All of business is about acquiring, retaining and managing customers. Whether you are a CEO, COO, CXO for Marketing, Technology, Sales or any other, you are likely to remain fairly pre-occupied with understanding your consumers’ behavior – how to best serve them, how to be relevant to them, how to remain attractive to them and how to actively woo them into your fold.
So how do your customers actually decide about using your brand? What’s going on in their brains, when they take calls like using, re-using or dumping a brand and its product? Marketers have been attempting to convert this into a science for crafting brand cognitions & imagery relationships for consumers, and & planting these in their mind.
Decision-making has a lot to do with the anatomy and physiology of the human brain. The brain contains billions of nerve cells arranged in patterns that coordinate thought, emotion, behavior, movement and sensation. A complicated highway system of nerves connects your brain to the rest of your body, so communication can occur in split seconds.
The brain has three main parts:
- The cerebrum fills up most of the skull. It is involved in remembering, problem solving, thinking, and feeling.
- The cerebellum sits at the back of the head, under the cerebrum. It controls coordination and balance.
- The brain stem sits beneath your cerebrum carries signals from the brain to the rest of the body.
It is the cerebrum that advertisers & marketers chase to woo, since that houses the lobes of the brain and is responsible for receiving and giving meaning to information received from the sense organs, like sight, smell, taste etc.
Going back to our nomadic ancestors who were basically lazy, impatient and simple. Their default reaction was to do nothing and certainly avoid any form of complexity, which required any amount of extra effort to understand. This is a basic principle of communication – “Less is More” – idea is to keep the messaging straight, focused, uncluttered, clear and crisp – in order for it to make sense to your customers. Customers do not make an effort to read fine print or convoluted sentences in an attempt to comprehend them. They simply shut the communication off, off their mind. Add to this the problem of plenty and you have consumers who will only notice messages that are easy and quick to understand in a second or under. That’s how much time they engage. When an advertisement is complex, layered, multi-dimensional or long, chances are it will go un-noticed completely. Hence brands go to tremendous lengths to simplify & crispen content, to improve its comprehension and relatability.
We’ve heard of the left and right brains in the human cerebrum – left being more rational & logical, whereas the right is more creative and imaginative. Its not really that hugely divided. The two hemispheres are connected by an information super-highway, the corpus callosum that transmits information across both sides in real time, enabling the processing of data at great speed. So consumers are able to utilize stimuli from both sides for taking decisions.
It is a well-understood belief that men tend to be more rational ie. left brained, whereas women are more led by their creative right brain. Which essentially means that their decision-making rationale & process differ somewhat. So if your primary consumer is one of the genders, the brand messaging needs to factor how logically or imaginatively the communication argument is presented to them. Chances are that the brain signals will pick up different stimuli and thus the visual and language codes for gender specific communication vary immensely. Now picture an ad for Lo’real versus an ad for Gillette. In a single glance, from the colors, tonality and overall look – it becomes clearly evident as to which gender it is meant for!
There’s another fine nuance worth considering. Women tend to have a thicker corpus callosum that transmits data faster making them utilize faculties from both sides of the brain quicker – making women more intuitive. So communication targeted at women ideally balances out both logical and creative arguments since they are able to balance both, faster. On the other hand, one will hardly ever find any airy-fairy rationale in communication targeted to men since they tend to be singular in their decision making process. Its just the way they are differently wired in their brain!
The primitive reptilian brain works on the principle of “Fight or Flight” mechanism. Which essentially means that humans have strong survival instincts, are essentially risk averse and will flee when they sense danger of any sort. There is a strong natural desire to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Using the pain pleasure principle to entice customers is an age-old brand communication strategy
Using pain as a motivator is a strategy that some categories use effectively – it’s called the problem-solution route. Here, brand communication focuses on establishing the pain of the problem- to activate the prospects brain, in fact heighten the pain to have them on high alert, before presenting the solution that then produces pleasure. Examples like insurance products actually use this to the fore, by amplifying the impending perils of a death in the family and the aftermath it can possibly lead to, before presenting their financial planning solutions that can help families to over-ride such a scenario. Even without going so far, take the example of a hyper-local delivery platform that promises to send you your groceries in under 30 minutes, when you are in a tough spot with immediate need for supplies.
The brain seeks “good feeling” thoughts- hence tends to steer towards stimuli that make it feel pleasured. Use of brand stimuli to incite nerve centers in the brain that produce pleasure through the use of language, colors and tools like customization, make your consumers feel special and cherished, by producing happy hormones like dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin. Modern digital Mar-tech tools that deploy data to create personalized experiences for customers, use this very technique to encourage positive mood & warm cozy feelings from consumers, before they ask them to click on the know more or buy buttons.
The core sciences of Design thinking – UX and UI design are totally pre-occupied with deeply researching consumer behavior and the need for simplicity & convenience when designing wire-frames, prototypes or choosing the impact of colors, layouts, typography etc., for each step of the user journey. Idea is to make sure that the customer doesn’t dis-engage or drop out mid-way. It is not just about what the users do as they undertake the journey on the application, but how they are made to “feel” during the process, not just the visual imagery but the brain insights it induces, not just about the language on the application but the “sticky notes” in the consumers brain.
Brand positioning experts also deploy positive imagery associations, like happiness, joy, love, care and pleasure to make consumer feel cozy enough to warm up to the brands. Examples like Coke’s Open Happiness campaign with delightful and heart-warming visual imagery that made consumers “feel” happy and accord those associations to the brand.
When a man (or woman) is hungry, his food neurons in the brain are ignited and saliva starts getting secreted, in the mouth and stomach, reminding him of food. Restaurant menus and food delivery apps deploy this very technique of fantastic food (porn) videos and stylized photos
of stretching cheese, melting chocolate, glazed buns etc.. to fire up the food centers in the brain and secrete hunger hormones into his bloodstream – reminding him that he is hungry and encouraging the tendency to order more.
Well, next time you see an advertisement or a new application, think about what may have gone into its creation in order to enhance its appeal for the intended target audience.
Senior Partner at BOD Consulting | Founder, C-Xcel | Member of FICCI Wise Council | Director, Founder Institute | UCLA Anderson School of Management