Boosting brains – and building brands – online and off

(Hint)…create better content and tell better stories

By David Gee

The good news is it has never been easier to reach large numbers of people with our marketing and messaging due to the proliferation of social media platforms and other marketing channels. The bad news though is it has never been more difficult to actually connect with them…due to the proliferation of social media platforms and other marketing channels.

Consider that the average American is subject to about 5,000 marketing messages a day, or about 100,000 words digitally. That is a lot of clutter to cut through.

This article isn’t going to be an alphabet soup compilation on all the platforms and tools at your disposal to help you do that. Rather it’s a high-level look at how you can maximize those tools by creating better content and telling better stories.

Gary Vaynerchuk is the CEO of VaynerMedia, a full service agency that works with Fortune 100 clients. “To tell a great story, the number one thing you have to do is evoke a reaction. The end.”

Left versus right

Now, how to do that. Research in neuroscience tells us that reasoning with people (left brain) leads to conclusions, while creating emotional connections with them (right brain) leads to actions. And every single decision a person makes, including every buying decision certainly, is rooted in – and driven by – emotion.

When we read or hear a bunch of facts, only certain parts in the brain get activated. Scientists call these Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that’s it. Nothing else happens.

When we are being told a story, though, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too. Stories put our whole brain to work.

So when it comes to sales interactions, websites, tweets, posts, blogs, brochures, videos and other marketing materials why is anyone trying to inundate the left brains of prospects and customers with features and specs when it’s the right brain that is going to do the buying?

And that goes doubly for the recreational boating business since buying, owning, servicing and storing a boat is about the most discretionary way to use a dollar that exists. The marketing better be creating an emotional connection. Or there may not be a buying decision.

Replace the functional with fun

“You have to make it about the experience,” stated Paul Ray, president of Ilmor Engineering, Inc., who I had the chance to speak with at the recent American Boating Congress in D.C. “Nobody needs a boat. However, everybody deserves the chance to relax and have fun and have some pleasure in their life. And if you have the means to buy recreational items such as boats, in my view, it’s about the most family-friendly activity there is. It’s always a good time. It’s always fun. And our marketing and messaging should be fun too, and appeal to the emotions.”

When Michelle Dauchy joined Mercury Marine as chief marketing officer in 2015, she had nearly two decades of global consumer marketing experience with S.C. Johnson. And she was ready to put the fun back into Mercury’s marketing.

She immediately noted in her marketing audit that even though Mercury Marine is a very successful company with a heritage dating back to the late 1930’s, the marketing had become focused on what they made, instead of why they made it (see sidebar on Simon Sinek’s Start With Why).

“At some point in the purchase cycle our customers care about the technical details, but what really matters most is what a product can do for them,” said Dauchy during a recent phone conversation when she called on the way to work. “We were instead focused on the function and the rational benefits of our products.”

Mercury’s CMO says one downside to functional marketing; you begin to sound like the competition.

“We got lost in what I call the sea of sameness. It becomes an arms race to the next technical benefit. And when you do that, you lose your heart, your soul, your points of differentiation, and eventually lose that connection and customer loyalty.”

One of the first things Dauchy did when she started was to spend a lot of time talking to boaters. 

“After we did one of our first real customer engagement-centric videos, we immediately received great reactions from boaters, and had people literally saying ‘sign me up; I’m ready to go. I want to be there with those people in the video doing what they are doing.’”

She went on to say that life is about experiences, people, connections and making memories, and that is what they began to focus more on with Mercury Marine’s marketing.

“I want to add that this new focus has not just been about getting people to buy boats with Mercury motors,” stated Dauchy. “We also increased our communication and engagement after they purchased one of our products. We may build marine motors, but what we really do is make great experiences possible.”

John Kotter, a former Harvard Business School professor, says, “Behavior change happens mostly by speaking to people’s feelings.” In other words, by creating an emotional connection.

Unfortunately, he adds, “that kind of emotional persuasion isn’t taught in business schools,” and he says it doesn’t come naturally to the people who run things and pride themselves on disciplined, analytical thinking.

Switch Brains

Here are some of the benefits of using the right brain approach instead:

You take the customer to the place where buying decisions are made. It’s the place where emotions and feelings reside and where your customer finds connections with you. And it takes the conversation away from data and facts, away from processing and organizing, away from skepticism and transactions.

Your customer is conditioned to actively listen to a story. That is how we are wired, and it happens at the subconscious level of the human brain. “Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience,” says Robert McKee, former USC professor and creator of the Story Seminar. “They are the currency of human contact.” When you wrap your product or service into a story, resistance begins to fall and fade. You break down the feelings of “being sold” in the mind of a customer. So tell stories instead of spewing out the same old features and benefits stuff.

Tell tales of transformation. Contrast equals value, and the value you bring to a customer or prospect is the difference between what is and what could be. This is their world without your product or service versus their world transformed after purchasing your product or service. Sales and marketing messaging needs to feed the brain the thing it craves most to make a decision – contrast.

Keeping all these things in mind will allow you to truly build relationships that create loyal, satisfied customers, moving beyond transactional selling to a role as trusted partner.

As sales trainer Jeffery Gitomer says, “People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.”

Help them. Arouse their brain, Pique their curiosity. Create an emotional connection. Do that in the first few seconds of a sales or marketing interaction, and you’ll earn the opportunity to move, persuade, convince – and eventually – sell.

Consider that no other company or organization has your founding story, your DNA. Bake that into your content. You are unique. And that’s the ultimate differentiator, not using the latest, greatest tool, technology or social media platform.

“The amount of technology that surrounds is kind of overwhelming, and as marketers especially, it’s hard not to get attracted to – or distracted by – the next new bright shiny object,” Mercury Marine’s CMO Michelle Dauchy said in closing. “So we constantly remind ourselves to stay true to our strategy and focused on the content – and the customer. If you aren’t providing content that is relevant and valuable to your audience, then whatever technology you are employing is meaningless.”   

Simon Sinek: Start With Why….

“Every single person, every single organization on the planet, knows what they do,” begins British-American author, motivational speaker and organizational consultant Simon Sinek in his famous Ted talk that has over 44 million views. “Some know how they do it, whether you call it your unique value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do.”

And that, opines Sinek, is the secret sauce. Your purpose, why you exist, the reason you get out of bed in the morning, is what drives great leaders and great companies, makes for meaningful marketing messaging and allows some to achieve extraordinary success, while others, with the same resources, fail.

What Sinek has found is that most companies do their marketing backwards. They start with their “what” and then move to the “how.” Most of these companies neglect to even mention “why.” Perhaps some haven’t even clearly defined or articulated their why.

Sinek illustrates his concept with what he calls the “Golden Circle.”

The way we think, the way we act, and the way most of us communicate is from the outside in, says Sinek. It’s obvious. It’s easier. And it’s natural to go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing.

Sinek also says that is also how most sales and marketing is done, and it’s how most of us communicate interpersonally.

Like lots of people who want to use case studies from brilliant marketing, Sinek often refers to Apple to drive home his points.

He says all of their branding and messaging starts with “why.” It is the core of their marketing and the driving force behind their business operations.

But he says, what if Apple began their campaigns with their “what?”

“We make great computers. They’re user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?”

Those are factual statements. They’re functional. But they don’t create an emotional connection. And by simply saying what we do, and why we’re better, we may not get the behavior we want as a result, such as a purchase.

Now compare and contrast that with this why-centric message from Apple.

“With everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

See how different that feels? Again, as Sinek puts it, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”

And he says in closing, those who lead inspire us. “Whether they are individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to. And it’s those who start with ‘why’ that have the ability to inspire those around them.”

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