Branding and the Human Brain

When you think about creating a successful and memorable brand, where do you put your focus? A lot of companies spend the bulk of their energy thinking about visuals and selling. Where they miss the boat is when they don’t allocate any effort to considering the way the human brain reacts to branding and marketing.

 

Understanding the human brain can make all the difference when it comes to marketing. The human brain is incredibly complex, but it’s also prone to dozens of strange quirks and glitches. Cultivating a knowledge of those glitches and how they work can help you take advantage of them to fine-tune your marketing.

 

Understanding the Human Brain

Let’s start with a brief overview of the human brain and how works. The field of neurology studies the human brain from a medical perspective, and neuroscience looks at it from a structural and behavioral standpoint. Each one of these fields has something to offer when it comes to hacking the human brain for marketing purposes.

 

The Three Brains

The first thing you need to understand is that, from an evolutionary standpoint, humans have three brains. All are encased in the organ we think of as the brain, but each part plays a different role.

 

 

Back in the 1960s, neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean coined the term triune brain to describe the structure of the brain. While his structure might be viewed as simple by today’s researchers, it still provides a helpful overview to help us understand how the brain works.

 

1. The reptilian or old brain, which is formally known as the basal ganglia, sits at the base of the skull. This part of the brain is the home of the human stress response, also known as fight-or-flight. It also governs relatively primitive behaviors such as territoriality and aggression.

 

2. The mammalian brain or middle brain is also referred to as the limbic system, another term coined by MacLean. This is the part of the brain that governs social and parental nurturing, general emotions, and other social behavior.

 

3. The neocortex or new brain sits at the top of the brain and is the home of higher functions including logic and reason. When you calculate the response to a math problem or analyze marketing statistics, you do It with the neocortex.

 

As you can see, each part of the brain has a specific function.

 

How Each Brain Reacts to Marketing

Now let’s talk about how the three parts of the brain respond to marketing. The field of neuromarketing examines how the brain responds to various elements of marketing, and it lays out a method for using what we know about the brain to market effectively.

 

How the Reptilian Brain Responds to Marketing

The reptilian brain is primitive, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore it when you craft a marketing campaign. In fact, the needs of the reptilian brain must be met first before you can hope to engage the other parts of the brain.

 

One way that marketers engage the reptilian brain is by addressing their target audience’s fears and doubts. As a rule, when the fear response is active nothing else can happen in the brain because its entire focus is on survival.

 

You have to understand the things that your audience fears to be able to engage – and then disengage – the reptilian brain.

 

How the Mammalian Brain Responds to Marketing

The next step is to market to the mammalian brain, which governs emotions and social connections. This is the part of an ad or web page that might address emotions by presenting clear benefits – solutions to the fears and doubts that rule the reptilian brain.

 

 

It’s here that you want to make a distinction between a products features (a dry run-down of what the product includes) and its benefits (what it can do to alleviate the audience’s pain and provide relief.)

 

The flow from the reptilian brain into the mammalian brain should be a natural one. By addressing the fears first, you can then determine which emotional response you want to elicit when you describe the potential benefits of your product or service.

 

How the New Brain Responds to Marketing

The final step of marketing involves addressing the neocortex or new brain. Only when the reptilian brain’s fears and the mammalian brain’s emotions have been addressed can you hope to engage the neocortex.

 

There’s a reason that many marketing campaigns don’t bring in specifics such as pricing or statistics until the very end. Skilled marketing professionals know that they need to work through their audience’s doubts and fears – and reassure them that they have a solution – before talking about pricing.

 

It’s also worth noting that one of the fears you can address earlier in the game is the fear of spending money. If you manage to address that particular fear and convince your audience that your product or service is worth having, it won’t be difficult to convince them to spend the money to get it.

 

Marketing to Fears and Emotions

One thing that can be helpful when marketing to the lizard brain is understanding the mental glitches that drive human behavior. These glitches are known as cognitive biases.

 

Cognitive Biases That Affect Buying Decisions

Here are some of the most common cognitive biases that play into consumers’ buying decisions.

 

1) Loss aversion is a bias that points to the human tendency to want to avoid loss more than pursue a particular gain.

 

2) Anchoring is a cognitive bias that makes us latch onto the first piece of information we see about a product and use it as our benchmark for everything that follows.

 

3) The bandwagon effect is a bias that makes us more likely to buy a product if we feel that it’s a popular choice.

 

4) Zero-risk bias is a glitch that inclines people to favor options where they perceive that their risk is low

 

5) Confirmation bias is a bias that makes us give weight to information that supports our pre-existing opinions and reject information that contradicts it.

 

These are just a few of the biases you can use in marketing. There are many more.

How to Use Cognitive Biases to Market to the Lizard Brain

Now let’s talk about some of the ways you can use cognitive biases in your marketing.

 

 

1) Posting customer testimonials, reviews, and sales figures on your page, as well as awards you may have won, is a good way to take advantage of the bandwagon effect. These things provide social proof, but they also indicate that your product is popular.

 

2) A lot of times, companies state up front that their product is worth a certain amount of money. By proclaiming the value, they are using anchoring to establish a baseline price. Later on, when they announce the price customers will have to pay – always less than the anchor price – they can be sure that their target audience will perceive it as a bargain.

 

3) One of the most common ways to trigger the loss aversion bias is first, to establish the value of your product, and second, to list the things that a customer may gain by buying it. If they have a fear of missing out, then any aversion to paying for your product will disappear.

 

4) You can trigger the zero-risk bias by offering something that removes your audience’s perception of risk. Things like free product samples, trial periods, and money-back guarantees all play into this particular bias.

 

You can see how these biases work, and you can probably think of many times when you’ve seen these biases in action.

 

A Place for Logic

As mentioned earlier, the place for logical conclusions and evaluations of pricing is at the end of a marketing pitch. If you introduce this information too early in the process, you run the risk of losing your audience.

 

When and How to Use Logic and Explain Pricing

The time to introduce statistics and price information is after you have engaged the relevant cognitive biases and relieved your customer’s fears. Customers have a tendency not to pay attention to these things until they’re relevant – and they’re only relevant when fears and emotions have been addressed.

 

The best way to introduce statistics is to do it as briefly as possible, and using visual aids and other tools to make them memorable and easy to understand. You may want to use an anchor price to drive customers toward a particular package option.

 

How to Connect Logical Decisions to Emotions

The key to closing a sale is to make sure that the logical information you present at the end of your web page or ad is linked back to the emotions you aroused earlier. Even though the logical brain takes over at the end, it’s important to remind potential customers of what you’ve already told them.

 

One way that online marketers do this is by including a reminder of the customer’s emotion and desired response in their call to action. For example, a website for a test prep course might have a call to action button that said, “Yes! I want to help my child get into college.”

 

The benefit of a call to action like that one is that it’s affirmative and it links directly to the target audience’s pain. In this case, the audience would be worried parents, and one of their primary pain points is that they’re worried about their child’s test scores.

 

Think about what emotion your target audience wants to feel, and then find a way to link the buying decision directly to that emotion.

 

Conclusion

The human brain is undeniably complex. However, it is also largely comprehensible. Using the information outlined here can help you fine-tune your marketing and engage your customers’ brains. And not coincidentally, it can also increase your sales!

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