Thursday, October 03, 2013

May i have your attention, please?

A long time ago, Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris conducted a famous experiment. The participants watched a video tape of an amateur basketball game and were asked to count the number of times one team took possession of the ball.  During the film clip, which lasted for a couple of minutes, a person in a gorilla suit strolled onto the center of the court, turned and faced the audience and did a little jig. The gorilla then slowly walked off. Actually, the subjects who were busy counting the ball passes did not notice the gorilla. However, people who were simply asked to view the tape without being asked to count the ball passes had no trouble noticing the gorilla. The effect was so striking that some of the participants who missed the gorilla refused to accept they were later looking at the same tape.

This research offers a lesson for anyone who competes for customers' attention. Just because you think something is important and remarkable, does not mean that others will see it that way.  At any given moment, our audience is preoccupied with something to the point that their brains filter out anything else that does not relate to their focus of attention.

Influence. Creating and changing perceptions. Influence and perception, projecting messages out and taking them in. Two sides of the same coin.

Emotions, then facts

But, how can we have the customers' attention? How can we influence and shape consumers' perceptions? Let's start from the very beginning. The majority of consumers actually buy on emotions and then justify their decisions with logic. We all know that our mood affects our decisions and behavior.  People who receive a small surprise gift and shortly after that are asked about their opinions on home appliances, for instance, are more likely to give a favorable opinion compared to those who did not receive a gift.  Why are emotions so powerful when it comes to our perceptions and actions?  

Both human and animal emotions begin in the subcortical circuits of the mammalian brain, which is the ancient part of the brain.  Through brain stimulation, researchers have been able to isolate seven emotional systems in animals so far: Rage, Lust, Fear, Care, Panic, Play and the Search for resources. Scientists may discover more in the future. Originating in the deep areas of the brain, deep feelings may be more than just an expression after all.  

However, facts should not be ignored. Human brain likes to figure out patterns and make predictions. All our human planning, reasoning, abstract thought and other complex executive functions happen in the cerebral cortex, which forms the largest part of the human brain and is situated above most other brain structures.  The prefrontal cortex, the brain region implicated in planning complex cognitive tasks, decision making, and moderating correct social behavior, is easily overwhelmed. We can process just about seven pieces of information in our conscious mind at any given moment. The brain likes to rationalize, but the more data we have to deal with, the harder it becomes to think clearly. Long live the Analysis Paralysis effect.

Thus, an emotional wrap during our real-world or even better online communication with the customers, is more than needed, including storytelling to build human connections, including pictures and videos for emotional appeal, showing vulnerability, avoiding defensive language, being authentic or even contrarian, celebrating other people's achievements and, last but not least, engaging in discussions and other activities. 


Stimulation or boredom? Human brain is actually motivated by curiosity and the search for patterns. The brain makes sense of the world around by predicting certain outcomes, comparing these predictions to what actually happens and detecting prediction errors.  Based on this information, the brain adjusts the expectations, enabling us to learn from our past experiences. When the brain is busy searching for patterns and making predictions, it produces more dopamine, which is responsible for more pleasurable experience. The popular myth of dopamine is that the neurotransmitter equals pleasure, that it’s the hedonist chemical responsible for sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. The dopaminergic reality is actually much more complicated. 

Consider Wolfram Schultz. His experiments followed a simple protocol. He played a loud tone, waited for a few seconds, and then squirted a few drops of apple juice into the mouth of a monkey. While the experiment was unfolding, Schultz was probing the dopamine-rich areas of the monkey brain with a needle that monitored the electrical activity inside individual cells. At first the dopamine neurons did not fire until the juice was delivered; they were responding to the actual reward. However, once the animal learned that the tone preceded the arrival of juice, the same neurons began firing at the sound of the tone instead of the sweet reward. Eventually, if the tone kept on predicting the juice, the cells went silent. They stopped firing altogether. Schultz calls these cells “prediction neurons,” since they are more concerned with predicting rewards than actually receiving them.

Consumer behavior is not far from there; stimulating human interest and curiosity via engagement with the customers can accelerate the creation of dopamine who are already curious by nature and love unexpected surprises as long as they are pleasant. Social media marketing should involve gradually delivering interesting articles, contest, creative activities, open-ended questions, sharing something about the brand and satisfying customers' curiosity in general.

“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are”

Last but not least, a quotation from Anaïs NinWhatever seems real to customers may turn out to be a fabrication of their subconscious mind and the senses.  How they feel and think about the world influences how they actually see it. Their interactions can be, in fact, be shaped by the attributes of our environment. Using varied sensory language that caters for individual styles of communication (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etcetera), using negative keywords or bizarre images in order to create different perceptions, inspiring and motivating customers (probably in a chaotic way) can take these customers' illusions and make them reality, our reality, via our engagement and communication with our customers.

Because, successful engagement brings satisfying customers and these customers can turn out to be the best business strategy of all.