When we last spoke with Christophe Morin, he told us about the different parts of the brain and the various stages of decisions. He was, and still is, a leader in the field of neuromarketing — which is essentially how the brain processes marketing messages.
That was 2011, and now most of us know that the oldest part of the brain, the “reptilian” section, reacts to stimuli with emotion and the rest of the brain processes those stimuli. Basically, we make decisions based on emotion and then rationalize those decisions later.
Since then, Morin has been uncovering a deeper understanding of our decision-making through his work with SalesBrain. Morin helped create the neuromarketing company in 2002 and he has worked with more than 600 companies worldwide. He researches the neural physiological responses in people’s brains, skin, facial expressions and eye-tracking patterns.
He shares his resulting knowledge as a graduate school instructor, speaker and author. His latest book, The Persuasion Code, explores some of his latest findings. The most interesting finding might be that we are not as advanced as we think we are. We might be overestimating the power of logic in our messaging.
In this interview with Publisher Paul Feldman, Morin reveals how primitive our brain really is and how marketers can use science to close the sale.
FELDMAN: For those who aren’t familiar with neuromarketing and this evolving science, can you explain it and why it’s important to somebody in sales?
MORIN: Neuromarketing recognizes that while you can gain a lot of insights when you talk to your customers, there is a lot of stuff going on in their brains that you will never have access to.
My work is to investigate what is going on below the level of awareness directly in the brain. It sounds spooky but it’s applying good science to augment what you can understand about customers by tapping into their brain responses.
What we’re finding is marketing and advertising spending has been based for too long on the assumption that people are mostly rational, logical decision-making machines.
And I don’t know about you, but I have rarely met anyone who is truly honest about the motives behind the purchases they make. We like to think that we do things with reason but the evidence in my research has proven that we’re mostly emotional decision-making machines that like to rationalize.
FELDMAN: Many of us realize that we have an emotion about something and then we rationalize our decision. But is there more going on in the emotional end than we are aware of?
MORIN: Let me introduce an aspect of our new book — we really have two brain systems.
One system, which is ancient in our evolution, is responsible for our emotions and many of the functions that ensure our survival. We call this the primal brain.
Then of course, there’s a brand new part of our operating system, if you will, which is higher in the brain. It has given us the capacity to use language and to evaluate aspects of our behavior that could have consequences in the future.
Our new research firmly establishes that the primal brain, as ancient as it may be, continues to dominate our decision-making process.
The primal brain is the dominant system that controls and orients our capacity to rationalize, to find logic. So this dominance makes it crucial for people in sales to engage with the primal brain first in order to allow the decision cycle to close in the rational brain.
FELDMAN: What are some of the emotions that drive decisions
MORIN: The nature of our emotions is rather complex and abstract but it is simplified in the book. There are two major emotions that are implicated in many of our decisions.
The number one is, of course, the fear of regret. And aspects of our decision-making are often about avoiding either the embarrassment or shame or worries that come from choosing something that we later regret.
When you do research on people experiencing that emotion, you find that, first, they don’t communicate it very well or very quickly. But we can see in their brain that there is something almost like pain coming from that sensation. Areas in the brain that manage disgust and our rejection of things that we don’t want to put in our body are the same areas that light up when we experience regret.
So from that one negative emotion, a lot of our decision-making process is predicated on that fear of finding ourselves in a situation that we don’t enjoy or we regret.
On the positive side, there is a very powerful emotion called the emotion of anticipation. That is our expectation that because of a particular choice, our outcomes will largely improve. This is known as a positive or motivating emotion. And we constantly dance in our decision-making between negative emotion and positive emotion. That dance is controlled by the primal brain.
FELDMAN: Is that where you want to be with your messaging? Do you want to invoke those two things?
MORIN: You create what we call an emotional lift. That is a journey in our decision-making where we start grabbing the importance and relevance of an issue and that first emotion we recommend should be typically negative.
Am I promoting the idea of using fear to get people’s attention? Not necessarily. But the primal brain does not initially pay much attention to positive information or positive news.
We initially scan the world for the possibility that something could be a threat and an issue. Therefore, when you anchor your message on what you might regret, what you might not experience if you insure your assets, all those negative consequences do initially create the right proctor, emotionally, to grab people’s attention.
The most effective way to create an emotional lift is, of course, to go from the negative experience of the pain that you may experience to the positive experience of being properly insured or properly taken care of.
And, for our brain, this possibility of feeling both the negative and the positive is what moves us to a decision.
FELDMAN: One of the examples in your book was from some work you did with a life insurance company.
MORIN: We’ve been very lucky to work for several very large and influential companies in the insurance space. Selling insurance is not easy for the brain because it’s not a product that is physically tangible, which would allow the brain to lock into the urgency. The importance of insurance is very, very challenging at the level of the primal brain. It’s not a primal easy sell.
Unlike physical products that can be demonstrated in front of our eyes, you have to really move people into an argument that their lives would be threatened or miserable, potentially catastrophic, if they’re not properly covered.
That idea is rather abstract. So we have found that the insurance industry struggles to articulate and prove the benefits of these decisions.
You have to ground the value and the benefit of having proper insurance into an experience that is emotional and one that is potentially relatable and personal.
And so in one message, you can move your clients emotionally from a rather uncomfortable negative state to a more pleasant and more enjoyable positive state. That shift is what I would call the movement of an emotional lift or the creation of an emotional cocktail.
The term “cocktail” is quite common in the field of emotional science because we have chemicals, neurotransmitters, that are responsible for moving information and triggering responses that are so crucial to all we do. We also have hormones that travel through the bloodstream. They’re a bit slower to respond but they’re essential chemicals to help us feel and respond to specific emotions.
So at the end the day, we are all a big bath of these chemicals. The right cocktail will eventually move us to either approach situations or avoid them.
FELDMAN: Of course, the only way you can actually see the benefit of life insurance is to come back from the dead. Can you give us an example of the work you’ve done with life insurance companies to communicate the benefits?
MORIN: Clients pay top dollar to hire us to perform research that involves monitoring the brain waves and looking at people’s nervous systems and so forth.
So I can’t reveal information that is considered proprietary. But generally speaking, in the field of buying life insurance or any form of insurance, the argument is that you are protecting yourself from situations that bring either embarrassment or catastrophic consequences. Of course, if you disappear, your ability to attend to your family’s needs and to cover properly for debts that you may still have is eliminated. So, how do you extend that ability?
In the book, we demonstrate the difference between an ad that would try to logically sell life insurance and an ad that has shock value.
The logical ad would have all kinds of arguments that speak to the logic of having good life insurance. The logic is, of course, that you’re going to protect your family, that you’re going to make sure that everybody is taken care of. So there are all kinds of ways in text to try to convince people they need life insurance but text doesn’t speak to the primal brain.
In our lab, we test the difference between two types of messages: one that’s using logic, mostly text, and one that is trying to convince people that they should really have life insurance. But those kinds of ads that are rational-centric do not work as well as ads that are mostly emotional and visual for the purpose of creating a condition where the primal brain, that 500-million-year-old-brain, is sending the signal to the rational brain that it is urgent and important that you consider having life insurance.
In an example of a shock-value ad, there was a campaign that was developed in Australia where they decided to show a shark swimming right behind this young woman and you have only a very simple tagline, “You never know.”
The shocking value of this ad is that any one of our primal brains, male or female, would awake to the horror of having a shark swimming right behind you.
So, what appears to be comical and shocking creates, in fact, a very nice and effective emotional cocktail. People start considering the possibility that they could die overnight. It creates a condition where the primal brain is basically pushing the rational brain to consider the value of having life insurance.
The idea is rather simple and it does work at an amazing level with all kinds of products, not just life insurance. We have had companies around the world sell multimillion-dollar software platforms where we use this exact idea of, first and foremost, reaching the primal brain and moving the conversation from the primal to the rational brain.
I know that your audience is a confident and very effective sales force typically on a mission to establish connections and rapport. I want people to understand that I’m not suggesting that these techniques take the place of good, solid techniques to establish your credibility and your capacity to establish trust.
What I am suggesting, however, is that you can augment and accelerate your capacity to create interest by using techniques. That’s what they are.
They’re techniques that can make your presentation — whether it’s face-to-face, on a slide or on a webpage — more brain-friendly.
To be effective in the field of persuasion and sales, you do have to recognize your own admission to influence organs, not just people. And I know this sounds a little awkward but that’s what neuromarketing really is. The promise and the value are to save time, save a lot of money and be far more successful using it.