Stimulate your prospects' brains for better direct marketing

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Brain research has proven that human decisions on whether to change or do something different are more adaptive than rational. This means that people are more likely to make a decision about something if it directly affects their well-being. Naturally this has major implications for the way you develop messages and deliver them in your direct marketing campaigns. Many marketers today are mistakenly messaging for information—that is, they're providing support for a rational decision—instead of messaging for a real decision. People use their neocortices (new brain) to analyze information, but they actually make decisions using the limbic system (old brain), which is designed to make the fast, instinctual choices that ensure survival. Therefore, people (and prospects) tend to move away from pain faster than they move toward gain. Many consumer marketers have figured this out. But b-to-b marketers' campaigns tend to be driven by what their product is and what it does—the features and benefits. The last time I checked, a b-to-b prospect has the same brain as every other human. So to improve your direct marketing campaign, your messages and media choices need to change, and probably dramatically. The old brain craves visual imagery that shows contrast and emotional messaging that provokes its survival instinct. Here are the three biggest old brain-driven changes you need to consider:
  1. Video is the best medium. The old brain prefers visual imagery to written words because there is no language capacity in the old brain. To activate your prospects' old brains and appeal to the true decision-maker, you need to transform your traditional written-word messages into visual vignettes to deliver your early-stage, status quo-breaking messages. As a result, the only job of your email copy is to drive your prospect to watch a video.
  2. Context creates urgency. Recent research from the Corporate Executive Board's Marketing Leadership Council found that prospects believe that almost 90% of marketing messages fail to create commercial impact. In other words, your value propositions don't cause prospects to want to do anything different. If you want to create more demand, you need to put your solution into an urgent context that gets your prospects to reconsider their current state of affairs. Show them the threats, challenges and missed opportunities that make their existing situation “unsafe” and put their desired outcomes at risk.
  3. Contrast creates value. Your prospects' old brains need to see a clear contrast to make a decision. A lack of perceived contrast between your solution and the status quo means that customers will not see enough value to change. They'll think they can solve the problems with their existing solution. You must help them visualize the pain caused by their present circumstance, identify the gaps in their current approach and show how these gaps won't eleviate the pain and allow them to realize the significant gain promised by your more effective approach.
To convey your company's value to prospects, you need to replace traditional approaches to creating value propositions with a new message and medium for creating and delivering a distinct point of view. By creating more provocative content that appeals to the old brain, your direct marketing campaign will see greater success. Tim Riesterer is chief strategy and marketing officer at sales and marketing messaging company Corporate Visions ( He can be reached at
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