If you want to achieve better results with your advertising it helps if you understand how people’s brains work – and how decisions are made.
Then you’ll see why so much advertising fails.
There are three major concepts related to the brain that have a significance bearing:
1. ALPHA MODE
Alpha brain waves run automatic patterns allowing your brain to habitually perform tasks without conscious thought. Alpha is a sort of mental sleep-walking that means with respect to marketing that people see and hear ads with their eyes and ears but don’t notice them on a conscious level.
If you open a newspaper, you may look at a publication containing 70% ads and only 30% news articles. You only see the ads on an alpha level. 9.9 times out of 10 you won’t even notice them at all. All you’ll see is the news because that’s why you picked up the paper in the first place. In addition to alpha brain waves, you also have beta brain waves.
2. BETA MODE
Beta is the brain’s state of alertness and active engagement. It’s like driving to work in a thunderstorm. You’re wide awake to everything around you in contrast to an Alpha level driving experience of getting to work and wondering how you managed to get there because you were on ‘automatic pilot’. You’re in beta mode when you’re watching a movie and the music builds to a crescendo in anticipation of something scary happening. You can think of beta as “alert mode.”
In marketing terms, beta mode is when a person consciously notices your ad or marketing piece and becomes open to suggestions and solutions. Something captures their attention and compels them to keep paying attention.
To make advertising work you have to get the prospect out of alpha mode and into beta mode. You want to shake your prospects out of their subconscious haze that never sees your ad or marketing piece and into alert mode where they are fully conscious and aware of what you’re trying to communicate.
3. RETICULAR ACTIVATOR
Knowing how to move a prospect from alpha to beta mode requires you to learn the third major concept about how the human brain works – the Reticular Activator.
This part of your brain is on the lookout 24/7– even when you’re asleep. Whenever your brain detects things that are familiar, unusual or problematic, it sends a message to the conscious side of the brain and says, “Hey, wake up!
There’s something you need to pay attention to here.” We call those unusual or problematic things “activators.”
Your brain acts like radar on a subconscious level, constantly looking for activators. Whenever it finds one, it snaps your brain out of alpha sleep and into beta alert.
Have you ever met somebody for the first time, and two seconds later, you realize you’ve forgotten their name?
Trying to remember Fred Jones’ name two seconds after being introduced is like trying to recall the ads on a page of the newspaper that you turned two seconds ago or the billboard that you just passed. You can’t remember it because you never consciously noticed.
But what if you met somebody whose name is Hubert Hinklemier, Elmo Fudrucker, or Cornelius Oglethorpe? Or what if you met a person named Tony Abbott, John Howard, or Marilyn Monroe? You’ll most likely take notice and remember.
What does all this have to do with marketing? EVERYTHING!
Understanding the reticular activator is what’s going to get us past interrupt and on to engage. If we can engage the prospect, we’ve just hugely increased our chances of selling something.
It overcomes the problem most marketers haven’t figured out – how to get the prospect not just interrupted but also engaged. Not just finding any activator, but finding the right activator.
Advertising’s first job is to interrupt your prospects – to get them to “snap” out of alpha into beta. You do this by finding out the things that resonate in the prospects’ reticular activators. This snaps them into beta mode.
Actually, this is easy to do. There’s several ways of doing it.
A common way is to use well known celebrities in advertising – for example a former cricket captain, a Formula one driver or actor. Your reticular activator detects the presence of someone familiar. It creates a rendezvous between you and the advertisement. Now the advertiser is in a position to sell – if they can now move you from being interrupted to becoming engaged.
Activators can also be stimulated by unusual things. For example something so weird, strange, shocking, or unusual that it will snap you out of alpha mode and into beta mode, otherwise known as ‘interrupt’.
That’s why advertisers will take something familiar like a frog or a zebra and make it do something unusual like talk. Now they’re doing a reticular activator double whammy: giving your brain something that’s familiar and unusual at the same time.
Another example is to highlight a problem that you know your prospects will be interested in.
For example: A real estate agent could advertise a free report to people who are thinking of selling with a heading: ‘How to ensure you maximise your chances of getting a top price when you sell’. The report would then draw requests for it from people who are thinking of selling which would be followed up as leads to potential sellers.
Another example: We often explain to real estate agents the importance of having a newsletter with local content rather than generic articles talking about real estate in general.
Why? Because the Reticular Activators of the homeowners won’t kick start on a general article about real estate but the moment the article is talking about their area it kicks in to prompt them to take an interest.
People aren’t all that interested in real estate in general but they’re always interested in how their property values are moving, what the demand is like for property in their area – and so on.
Advertisers should always give their advertisements a heading likely to attract the interest of their prospects by highlighting within the heading the problem that their prospects have that their product will solve.
For example, suppose you sell a headache pill.
If you put your company name at the top of the advertisement – no chance of the Reticular Activator cutting in. However, put in the heading:
‘Headache sufferers – a new cure has arrived’.
The Reticular Activator of headache suffers is sure to cut in. It probably won’t cut in for people who don’t suffer headaches. But they’re not your target prospects so who cares. You’re only interested in those people who suffer headaches.
In other words the Reticular Activator of people with an interest in a particular product or service – notices what is of interest or concern to them. So, when you’re next creating an advertisement for your business. Think about your prospects – what’s going to tickle their Reticular Activators to stimulate their Beta Brainwaves?Note: The basis for this article was derived from an article by Rich Harshaw.
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