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Brain versus feelings

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I hope you'll pardon my beginning this post with a personal note.

My son recently entered the C-SPAN StudentCam competition, so naturally we sent the link to his video far and wide. Not surprisingly, Alan received many accolades from family and friends. But I began to notice that they mostly referred to his "Free Candy" video, not his "Taxation Without Representation" video—which are actually one and the same video.

You all know how just about everything in my life triggers thoughts of marketing? Well, this got me thinking about how people receive messages. The title "Free Candy" appeals to the senses. "Taxation without Representation" appeals to the brain.

Since the earliest moments of civilization, man has been going through continuous cycles of romantic periods and classical periods. It's all part of our ongoing battle with nature; at times we try to be one with nature and at other times we try to tame nature.

Many ancient civilizations have come and gone, including the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans, and each successfully built upon the one prior to itself. The ultimate anti-civilization crowd, of course, were the "barbarians," who threw the world into the Dark Ages. Then with the rise of the Renaissance, classical ideals returned and there was, communally, an interest in rules and proportions and intellectual pursuits.

Since that time, appeals to the heart and appeals to the head have alternated, coming in and out of fashion. Shakespeare or Byron? Brunelleschi or Van Gogh? Johann Sebastian Bach or John Cage?

Of course, one epoch rises in reaction to the other and thus they overlap and it's often difficult to know at the time whether you're in a classical or romantic period. While technology consumes our daily lives, I think it's the assault on our senses that prevails in our modern culture.

We're bombarded with action-packed movies and Technicolor fashion. We're treated to music with more rhyme than reason and hyper-reality television. And unless you're in the middle of the Mojave Desert, you're likely to have a brand image somewhere within eyeshot.

This is a special challenge for b-to-b marketers. We tend toward logical, succinct appeals. There is a belief that in this busy business world it's best to get to the point and get out of the way. Highlight the features and benefits, and rest on the facts.

The problem with an appeal to the brain is that it ought not to come at the expense of an appeal to the heart. Just because we have all of our facts in order doesn't mean we don't have to woo our customers a little.

I recently saw a high school student's science project. He calculated that if everyone at his school would use the Garamond font exclusively, the school could save $21,000 per year because that font uses less ink. From a classical, logical point of view this is brilliant and it raises the question: Why do we need all of those different fonts anyway?

We need them because our message is related not just to what we say but how we say it. Marketers are more successful when they go beyond merely delivering the facts and actually change how customers feel about the product. That's a lesson that extends beyond mere font choices, out to all of our marketing.

We can't slap the handiest piece of clipart on our message and be satisfied. We must choose wisely. While we may think that a sailboat picture signals "smooth sailing," others see luxurious excess or seasickness.

Ginger Shimp is marketing director-professional services industry at SAP America (www.sap.com). The views and opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily those of SAP. She can be reached at gingership@gmail.com.

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