4 Things that Marketers Should Know About the Human Brain

At any given time, marketers face hundreds of decisions. In testing new customer acquisition channels, advertising imagery and messaging, the process of choosing the right combination of elements can feel like a shot in the dark. Even more frustrating is the fact that the decisions have a high probability of being wrong.

Marketing is a field full of ambiguities. Rather than making empty guesses, however, there is one blueprint that we can rely on to be our guide—the human brain, and the years of research scientists have put into understanding it.

Here are four psychology studies that every marketer must know.

1) We’re wired to connect with others.

University of Virginia researchers confirmed a trend that’s been gaining momentum over the last few years: a suggestion that there is a neural basis for empathy and that we feel others’ experiences as if they are happening to us.

In a follow-up study, researchers found that the human brain will treat others’ experiences as its own—emotionally speaking, we don’t differentiate what’s happening to our loved ones and ourselves.

The empathy we feel, however, is far from universal. When it comes to strangers, we’re a bit more detached.

Marketing takeaway:

When running an ad, choosing visuals, or crafting your brand messaging, consider choosing themes related to close friends and family. Social proof, storytelling, and case studies are key—but the brand-to-customer connection will be stronger with an element of personal affinity. Inspire your audience’s level of care by focusing on, or becoming a part of, their circles.

2) We process emotions five times faster than rational thought and make gut reactions in under three seconds.

These trends come to us from an infographic shared by MarketingProfs. The trends speak for themselves; we jump to emotional conclusions before logical ones, and we have gut reactions about what we like, and don’t like, in a matter of seconds.

The infographic further points out that the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, which means that there are subtle ways to deliver information faster.

Marketing takeaway:

Brands don’t have time to waste. In an industry where banner blindness is the norm, it’s essential that we forge an instant relationship with our target audiences. The trick to success here is actually no trick at all—it’s methodical, upfront research.

Get to know what your audiences care about. Translate these themes into a visual story to create an instant hook. Rely on a healthy mix of emotion, passion, and empathy to guide your approach.

3) Giving is the ultimate form of influence.

An article from the Nielsen Norman Group reaffirms what psychologists have found for years: that people tend to return good deeds. The “reciprocity principle” says we’re likely to pay back what we receive from others.

The evolutionist’s explanation for this trend is that survival was contingent on being nice to others. Friends helped each other survive in light of adversity. When we’re good to others, they’ll be good to us, too.

Marketing takeaway:

Brands often approach advertising with the perspective of maximizing sales and revenue. That’s why audiences aren’t listening—attention spans are stretched thin.

The one way to stand out and defeat advertising exhaustion is to give your audiences something of value. Teach them something new, entertain them, and enrich their lives through storytelling. That’s where branded native video advertising can make the difference for your brand.

4) The opportunity to talk about ourselves triggers the same emotions as food, money, and sex.

Researchers at Harvard confirmed what we’ve all suspected: that we love to talk about ourselves. As it turns out, people devote 30-40% of their speech to sharing information about their own subjective experiences.

When we share, our brains light up—literally. As Harvard’s researchers put it:

“Self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in the brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system, including the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area.”

In other words—the opportunity to talk about ourselves triggers the same emotions as several of the things we love most in life.

Marketing takeaway:

Earned media is one of the biggest opportunities in marketing today. Create content that adds value to your audiences’ lives, and people will want to share it.

To take off, content needs to be personally relevant, entertaining, and engaging. Native video campaigns, especially, have the power to take off. To start, you need is a compelling, awesome story.

Final Thoughts

Marketing decisions can be hard. When we understand our emotions—and how we’re hard-wired—we can create better, science-backed blueprints.

Every marketing campaign starts with a blank slate. This world of options can be intimidating at first, but at the end of the day, humans are predictable.

Science-backed creativity is at the heart of every successful marketing initiative. So the next time you need a little inspiration, pick up your favorite science journal!


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