There’s one fun thing that happens when I see a really, really good ad for a product. I’m talking about the type of ad that hits my problem perfectly and comes straight to the “solution”.
I buy it.
It doesn’t matter what it is and it only matters how much it costs. When an Instagram ad or promotional email finds just the right connection to what I’m going through, I jump for my wallet and type in my card information as fast as my fingers can move.
I like to call this reaction the result of my “lizard brain”: it’s the part of my brain that thinks I’m still fighting over every piece of food and seeing an upcoming presentation as an actual life or death situation. It is the unconscious thought processes that drive my actions without my noticing.
This is why, even though I work in marketing (and my company even wrote the book on marketing) and know all of the tricks these marketers use, I still “fall for it”.
My brain is convinced I need this new tea or that fancy weighted blanket. Not only will it make me feel better, but it will actually make things better. At least that’s what my “lizard brain” tells me.
I know I’m not the only one to whom this happens because no other company would ever make money.
And when we brought Donald Miller in for the recent workshop on his StoryBrand method, he said the same thing. Donald talked a lot about how the brain’s underlying mechanisms navigate today’s constant flood of information, and more specifically, how the brain decides what is important and what is not.
And guess what? Your brain sees certain products and services as “needs” based on how the messages are designed.
It all has to do with that two things that always go on in the human brain– my, your, your customers, everyone.
- Survive and thrive
- Save calories
We’ll dive into each of the meanings, but the most important part of this is that you, the marketer, need to make sure that your messages are instantly and consistently linked to those ideas. This is the only way you can see success as a company.
We’re going to break down these two main functions of the brain, then give you some tips on how to combine them with your marketing.
Survive and thrive
The ultimate goal of your brain is to keep you alive. Seems obvious, but it’s more subtle than you might think.
The main way your brain protects itself (and therefore you) is by deciding what information you need both now and in the long term.
You see, your brain can only prioritize so many things at the same time. If your “lizard brain” thinks information is unnecessary or even contradicts your survival and wellbeing, there is no way you can keep it.
Because of this, I personally don’t remember anything from my trigonometry class, but I know how to get to the next destination from anywhere in the city. Trig did very little to improve my survival, but roaming the home decor aisle saved me from multiple emotional breakdowns. And if that’s not survival, I don’t know what it is.
If your brain didn’t have this mechanism, you would be so distracted, paying attention to everything of equal weight, that you would not be able to function as a human. You would never make it to work in the morning from exploring the region where your coffee was grown.
So if there is information that your brain deems necessary for survival, such as the topography of Ethiopia, your brain ignores it and you move on to your day, sipping your coffee and driving to work in a pleasant haze.
The same goes for marketing. You are scrolling past more ads than you need to look at because your brain doesn’t see this information as essential to your survival. Until you meet that one ad that does.
Marketing for Survival
How do you, as a marketer, work with this idea?
You need to connect your product or service to your customer’s survival.
Let me say that again. The key to growing our business is correlating your products and services with the survival of your prospects, or having their brains ignore you.
If their brains main job is to keep them alive and if you don’t say your product is contributing, your customer can’t even remember walking past your message.
Going fast. Donald Miller says you have 8 seconds.
If you cannot make that connection between your product and the survival of your customers within 8 seconds, they will start to part, dream, and you will never make that sale.
But wait. I can already hear the questions. They say, “But my product doesn’t help people survive. I do not sell safety vests or self defense training. “
Fortunately, you’re wrong. When you’ve sold something, you’re helping your customer survive. They just don’t know how to make that connection.
So this is your first task. You need to find that connection. And the best way to find out is to change your definition of “survival”.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
Enter Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: a theory of psychology that breaks down and ranks all basic human needs in order of importance.
The most basic and central needs in the mind of your customers are at the bottom. Once these basic needs are met, they move up the pyramid looking for more. What is important, however, is that all of these needs are important to their survival and prosperity.
Food and accommodation are easy to combine. Do you sell groceries? Are you selling houses or security systems? Made and made.
However, once you get to the higher levels things get a little more complicated. The underlying motivation is still survival, but the connection may be less obvious until you think a little harder.
Getting a better job means more money, which means better survival. Getting a nice new car means higher social status, which means better survival. Joining an online community means more friends and connections, which, as you guessed, means better survival.
Ideally, most people have met their basic needs. So, for most businesses, you need to find a way to connect your product or service to one of these overarching human needs.
And then you come to step 2. You need to put that connection at the center of your messaging because the second fundamental function of the brain is just as ready to ignore you as the first.
The second thing your customers’ brains are always trying to do is conserve calories. And no, it’s not because your subconscious is interested in looking fit in a bathing suit somewhere on the beach.
Your brain alone uses 600 to 800 calories a day just thinking and processing. And the more you ask of your brain, the more energy and calories it burns.
This is why a long day of learning, strategizing, or writing important content makes you so tired. You may have sat down, but you exercised.
But all those calories your brain uses to think? Well, your muscles would really need them if you suddenly had to run away from a lion. And our subconscious brain is very concerned about surprise lion attacks.
So when you expend too much mental energy thinking about things that really aren’t that important (remember the connection to survival we just talked about?), You are wasting calories your body needs to survive. Your brain solves this problem by drifting away, no longer paying attention, and putting you into daydream mode.
Daydreaming or zoning out are survival mechanisms. It is your brain to save energy because the less energy you spend on things that do not matter, the more you have saved, for example to run for your life.
This may sound like a good excuse for missing information in a team meeting, but it is really a call to action for your marketers.
Put your marketing on a diet
You need to be more precise in your marketing.
That’s the simple truth. When you write a long, sweeping copy of email or need three paragraphs to say what you’re doing on your business homepage, you’re sending your readers off to daydream land.
And if your customers are daydreaming, they are certainly not dreaming about buying your product.
So you need to cut the fluff and understand your messages as quickly and easily as possible. Do you remember those 8 seconds? This is also important here.
Your connection to your customers’ survival should be highlighted as early as possible in your messages and in as few words as possible so your audience doesn’t have to burn excess calories to find out.
Every extra word or unnecessary comma is an extra calorie burn and brings you one step closer to losing.
For this reason, short, concise and clear messages always get more followers than long, drawn-out and boring messages.
So make sure you only have what you need to get the point across.
Last overview and 3 bonus tips
If you think back to the marketing that got you the most action, you will likely find that it did exactly what Donald Miller is talking about. They linked their product or service to your survival, and they pointed it out before your brain stopped paying attention to it.
And while this sounds very simple in theory, it can be a lot harder to do in your own business. So we’ve pulled a few other tips from Donald’s workshop that might help you (and if you want a full overview of this process and more, you can find the workshop here).
- Create a business one-liner and use it anywhere. This would be a particular line of news that is commonly used throughout your marketing and covers all of the points we talked about above.
- Use story elements to better engage your audience. The human brain connects amazingly with the narrative. So incorporating some type of story into your marketing can help keep your audience’s attention. And if that sounds familiar, it’s because this is the entire basis of Donald Miller’s StoryBrand method.
- Write your marketing messages and then cut them in half. We all like to think our words matter, but most of the time you can say the same thing halfway through. So break out the red pencil and start chopping and cutting up. Your customers will be thankful.
The faster you align your messages with your customers’ core thought processes, the better your marketing will be.
And if you can get it right, your customers will be the ones who say, “I need this now to make my life better.”