Three brains, one persuasion strategy
“Most of the decisions
that help us go through
a day, are managed
below our level
This explains why
nearly 90% of our
brain energy is necessary
to sustain our rest state,
or default mode.
So it appears that
we use about 10% of our brain consciously”
— Christophe Morin, PhD, Researcher–Neuromarketing
How rational are we?
As a marketer, have you wondered why sometimes prospects tell you they love your products, but fail to buy them?
Or have you wrestled with the question why the highest priced products, or even the lowest quality, sometimes outsell their competitors’? Or maybe ponder how your customers make decisions, when their choices seem irrational or impractical?
Let’s find out. But first let’s meet the brain…
Three brains in one—‘The Triune Brain’
The best model for understanding the brain, is in terms of its evolutionary history. We see this evolution remarkably re-played, in the development of the fetus in utero, with every new born baby. Prominent neuroscientist Dr. Paul D. MacLean, developed the ‘Triune Brain’ model, positing that three distinct brains emerged successively in the course of evolution, and now co-inhabit the human skull: Reptilian (Old Brain), Middle Brain (Limbic system) and New Brain (Neocortex).
Although these brains are interconnected and communicate with each other, constantly trying to influence one another, each one has a specialized function:
• The New Brain THINKS.
It processes rational data.
• The Middle Brain FEELS.
It processes emotions and gut feelings.
• The Old Brain DECIDES.
It takes into account the input from the other two brains, but the old brain is the actual trigger of decision.
Here’s a quick look at the Three Brains starting at its innermost:
Reptilian Brain (Old Brain) Instinct
(survival, breathing/swallowing/heartbeat, startle response)
The most important part of the brain is the R-complex or Reptilian Brain. First to develop, the Reptilian, is the oldest of the three brains. Some scientists think it could be as old as 450 million years. The Reptilian evolved to serve fundamental needs such as survival, and reproduction. The Old Brain is our “fight or flight” brain—our survival brain—and is also called the ‘Reptilian Brain’ because it is still present in reptiles today.
The Old Brain is conservative and has the instinct of imitation. It favours the sense of smell over all other senses. When it acts, its actions are knee-jerk, instinctive and quick. They are fairly predictable.
Our reptilian brain includes the brainstem and part of the lower limbic system. That structure connects straight to the spinal cord and controls functions that ensure our survival: heart rate, breathing, digestion, the capacity to stay alert. Attention is also controlled in that area. All these functions are happening below our level of consciousness. The old brain does not learn from its mistakes, and because is pre-verbal, it understands only images. The Reptilian brain is reliable but tends to be somewhat rigid and compulsive. It carries out a set program of behavioral responses when presented with certain external triggers. (It’s what makes you instinctively duck, when a hurled baseball is flying at you).
As primitive as the Reptilian Brain may be, science tells us, this is the area that has control over our final decisions. So we are still triggering decision at the reptilian level, but we are rationalizing them after they’ve been produced below our level of consciousness.
There is now overwhelming evidence coming from the work of experts in neuroscience such as Drs: Robert Ornstein, Leslie Hart, Joseph Ledoux, Antonio Damasio, Bert Decker, and many others that support the prevalence of the Reptilian Brain in the decision-making process. Irrefutable scientific evidence, brought sales and marketing communicators a big challenge: how do you address a brain that is 450 million years old? Much older than speech and writing?
Fortunately, neuromarketing research has discovered and developed a simple language based on six stimuli, that we can use to talk to the Reptilian. These are biologically anchored triggers, the Reptilian Brain will understand and respond to. Including these six stimuli in your persuasion strategy, will help increase the effectiveness of your marketing communications and accelerate decision-making.
The Middle Brain (Limbic) Emotion
(feelings, relationship/nurturing, images and dreams, play)
The Middle Brain, also called the Limbic system, is our emotions system. It splits the world in two: ‘I like’ and ‘I don’t like’. What is pleasant is registered as to be repeated. What is unpleasant is registered as to be avoided. Inherited from the first mammals, it enables feelings. It helps in caring for children, and having a sense of family and clan. It compares everything with actual experience. It favours hearing over all other senses. It also has a great deal of control over mood, memory, and hormones.
The main structures of the middle brain are the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the hypothalamus. The limbic brain is the seat of the value judgments that we make, often unconsciously, that exert such a strong influence on our behaviour. It is your emotional brain, that makes you feel the way you feel when exposed to a certain stimulus.
The Middle Brain acts infinitely quicker than thought, and can, as we all know, hijack the rational mind entirely through anger, fear or infatuation (often called “love”). It doesn’t matter whether you are “in touch” with your emotions or conscious of their grip on you. Emotions don’t ask for permission to exist. And they very often don’t listen to reason.
The limbic system creates chemical messages that connect information to memory, the retention of which is significantly increased when that information is presented in an emotionally charged context. This is why you are most likely to remember events that created a strong emotional response within you.
The New Brain (Neocortex) Thought
(including planning, language, logic & will, awareness)
The third brain is the New Brain or Neocortex and it is mainly intellectual. It analyses, anticipates and make rational choices/decisions. It favours sight over all other senses. Relatively bereft of emotions, it acts like a computer. It helps us reason and anticipate the future. The neocortex is what makes us intelligent; it deals with numbers, verification, and order.
So, how do we make decisions?
The rational mind of the neocortex gives us beautifully reasoned briefs and complex business strategy leading to the illusion that our rational mind is in complete control of our decisions. But the New Brain, as scientific studies prove again and again, ultimately does not make decisions for us. The limbic system is in charge of that function. Decisions are predominately emotional because the path to almost every decision is never clear-cut. There is almost never a single right answer. Ultimately, it is the reptilian brain that decides what we will “approach” or “avoid” —what we will buy and what we will reject.
How does the information circulate in the brain?
The information from our five senses enters the Reptilian Brain first where it is assessed for threats to survival or basic needs (food, reproduction and defense). If there are no threats, then the information passes on the next level: the Middle Brain. However, when confronted with stress, fear, strong irritation, etc, the Reptilian Brain has to make decisions itself. The Middle Brain assesses whether the information is pleasant or unpleasant. If it is pleasant, it passes it to the New Brain, which will process it intelligently and often positively. If it is unpleasant, it does not pass it on and tends to dwell on it and brood. Putting a positive spin on situations, ensures not only the information passes onto the New Brain, but the New Brain processes it as a priority.
The brain is a high-energy consuming organ
“The brain is responsible for all our consumer behaviors. To perform these behaviors and choices, the brain needs to use a lot of energy. Even though the brain is only 2% of our body mass, it burns nearly 20% of our energy. But most of the decisions we need to go through a day are managed below our level of consciousness. This explains why nearly 90% of our brain energy is necessary to sustain our rest state or default mode, a critical aspect of brain functioning which is largely performed below our level of awareness. So it appears that we use about 10% of our brain consciously. Worse, we do not control the bulk of our attention since we are too busy scanning the environment for potential threats.” — Christophe Morin, PhD, Researcher and Neuromarketer
For increased effectiveness, every communication strategy should have a reptilian, limbic and a cortex aspect.
It’s important to remember that buying process activates our survival instinct. And because nothing matters more than survival, we are in fact largely controlled by the most ancient part of our brain, the Reptilian. As neuro-anthropologist Dr. Clotaire Rapaille stated in the PBS interview ‘The Persuaders’: “When the reptilian is up against the cortex, the reptilian always wins. Reality and numbers don’t matter. If you do not have a reptilian dimension, you’ll never win.”
That’s why using the Reptilian approach in your marketing communications is absolutely crucial. MångaDesign can help you speak the language of the Reptilian, and focus your persuasion strategy to shorten your sales cycles and increase your profits. Interested? Contact Vio today at 905.624.8155