Ask marketers what we do. We answer that we increase customers’ awareness of products, stoke their interest and desire, and prompt them to buy.
Ask a neuroscientist what marketers do and you’ll hear a very different answer.
“Marketing is a choreographer of delayed intentions,” says Dr. Carmen Simon, a cognitive neuroscientist. She unlocks secrets of the brain in her new book, Impossible to Ignore – Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions.
To succeed in marketing, Dr. Simon says that we need to:
- Win buyers’ attention with content now (at Point A).
- Help buyers create a memory and form an intention.
- Then get them to act on their intention when decision time comes in the future (at Point B).
Here’s a picture of the process that has to happen for marketing to succeed:
In terms of neuroscience, it’s a long way from Point A to Point B. And the catch is: your buyer’s brain is a terribly lazy beast.
Human brains seek to conserve energy, maximize rewards, and minimize effort and risk. While a human brain is only 2% of our total body weight, it consumes 20% of our energy.
Yikes! No wonder brains prefer an easy path.
Lazy brains are why humans make most decisions the easy way – by reflex or habit – rather than the hard way, by setting and achieving goals. That’s why so many purchase decisions are impulsive, habitual or automatic. Brains naturally try to conserve energy.
Why is marketing so hard to do? Because we’re always up against lazy brains.
Thanks to new insights from cognitive neuroscience, now we can better understand what’s going on in buyers’ brains. So we can take specific steps to improve the odds of creating successful marketing.
That’s why it is crucial to understand how memory works and what it takes to make decisions. “Memory fuels our decision-making and it is a lens on the future,” Dr. Simon says. “The same brain areas that reminisce are those that plan for the future.”
Most of what people forget does not involve the past, but the future. Most memory problems, 60% to 80%, involve prospective memory – when people forget to act on intentions we formed in the past.
When buyers see your marketing at Point A but don’t follow through on their intentions to buy your product at Point B, you lose a sale. Instead, customers buy a competitor’s product or they don’t buy at all.
Why don’t buyers act on the intentions they’ve formed in the past? “We forget to act when the reward is not compelling enough,” Dr. Simon says. Buyers don’t act:
- If the effort or risk is too great
- When there’s a time delay between the action taken and the benefits to be received
- When they worry about what others will think of their decision (the social aspect).
Here are some ways that marketers can work to counteract these tendencies. Help customers act on previously formed intentions as you:
- Make purchasing easier. Reduce the friction and the amount of effort buyers need to put in (e.g., 1-click buying).
- Cut the perceived risk (e.g., a warranty or money-back guarantee).
- Shorten the time between the buying decision and when benefits appear (e.g., instant downloads, express delivery).
- Offer social proof to assure buyers that others like them are making the same good decision (e.g., testimonials, case studies, social media).
Successful content marketing offers the right content to win attention now, at Point A. The kind of content that best grabs buyers’ attention:
- Balances concrete, sensory input with abstract content
- Avoids clichés that make content easy to ignore
- Is strong enough to break through even to cynical people who are in a state of partial attention … such as experienced buyers on a big B2B buying committee who are reading their smartphones as they hear the pitch.
Neuroscience blazes a new trail to more successful marketing. Great content marketing helps buyers identify their own intentions or clarify new intentions at Point A … then reminds them of what they intended when decision time comes, at Point B.
For example, at Point A, a marketer can sponsor a big movie opening, including content from the new movie in their TV ad. When, at Point B in the future, the consumer sees promotions or toys from the new movie, they’ll be reminded of your marketing message from Point A.
To help buyers act on their future intentions, take 3 steps to prompt action:
- Help buyers notice cues that are linked to their intentions (by sharing the exact same content at Point B that you shared at Point A). For buyers to act, these cues must be strong, distinctive and linked to an intention people care about.
- Prompt buyers to search their memory for things related to their cues and intentions.
- If it’s rewarding enough, then buyers will follow through on their intention and buy.
There’s much to be gained by paying more attention to the brain. That’s why I’m fascinated by what’s happening at the intersection of neuroscience and marketing.
Dr. Simon’s new book Impossible to Ignore is available now.
As a marketing change agent, I consult with clients, lead content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and write the weekly Simplify Marketing blog.
With experience from Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, RR Donnelley and Tellabs, I've been named:
- Content Marketer of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute.
- Best Marketer by BtoB magazine.
- A B-to-B CMO to watch by Fierce CMO.