January 5, 2023

Marketers: How the brain works

People have become world-class at screening out communication, so your communication needs to work very hard to cut through. To do so it is helpful to understand more about how the brain works.

  1. The brain is only 2-3% of our body mass but consumes 20% of our energy. It efficiently encodes the visual world by ignoring predictable, familiar information and focusing on the surprising stuff. So, in your marketing don’t do what is expected or follow standard template layouts. Think about what you can do or include to signal you are different. Surprise the viewer’s brain.
  2. The brain efficiently encodes the visual world by ignoring predictable, familiar information rather it brings your attention to the unexpected, surprising stuff.So, in marketing, can you use “error”?Error intrigues the brain, and our brain gives us a dopamine reward when we spot it. You capture attention by doing something to disrupt the viewer’s brain and in effect, crash the autopilot.
  3. Our brains are lazy – they like shortcuts, so we create habits to help it run smoother. It’s why we follow the same patterns in life: identical morning routines, sitting in the same place on the train, eating the same meals each week, wearing the same clothes, etc.If we recognize this natural laziness as marketers we need to help people get what they want to know out of our communication fast. We must be simple and help them understand quickly.
    – Who you are
    – What you are, and…
    – Why you are more relevant than your competitors
  4. Improving the impact of your design work lies in influencing the non-conscious mind of people. This huge subconscious engine drives our decisions. A design needs to be created to do four things for viewers.
    Stop: Unconsciously stand out and disrupt.
    Engage: It’s different, intriguing, and calls to you.
    Attract: Appeals sensorially, aesthetically & emotionally.
    Reassure: Makes sense rationally and emotionally so people take action
  5. An effective design needs to reflect 5 simple human truths:
    – The brain craves ease and order.
    – Humans have a limited attention span.
    – Humans are visual.
    – Humans respond to emotion.
    – Humans are attracted to beauty.
  6. To be effective you need to be consistently relevant and considered in the minds of your customers. You need to become stored as a favourite in their minds and build mental availability. You need to be In-Sight and In-Mind.
    In-Sight is about delivering stand-out and visual disruption from your competitive set.
    In-Mind is about ensuring memorability and emotional engagement. Tell an engaging story and help make people feel something for you on an emotional level.

In a nutshell, your design communication ambition should not be thinking about selling more products but about how you help people buy more…

When reviewing designs always listen to the ‘little voice’ at the back of your mind. It never lies to you. You may not be able to articulate immediately what it is that is not working but rest assured if you go with it without resolving it, the design will fail. Also keep in mind that:

  1. We remember 50% more through seeing than reading so make things visual and copy succinct.
  2. Our brains prioritise faces above everything so be careful how you use them. As a key principle use images on the left and copy on the right.
    Beware of eyes. Human brains are programmed to pay great attention to them. Eyes can direct the viewer’s brain as to where to look and can act as a guide to create emphasis. The heat map below shows that if the baby “looks” at the copy, then people are more likely to read it.
  3. People don’t read, they scan, so use the opportunities to construct better communication. This (below) is a useful guide to how (western) brains read the page. The top left is the place to get attention. The bottom right is the natural place to ask for action.
  4. Avoid visual complexity as it makes us agitated and stressed – If its’ complex it takes time to decode and people’s brains switch off. Less is more, you may think you want to tell everyone about all the key messages and attributes of what you do in your ad or homepage but make it simple.  Our brains can only process 3-4 visual clusters of things at any one time.  If it’s busy it’s too much hard work and we switch off.  Use a simple visual hierarchy that helps people understand, Who you are, What you are, and Why you are more relevant than your competitors

Simon Preece

Founder of consultancy Bigger & Better Things, and Co-founder of SenseCheck

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