Oct 27, 2023 4 min read

Three Brains in One: How Humans Make Decisions Should Drive How You Market and Sell

We’ve heard various adages about what makes us human. ‘You are what you think’. ‘You are what you eat.’ And while these certainly contain some truths, human biology determines behavior more than we realize.
Three Brains in One: How Humans Make Decisions Should Drive How You Market and Sell

We’ve heard various adages about what makes us human. ‘You are what you think’. ‘You are what you eat.’ And while these certainly contain some truths, human biology determines behavior more than we realize. Studies have shown that you buy based on how you react. And thanks to some basics of biology, how we make buying decisions is pretty predictable. This means humankind’s decision-making processes can guide how you approach marketing and sales.

Three Brains, Not One

Or, more accurately, three brains in one. That’s how we humans function. It’s one brain, but with three core areas, each with primary functions and aptitudes, if you will. Let’s take a look at each, its influences on us and our decisions, and finally, its effects on the buying decisions we make.

Our Amygdala governs acting and reacting; survival and procreation; and fight, flight, or freeze. It’s the ‘reptilian’ portion that focuses on the basics of survival. We scan our environments and pick out certain elements that make us pause and consider.

The Amygdala, our "reptilian brain".

The Hypothalamus is the center for things like love, hate, envy, empathy, and need for socialization. Some call this the middle mammalian brain. These are higher order functions than basic survival.

The Hypothalamus, our "mammalian brain".

Finally, the Neocortex, or upper primate brain, is in charge of logical and rational thinking, abstraction, creativity, and structure. Many would say this is what makes us human and different from the animal kingdom.

The Neocortex, our "primate brain".

As a marketer, I became fascinated with human behavior as influenced by our biology, and specifically, our brain. Some of these ideas I picked up from a book I highly recommend called Just Listen by Mark Goulston and then mapped them to a buyer journeys, sales messaging and product positioning.

Need a novel Revenue Kickoff topic for 2024 that appeals to sales teams, marketing and customer service in helping them drive revenue and develop professionally for themselves?  I have this topic in a full one-hour format.  Contact seth@brandedstrategic.com

99 Percent of People Act and React in the Same Ways

Let’s take a look at how these ‘three’ brains affect decisions and what marketers need to know to be successful.

Interest. Remember, the reptilian brain, your amygdala, controls interest. A marketer must appeal to this part of the brain or the product or solution risks becoming little more than a commodity.

The average American is exposed to over 10,000 marketing messages per day.  Our brains have become expert filters.  We need to develop highly effective interest triggers.

A marketer’s appeal to interest centers around desire, on the one hand, and fear avoidance on the other. In terms of consumer goods, a desire might be social position and a fear avoidance appeal might be isolation. Sex appeal doesn't hurt either, seriously, procreation is an innate instinct and dominated by the amygdala.

"Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!"

Motivation. Since your middle mammalian brain, your hypothalamus, handles emotions and responses that are higher order than survival, a marketer needs to tap into this motivational portion of the brain. In marketing terms, this is what drives a person to connect with branding and get excited about a product, possibly even to the point of becoming a proponent. It’s why fans of Apple and its products are rabid fans standing in lines at a product sales launch. 

Emotions connect products to people and motivate association. A response is visceral, and therefore remembered, and people with this type of reaction are more likely to share these experiences. A marketer motivates purchases through emotional experiences and emotional association. Why are product reviews almost always either really positive or really negative? It's because people are writing while in an emotional state.

Think back to your favorite teacher in high school.  Do you really remember the scholastic topics they taught, I mean the details, or do you remember them being supportive, interesting or funny? It's usually the emotional connection you remember and value.

Consumer product marketers do a great job appealing to this part of our brain. B2B technology marketers, on the other hand, generally not so much. They tend to go straight for the buyer’s logic center, the neocortex.

Justification. The neocortex (higher brain functions) kicks in to justify your emotional drive to purchase. This logical part of us helps us feel calm about our decisions. This is why a product marketer develops arguments that drive a call to action and reinforce both a buyer’s interest and emotional motivations. Appeals to reason are often found in product and company value proposition messaging (reliable, longevity in the industry, affordable, easy-to-use) and benefits messaging (boost efficiency, save on labor costs, be safer or more comfortable, etc.)

A Delicate Interplay B2B Often Gets Wrong

People stop and listen based on a trigger of interest, your reptilian brain. They make a purchase decision based on emotion, your mammalian brain. They pull out their pocket books and pay based on intellectualization, your primate brain.

Review your messaging… is it emotional or intellectual by topical weight?

Most primary messaging in B2B is heavy on intellect and light on emotion. ROI, reducing downtime, efficiency boost, etc. That’s strong intellectualism but it’s not emotional, particularly with enterprises where decision makers don’t carry profit decisions directly into their own personal pockets.

Instead, can you make people stop and think, or better yet, stop and smile?  Do you trigger interest and appeal emotionally directly to the buyer?  Do you justify their desire to purchase last and least with rational justification?

99% of the time you’ll get it right if you follow the DNA formula.

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