Book Review: How We Decide
I’ve always known that a marketing message should “connect” with
your prospective customer’s emotions. The traditional explanation has
been that emotions truly rule the decision making process. This book
explains why this mantra isn’t quite right.
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter chemical in our brain, controls not
only the “pleasure center” but all of our emotions. Dopamine neurons
send and receive these chemicals based on different inputs. For
example, prediction neurons produce dopamine when they anticipates a
pleasure (think of Pavlov). Our brains continually are fine tuning our
receptors based on real-world trial-and-error.
Our emotional brain is a stew of these dopamine receptors. Think about seeing someone you love. Do you tingle? It’s dopamine coursing through your body. Now think about an almost car-crash you were in. Does your breath get shallow? It’s dopamine again.
We assign emotions to certain physical responses: love, fear, hate, etc. Not everyone defines the responses the same way, but we all know how these emotions make us feel. When it comes time to make a decision, we weigh the emotional brain’s answer (”a hunch”) with the rational brain’s (”calculated results”).
While we can explain how our rational brain answer arose (”…based on a class I took last year, the answer is obviously …”) we have an almost impossible time explaining our emotional brain. The emotional brain, it turns out, is wired to our unconscious. And our unconscious has been programmed by our lifetime of dopamine receptor programming. Our unconscious is processing information that our rational brain doesn’t perceive.
So what does this all mean to your marketing? It means that while we’re trying to evoke certain emotional responses, we need to talk directly to the emotional brain (and bypass the rational brain). A careful reader will read your marketing copy, think about the words, and in thinking, may trigger the emotional brain’s response. A graph showing improved results likewise requires the rational brain to interpret the message. What we need to do is appeal to another set of neurons in our brain: mirror neurons.
Mirror neurons are what make us feel empathy. When we see someone smiling, we feel happier because our mirror neurons are giving us the same physical response as if we were smiling. It’s true for all of the emotions that people express around us. (Aside: It turns out that one of the causes for autism are non-functioning mirror neurons. People can see other’s physical responses to emotion, but their mirror neurons aren’t causing the feeling within their own bodies.). Therefore, to evoke an emotional response, we need to trigger the mirror neurons. And the best way to do this is with images and sound. An image of someone happy makes us feel happier. We know that a great movie plays with our emotions (mostly controlled by our ears).
The goal for any marketing message is to arrive unfiltered to your prospect. Not only past the spam filters, but the emotional filters as well. Pick your images and sounds well, and you’ll likely trigger the mirror receptors to evoke the emotion. As a prospect, it means that when it comes time to make a decision, you need to understand the kind of decision you’re being faced with and the type of thought you need to solve it. You need to think about how you think.