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The Secret of Neuromarketing: Go for the Pain

Eric Audras | PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections | Getty Images

We all like to think we make buying decisions on a rational level, but neuroscientists tell us otherwise. While marketers have known this instinctively, brain mappers have shown that the smallest part of the brain, the amygdala, lights up like a Christmas tree when confronted with fight-or-flight or in this case buy-or-fly situations.

Recently, I visited with Christophe Morin, a French researcher with SalesBrain, which is based in San Francisco and claims to be the world's first neuromarketing agency. His title is chief pain officer. He believes that if a company wants someone to buy its products or services, it must seduce the reptilian brain — the part that controls fear and other emotions.

"Pain" is in his title because his company's approach is to help marketers look at the frustrations and challenges consumers experience. "Humans are pain-avoiding machines," Mr. Morin said. "Sometimes our pain points are conscious and sometimes unconscious."

Six Rules for Small Business

He offered six simple rules that small businesses can follow:

1. Don't use the word "we" or start off your pitch with a corporate overview that lasts 10 minutes. Focus instead on how to relieve your customers' pain. Our brains are extremely self-centered, and we care most about our own survival.

2. About 10,000 messages are sent to our brains daily, so get to the point. "When you sell to the lower brain structure, you must say, 'This is your life with our product or service, this is your life without,'" Mr. Morin said. He cited a successful campaign that helped a client that was selling home flood remediation services to major insurance companies. The campaign featured a traveling exhibit that showed a flooded home and how the company had mastered the art of drying home interiors. "The reptilian brain gets very stimulated by this kind of disruption. Stay away from, "We are one of the leading providers." It's the marketing equivalent of sugar -- empty calories.

3. Make your points visual. Remember the "See and Say" books from childhood? Don't just tell; show. "We are visual people, and the eyes are directly connected to the reptilian brain," he said.

4. Stay concrete and make it tangible. The primal brain isn't able to understand complex language or metaphors. As much as we love word play, if it's too complicated, it doesn't get processed by the parts of us that make decisions. Creating ads with facial expressions is good. "Facial expressions help us decode what people's intentions are," he said.

5. Gain attention quickly in your advertising or marketing and make sure you have a strong close. The brain pays the most attention at the beginning and end of an event. It's important because the brain needs to recap and store.

6. Use emotion. It creates disruption, a contrast with what we expect — surprise, laughter, fear, disgust, anger, it really doesn't matter. If there is emotion, we are more likely to remember the message. Nothing happens in the brain unless some chemical process has found a code to create memories. To create a memorable brand, therefore, you have to use emotional connectors in your advertising. Don't just give your audience the facts, tell them how it will make their lives better and solve their pain.

All in all, Mr. Morin believes that if your target market has to kick your advertising up to their cortex, its not going to be as effective. At our advertising agency, we always encourage clients to let us create advertising that makes that critical emotional connection. Mr. Morin's comments also made me reflect on infomercials. While often considered the bottom feeders of the marketing food chain, infomercials can be effective because they follow these rules: show contrast, keep it simple and be visual.

In May, the Corporate Executive Board, shared research that suggested that brands that help consumers simplify the decision process have customers who are far more likely to purchase their products and recommend them to others. It is a fascinating study that is featured in the Harvard Business Review and states that many businesses are pushing customers away by bombarding them with messaging that is not relevant to how they make decisions.

There has also been much discussion lately about the rewiring that is happening to our brains because of our constant interaction with computers and smartphones. This interaction is further reducing our attention spans, which is pushing overworked and overcommitted American consumers to make purchasing and other decisions more quickly. The upshot is that people want information but they want it baby style — pureed to its most basic and served simply.

Something to wrap your marketing brain around.

MP Mueller is the founder of Door Number 3, a boutique advertising agency in Austin, Tex. Follow Door Number 3 on Facebook.

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