Getting Through to the Reptilian Brains of Your Customers

splendor-skink-208600_1280Marketing is all about communicating. Finding the best ways to communicate would thus be a boon for marketers. This is why you may want to delve into a new book, “Neuromarketing,” in which authors Patrick Renvoise and Christophe Morin unveil the latest brain research, and reveal techniques to help you create powerful, unique and memorable content.

These techniques may increase your selling and influencing effectiveness. To begin, you need to better understand how the brain functions, and what it responds to and comprehends. Renvoise and Morin state that the brain has three distinct parts, and that you want to direct your messaging to the “decision maker”—the so-called old brain, or what the authors call the reptilian brain.

The reptilian brain is much less developed than the other two parts of the brain: the new brain, which processes rational data, and the middle brain, which processes emotions and “gut” feelings. Yet, it’s this old brain that makes the decisions. While it takes input from the other two areas of the brain into account, the reptilian brain makes the final call.

Hence, to be a successful communicator, marketers must know how to get through to the reptilian brain. The reptilian brain is fast but primitive. According to the authors, it only responds to six types of stimuli—and those do not include the written word. They are: things that affect its own well-being and survival, emotions, visual images, tangible items, contrasts, and things with a clear beginning and end.

Here’s how these six types of stimuli play out in marketing communications:

  1. Self-centered: General considerations about others do not permeate this part of the brain. It’s all about “me.” The reptilian brain has no patience or empathy for anything that does not immediately impact its existence. To address this primitive consideration, your marketing messages should address your audience’s pain points—not be about your products/services. What can you do for Mr. Reptile? He doesn’t care if you’re No. 1 in your vertical or you won such-and-such award.
  2. Contrasting: Opposites attract the reptilian brain—helping it to decide. Sharp contrasts, like hot/cold, equal safe decision making when you’re primitive. Without contrast, the old brain enters a state of confusion, which slows action. The reptilian brain is wired to look for contrasts that signal disruption. It will give priority to changes in the environment.
  3. Tangible: The reptilian brain scans the environment for the familiar and friendly, tangible and immutable. It cannot process concepts like “integrated approach” and “scalable architecture” without effort and doubt. Complicated language will slow down your message, automatically turning it over to the new brain for decoding. In modern parlance, this means your audience will want to “think” about what you’ve said vs. acting on it. Use simple jargon to inspire faster decision making.
  4. Beginning and end: The reptilian brain has a short attention span, which has huge implications for how you should construct communications. Put the most important content upfront—and repeat it at the end. Anything you say in the middle may easily be overlooked. For the reptile, it pays to be alert at the beginning and end of interactions because that’s where any dangerous change or risky new factor is likely to originate.
  5. Visual: We’re familiar with the primitive response to visual images: Something that looks like a snake will cause us to react long before we’ve recognized what the object really is. This implies that visual processing enters the old brain first, leading to a very fast and effective connection to the decision maker. When you use visual stimuli in your communications, you guarantee the reptile brain will latch onto it.
  6. Emotional: The primitive brain is strongly triggered by emotion. Neuroscience shows that emotions create chemical reactions that directly impact how we behave and how we remember events. Messaging with intense emotional content is a valuable marketing asset.

To significantly improve the effectiveness of your marketing communications, and make a major, lasting impact on potential buyers, make sure your messaging not only meets the requirements of the new and middle brain—with sound reasoning and pain point resolution, respectively—but that it also addresses the beast within.


PegAs with her writing and editing, Peg brings her finely honed attention to detail and her adherence to high-quality standards to bear in her role as managing editor of Content Boost. As team leader, she encourages her staff to strive for excellence in the copy they craft and in the relationships they forge with clients, striving for an optimal customer experience. She caught the marketing bug after seven years as an editor and supervisor at Gartner Inc., the world’s leading IT research and advisory company, and was drawn to the spirit and talent exhibited at Content Boost. Tracing back to her early days working local beats as a journalist, Peg consistently digs deep for insights that bring value to her writing. Outside the office, Peg loves to read when she’s not trying to keep up with her cycling buddies or the weeds in her garden. She can be found enjoying the local scene in her hometown of Fairfield, Connecticut.

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