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Playing with Peoples Emotions: A Social Marketers Guide to Understanding Human Psychology
Posted on April 24th 2014
This is a post that I’ve wanted to write for a long time now, but have been hesitant mostly due to the depth of the subject matter. Human psychology, no matter how you look at it, is a complicated mass of hard to understand layers with ten million dollar words written by one PhD or another.
That’s the issue here really, writing about brain science, as it relates to human nature and social marketing, while at the same time writing it in plain English. So, let’s get right into it then, did you know that we had three brains?
Our Three Brains – Working Together as One
Neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean proposed the Truine Brain model way back in the 60’s, later publishing a book in 1990 that spoke in detail about the three brains, the reptilian complex, the limbic system and the neocortex. But, instead of using those ten million dollar words I spoke about earlier lets instead use:
- The old brain (it decides)
- The mid brain (it feels)
- The new brain (thinks rational thought)
The Old Brain: The old brain, or lizard brain, is most often referred to as your subconscious. It’s the part of your brain that houses your fight or flight reflex. It’s all about survival, the me, me, me. Basically, and I do mean basically, it’s the part of your brain that tells you to back off when danger is present, it forces you to react even before your new brain realizes what’s happening.
The Mid Brain: The mid brain is the emotional center of your brain. It controls the audio and visual cortex and relays that information to other parts of the brain.
The New Brain: The new brain is all about rationalization; it’s the intentional part of our brains. While the old brain and mid brain happen subconsciously, the new brain makes conscious decisions based on rational thought.
Three Brains in One
While each part of the brain, at some levels, work independently of each other, they all work together to create the great organ that is our brain. To better explain this I’m going to use a story about a man named Dan.
Dan is an average man, with average intellect; he has an average job and leads an average life. Dan, on an average day, was walking down the sidewalk just after sunset when he heard a loud “HEY!” from somewhere behind him. The old brain, being the old brain, is always scanning for danger and because it’s instinctual, processed the sensory input as fear. As Dan turns around, and quickly I might add, his shoulders hunch, and his muscles tighten as his body is prepared for fight or flight.
That’s when his mid brain goes to work analyzing social cues, he notices a young man walking hurriedly towards him, but with a smile on his face, the mid brain sends a cue to the old brain to lighten up but the old brain is all about survival and doesn’t like that the young man is walking in a fast pace towards Dan. Then, the rational part of Dan, the new brain, recognizes the young man from the grocery store he just left, along with a bag and sends a signal to the old brain that he left a bag at the store and the young man is bringing it to him. This all happens in nano seconds but eventually the old brain decides everything is legit and that there is no danger.
So, How Can You Use This Knowledge?
When you tell somebody something they will sometimes believe you, but if you lead them to conclude something on their own they will ALWAYS believe you.
Why is that though? To put it simply, it’s because they thought of it. That’s the amazing part of social marketing, if done correctly you are better able to lead people to a positive conclusion about your business.
Traditional marketing, while still should be part of your marketing mix, is all about telling others about yourself. In other words, they will sometimes believe you. With social marketing you have the ability to be authentic and real and are better able to lead consumers to a conclusion about you, a conclusion that, if done correctly, will earn your more referrals and a higher level of consumer loyalty than through traditional marketing alone.
How do you do that? By speaking to the old brain, the decision making part of the brain, that’s how. Your old brain doesn’t understand words, just emotion, that’s why it’s important to get emotionally involved with your consumers, by doing so you will be better able to lead them to the correct conclusion about your brand.
But David, you’re thinking, I thought you said the mid brain is all about emotion. Yes, I did say that, and that is how you are going to get to the old brain, by playing with people’s emotions. Think of the mid brain as the doorway to the old brain, the true decision maker. Emotions, more than anything else, impact the decision making process in the human brain, most of which happen subconsciously. They deeply sway perceptions, beliefs and even attitude in our everyday lives, even if not fully aware that they are.
That’s where the concept of branding comes in, by creating a memory pattern in the consumers mind, a pattern that makes somebody feel a certain way, you’re better able to shape what people feel and thus think about your brand. Social marketing, more so than traditional marketing, is the best way to get your consumers to feel good toward your brand. But exactly how is that done?
The 3 Step Model for Creating a Powerful Social Brand
In order to create a brand that elicits a powerful emotion it’s important to engage around what matters most to your consumers. Hint: it’s rarely you or your product. Rather, its something that they are already passionate about. Which brings me to the idea of social objects.
What is a social object? A social object is a conversation piece that inherently generates conversation and action around itself. A social object can be just about anything, it can be a news piece, a cause such as ending world hunger, a passion such as the love one has for their favorite football team, or even a lifestyle such as surfing.
A great example of a social object, one that we are all familiar with, is the iPhone. Have you seen the number of forums and groups dedicated to iPhone owners? There are thousands of them, all based around the iPhone, and there are literally hundreds of conversations going on right now about them. I’ve seen conversations happen between complete strangers surrounding the ever present device and its many apps.
All social objects have 3 things in common, they are:
- Conversational: people want to talk and have conversations with other people connected with the social object.
- Brings People Together: people want to be around other people that are connected with the social object. They feel part of a community, that they belong with each other.
- Talk Worthy: people feel the desire to tell other people, who may not know about the social object, so that they, in turn, become part of the community.
When a person, place, thing or idea has all three of these things, it will grow bigger due to rampant word-of-mouth and the growth of community.
Most business don’t have a strong enough brand whereas their product or business demands the kind of attention that really gets people talking, such as the iphone example above. Instead, they should find a social object that they are passionate about and engage around that.
A Higher Purpose
Most marketing is all about getting your product or service noticed. It can help a business to increase their bottom line by bringing awareness to those products or services. There is another way to market though, especially through the use of social media, and that is through the marketing of values. It’s a concept that’s been around for a while now, and just recently Skype starting marketing the concept of bringing family together and the importance of staying in touch.
Instead of talking about how great Skype is in their ads, they are focusing on families. Yes, those families are using Skpe to stay in touch, but the focus is on a higher purpose, bringing families together and helping them to stay in touch, some a world apart.
What does that do though? It connects directly with the mid brain, the emotional center of your brain by creating a solution to a problem. Most people have family members that they would love to be in touch with more often, but can’t find the time, or maybe they are in another country and the fee to call them is just to great. Either way, it creates a feeling by showcasing what really matters, family, and not necessarily the technology. In other words they are marketing something greater than themselves.
So, how do you create a powerful social brand? By connecting around things that matter to your consumers, to your local community, that’s how. Most social marketing is all about reaching out to the community in order to create connectedness, but as you know, that’s easier said than done. But, if you take a look at social objects, especially cause based social objects and start to connect around them instead, your community, if you have done it right, will start to reach out to you.
If that sounds familiar it should, it’s a form of permission based marketing, it’s a way to get people to come to you instead of the other way around. Again, you do that by connecting around something your community is passionate about, something that they care deeply about. As I mentioned earlier I’m partial to causes based social marketing because I’m passionate about helping others. If a business can be part of something bigger than themselves, and I’m not talking about stroking a check, rather I am talking about being part of the solution, then you will be in a position to create a positive feeling of surprise that will go a long way to creating a powerful memory pattern in the mind of your consumers. By the way, that’s all a brand is really, a memory pattern. It’s how people remember you, what are you doing to create a powerful memory of your brand?
Once you create the right memory pattern it’s time to shape it. You shape it by first realizing that cause based social marketing isn’t about moving from campaign to campaign, it’s a lifestyle. It’s a way of life. It’s something that you are, not something that you do. It’s hard to fake passion, even more difficult to pretend that you care.
That’s why it should be something you stick with and something that you and the rest of people that make up your company are passionate about. Everything will help to shape your brand, from your customer service and your smile, to the things you do in the community. Heck, even the decoration of your office and how you make people feel when they meet you in person will help to shape your brand. Never miss an opportunity to show what really maters to you.
#3 Activate It
Memories not activated will slowly fade, that’s why it’s important to stick with it. Again, this is not a campaign, but a lifestyle. There are many different marketing campaigns out there, any company that has been around a while you will notice that, over time, their message changes. Sometime this is important to reactivate a brand, other times it’s changed for all the wrong reasons.
Think back to New Coke and how it alienated their loyal customers because they didn’t want to be sweeter like Pepsi, rather they wanted the classic taste of Coke. There are many examples of this type of thing happening and instead of going into them here I’ll say this:
Your brand is less what you think it is and more what your consumer says it is.
But, by activating the emotional mid brain you are better able to connect with the real decision maker, the old brain. Remember, it’s important to play with emotions if you really want to create a brand that matters in the mind of the consumer.
An Example of all This
I was honored to be part of a business, an auto dealership no less, that understood the value of being part of the solution in their local community. When it comes to auto dealerships there is already an established memory pattern, one that doesn’t do a dealership any favors, I know you know what I mean. But, as I eluded to earlier, if a business can contradict an established memory pattern with a positive feeling of surprise they are better able to create attraction, and that is exactly what they did.
Understanding the value of social objects they connected around education. They activated the mid brain of parents all over the county when they put up $5,000 and asked school children to show school pride. We did weekly contests that included essays, community service and a whole host of other things that made the community a better place. This went on for 6 weeks and something amazing happened. Other businesses stepped in and started giving to schools, they gave money, computers and other services. People starting talking about the dealership and how what they were spear heading changed their child’s outlook on learning.
Each challenge brought more people on board and more people talking about the dealership in a positive light. Talking about a positive feeling of surprise! Traffic to their website increased substantially, even though they drove no traffic to it directly. Leads also increased, as did traffic to their service drive.
After the 6 weeks was over, hundreds of videos were created, hundreds of posts written, all by the people of the community, the whole process was amazing to witness. After the campaign they stuck with it, they kept activating and shaping their brand by continually pushing education. As a side note this place was awesome, their customer service was second to none and as such their image matched exactly how they were and because of that people continue to buy and service their cars there, as well as telling other people to do the same.
The true secret of branding is all about creating an associative memory, but not just any memory, but a memory tied to a strong emotional trigger in the mind of the consumer, which brings me to:
Associative Memory – The True Secret of Branding
The ultimate goal of branding is to establish dominance in your category, to be the company that first comes to mind when people need whatever it is you sell. By now we’ve all heard the story of Pavlov’s dog; in short, Pavolv would ring a bell as he rubbed meat paste on his dogs tongue, then after a time all he would have to do was ring the bell and his dog would start salivating. This is referred to as associative memory or in other words, branding!
With the very real threat of being labeled pithy, associative memory is a memory that links to another memory. Human memory relies mostly on association and objects frequently seen together to become linked in the mind – when we try to retrieve information one things leads us to another, and then another and so on.
The attainment of associated memories lies in the strengthening of the connections between neurons that represent associated objects in the brain. Once trained and linked, a neuron that responds to the site of a football might then move on to the thought of the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick and the Superbowl.
The Three Key Components of Implanting an Associative Memory
In his book, the Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads the author Roy H Williams says that you need three things in order to implant an associative memory, and they are:
- Frequency, and
While a lot of what Williams talks about in his book will hold water with most forms of marketing he wasn’t particularly talking about social media, but the three keys still hold true.
First Key – Consistency
The issue with social campaigns is that most companies think of them as just that, a campaign. It happens all the time, big fortune 500 companies will do some sort of campaign, grow a huge community around it and then just stop interacting with the community around what they were interested in in the first place. The key here is consistency. A good rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t pick a social object, cause or not, that you’re not passionate about. If you company isn’t passionate about it then you won’t stick with it.
Second Key – Frequency
If consistency is all about sticking with it, frequency is about how often you stick with it. If you are passionate about child education then talk about it all the time, organize educational events, be part of the solution.
Third Key – Anchoring
Back to Pavlov and his dog. The anchor point was the meat paste. It was something his dog, and all dogs for that matter, love. That is why I brought up social objects, if you clicked on the link I gave you earlier you can learn more about social object and why they make great anchors or recall cues.
I’m going to end this with a passage from the Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads because it perfectly sums up the three points.
The buying public is your dog. If you desire a specific response from it, you must tie your identity to an emotional anchor that’s already known to elicit the desired response. If you make such an association consistently and frequently, branding will occur. But don’t expect too much too soon. It takes a lot of repetition to train a dog to salivate at the sound of your name.
How are you going to make people salivate?
This post got a little out of hand in terms of length but I hope it has given you some food for thought. There is a lot of this that I could go deeper into but at 3,ooo plus words I feel that I should end it here by saying this:
By playing to the emotions of your consumer and getting them to feel a certain way about your brand, and what it stands for, you are much closer to generating the type of response in the consumer that few businesses can claim. What are you doing to make a difference?