; it's hardwired to pay attention to contrast. Sharp contrast helps your prospects' reptilian brain make decisions more quickly and easily, and contrast is often needed to trigger the reptilian brain to make a decision.

You must be able to convince the old brain of every claim you make

The reptilian brain prefers tangible information over complicated or abstract concepts. It needs solid, simple proof of how your solution will enable it to survive or benefit. The benefit of your specific cure to their pain will satisfy the reptilian brain's need for concrete, black-and-white evidence.

Since the reptilian brain won't make a decision unless it feels secure, you must demonstrate, not just describe, exactly how your prospect will be better off with your product or service. An excellent example: Domino's Pizza created an ad campaign to deliver in "30 minutes or less," and "proved" it by adding "or it's free" as a guarantee.

Repetition is key to claiming a position in your market

Although the most thoughtful and logical message may interest your prospect, it will not trigger a buying decision unless the reptilian brain understands and remembers it. You can make your claims more memorable by repeating them. Even repetition of a few simple words sends a strong signal to the reptilian brain, prompting it to note, "I should remember that."

Repeat your claims so that the reptilian brain bookmarks them as important. Donald Trump used this technique to great effect not long ago.

Storytelling is a highly effective way to communicate

A great story can make your reptilian brain believe that you have experienced or lived through the story.

Stories put the audience in a world of sensory impressions that make it impossible for the reptilian brain to differentiate between reality and the storyline: The reptilian brain feels that it has lived through the experience even though it has only seen, heard, or read it.

Stories imply caring. When you tell a good story, the subliminal message is that you care for your audience. It opens up their reptilian brains to your message.

Stories are a powerful way of highlighting one of your benefits or claims. They can make a point without resistance or objection from your audience. What's surprising is that good stories have more impact on the reptilian brain and our subconscious than any rational fact. That's why people cry when they see a sad movie even though they know that the hero (actor) will not really die and that it's all just a story.

Use compelling graphics

Visual input reaches the reptilian brain faster than any other type of input. Neuroscientists have demonstrated that the reptilian brain registers images long before the new brain can recognize or analyze them.

Big pictures are important stimuli because they go directly to the reptilian brain. That acceptance provides a canvas for the more detailed information you may provide later, accelerating the understanding of complex concepts.

Contrasting big pictures work even better because, as we have learned, the reptilian brain prefers contrast so it can make a decision quickly and easily.

Avoid abstract words

A phrase like "We provide a flexible, integrated, scalable solution to..." is not tangible enough for the reptilian brain to get a solid visual picture of the meaning. Instead, use simple, precise, and concrete words.

Vague claims and generalizations don't help the decision-making process. And multisyllabic words like "multisyllabic" force the new brain to slow down the decision process.

Emotion plays a key role

Emotion is one of the most powerful of the six stimuli. The quickest way to capture an audience is through the heart, not the head.

Whenever we experience strong emotions, our brain creates a cocktail of hormones that act as both a memory-maker and a decision-trigger. Dale Carnegie said, "When dealing with people...you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion."

We are often surprised at how well we can recall vivid details of events that happened long ago. There is a scientifically documented reason why our brains have memories; it's called emotional marking. No emotion, no decision. And powerful emotions will mark your reptilian brain and reach straight to its core.

* * *

We are all marketers in one form or another. We have been since we were toddlers and found that a sad face and pleading eyes could sometimes change the mind of a parent who refused us a treat.

There seem to be some among us who are naturals at marketing and sales, whereas others have to struggle to generate the same results. Perhaps the ones who make it look easy have simply found the keys to triggering the reptilian brain into making decisions.

With a bit of work, you now have the tools to join them.


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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

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