Marketing or Mind Reading?

Liz Wilkins

June 8, 2016

Marketing or Mind Reading? How Cognitive Science Can Improve Your Communications


As marketers, we all wish we could be mind readers. Instead, we rely on a combination of research, insights and data, but it’s important not to lose sight of basic human nature. I recently attended the PRSA Western Conference and listened to a fascinating seminar by Elizabeth Edwards called “The Human Science of Communications” where she linked effective marketing approaches to fundamental human responses. Here are a few examples:

Contrast: Research has shown that “contrast” is an easy concept for people to understand because it’s tied to our “breathing brain,” where fundamental responses like the fight-or-flight instinct live, versus our “thinking brain,” where more rational responses are formed. Marketers can leverage the idea of “contrast” to cut through the noise and clutter. This is especially true when it comes to visuals. For example, showing a messy, chaotic scene next to a clean, organized scene is one way to quickly convey the benefits of a particular product or service. Think of it as the pain vs. gain approach.

Consistency: People like alignment with their beliefs and actions. That’s why there is such a strong universal response to any action that appears hypocritical. Companies that portray a particular image, but then do something counter to their brand, inevitably suffer backlash. According to Edwards, this reaction is strongly rooted in people, and it’s fundamental to brand loyalty and reputation management.

Scarcity: As found repeatedly in consumer research, people respond more strongly to potential loss than to potential gain. Think of ways to create a sense of scarcity with your products e.g., offer a “pre-sale” window or “priority” offer for your best customers. In the example Edwards cited, her team was concerned about selling out an event. To help drive interest, the team set up a “priority ticket” program where guests were given the opportunity to purchase tickets 48 hours in advance of the general public. There was no special offer other than early access to tickets. The result? They sold three times their goal by using this simple strategy that taps into an innate human emotion and response.

As you develop your marketing strategies, think about the universal responses we all share. Whether your campaign is B2C or B2B, we’re all connecting with people. Finding ways to tap into simple human nature will always be more effective and engaging.

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