"Less is more" is more than good advice, it’s how our brains comprehend information.
Think different. Just do it. It’s the economy, stupid.
These are not just cute tag lines meant as a punch line to a piece of advertising. They are well crafted statements able to stir the emotions of consumers and make an unknown Arkansas governor president of the United States. Other companies and presidential candidates have tried to rally people to choose them, but it is always the simple messages that are better able to cut through the clutter and mobilize people. And the reason so few words can yield so much power is not about slick marketing but rather firmly grounded in the inner workings of the human brain.
The brain is divided into three areas: The so called “reptilian brain,” the Limbic Brain and the Neocortex.
The “reptilian brain” is singly focused on survival: hunger, fight-or-flight, etc. Although it can respond to words, it is a non-verbal part of the brain and functions on a purely visceral level. The reptilian brain has no baring on the contents of this article.
The next level is the Neocortex, or rational brain. This area of the brain is responsible for complex thought. Responsible for language, the neocortex is activated when we weigh facts and logic. The neocortex can process vast amounts of information, but it generally also requires time to do so. It is the Limbic Brain, the middle level, that has been so valuable to Apple Computers, Nike, Bill Clinton and others who know how to tickle it and influence human behavior. The Limbic Brain, often also called the “mammalian brain,” is solely responsible for human emotions and feelings: love, flirtation, desire, fear, etc.
Most of us consider ourselves rational beings. We like to think we make our decisions based solely on analytical thought. Not so. According to respected Los Angeles psychiatrist Dr. Risa Grand, the feelings generated in the Limbic Brain absolutely affect behavior. In fact, Dr. Grand says, that if you can get someone to feel a certain way you can get them to act without thought. Other studies theorize that this is the reason humans make “bad decisions” when flirting or confronted with sexual options. If given the time to “think about it,” many of those decisions resulting in infidelity would not get made. This might provide a clue as to why “sex sells.”
Communicating in short, simple emotionally charged messages is essential for stimulating the Limbic Brain. Unlike the neocortex, our mammalian brain is actually incapable of processing much information. More than driving an impulse or decision, the Limbic Brain is also responsible for our feelings of loyalty, love and devotion. So not only are Nike, Apple and Bill Clinton able to drive choice with their simple emotionally charges messages, they are able to create loyalty so strong that even rational arguments can not unseat those feelings.
When companies put out messages of “most innovative,” “the best,” “the largest,” etc, though short, these messages are not emotionally charged. Companies are trying to appeal to our rational or neocortal brains to get us to choose them. However, as research reveals, the “limbic brain establishes positive or negative ties before the neocortex articulates them.” That is to say, trying to appeal to people’s rational mind’s with a simple message is vastly less effective.
Politics is no different. There are a great deal of objective studies that have compared the appeal of John Kerry and Al Gore to George Bush. Victoria Duffy-Hopper, Democratic political advisor and wife of actor Dennis Hopper, is well aware of the power of the Limbic Brain and is quick to point out that John Kerry and Al Gore, though adept at rationalizing and reasoning, were weak at communicating in short, emotionally charged phrases. It was scientifically impossible for their personalities and their campaigns to “connect” or create a bond with the voting public because they communicated on a neocortal level. Bush, however, was able to communicate on more visceral level. That his arguments made sense or not, logically and rationally, was irrelevant. He was able, and even more effectively in a post-9/11 environment, to stir the emotions of an electorate that was open to his message.
Communicating to a target most likely to be stirred by your message is an important component of creating an effective communication. There is no such thing as a message that appeals to everyone. Which is why company centric messages of “best” or “largest” are less effective. Finding an audience (broad or narrow) that is open to your message is an essential component of creating an emotional connection. Apple connects with those who consider themselves revolutionaries and iconoclasts, Nike appeals those driven by a competitive spirit, Clinton to soccer moms who just wanted a better life for their families and Bush to the evangelical right who were touched by Bush’s “moral principles.”
In order for your company to communicate on a Limbic level – driving preference and loyalty for your products or services, you will need two things.
- Define your audience and find an emotionally driven message based on an insight from their lives, not your company. Apple, Nike and Bill Clinton aren’t just telling about their products, their messages tapped an aspect of their customers’ lives.
- A succinct articulation of that insight. Apple, Nike and the ’92 Clinton campaign found away to communicate their insight quickly, making it able to be understood by the Limbic brain.
Traditional tenets of marketing still apply – consistency of message and discipline to stay on message. Too many messages, even if simple,quickly turns into a disorganized concoction of ideas. And don’t think that a simple Limbic message and good marketing is enough. A lot of decisions are made with some combination of Limbic and neocortal thought – emotional and rational components. Not everyone is the same, and some people will react more Limbicly to some products or services or ideas and more neocortally to others. You will still need to produce strong products and services to have the rational reasons to justify an emotional or impulsive decision to try your product.
One thing is certain. Develop a simple emotional message and you’ll be appealing to your customers biologically. And that’s a rational fact.