Marketing To The Old Brain

Despite marketing’s best efforts, consumer-buying decisions are based on much more than getting the marketing mix right and having stellar strategies in place. Today, the knowledge of neuroscience shows how consumer’s brains work, and the field of neuromarketing that enables marketers to understand precisely how consumers react to certain stimuli.

Neuromarketing (2002) by Patrick Renvoise and Christophe Morin draws conclusions from research on the brain’s ancient decision-making processes and innovative marketing techniques to understand why people buy.

The Old Brain

The obvious daily choices that people make – like getting that cappuccino on the way to work – aren’t always based on rational, thought-out decisions. They do not flit from café to café; compare products and prices in order to get that cappuccino. Such decisions are made impulsively, on the go, without much thought to the process.

This kind of thinking is managed by the ‘old brain’, the decision-making center of the brain. The old brain takes and assesses information from the ‘new brain’ and the ‘middle brain’ to make decisions. While the new brain works rationally, the middle brain relies on emotions and gut feelings. Therefore, to influence consumers buying decisions, marketers need to target the old brain.

The ‘old brain’ of humans is 450 million years old, much older than either spoken or written language, that are 40000 years and 10000 years old. It, therefore, cannot be captivated easily with language.

The old brain is self-centered and lazy. It focuses on survival and prosperity. Additionally, it also focuses on the beginning and the end of any information rather than the middle. It is therefore essential that marketers focus on how the lives of their customers can be improved with their products. Where advertising these products are concerned, they should focus on having an attention-grabbing start and end to their ads so that customers remember the product.

Neuromarketing by Patrick Renvoise and Christophe Morin
Neuromarketing by Patrick Renvoise and Christophe Morin

The Right Kind Of Preparation

Preparation is essential for any strategy or process to work. While targeting any message to the ‘old brain’, marketers should use the following steps.

  • Diagnose The Pain – The ‘pain’ of the customers tells marketers what is the issue or deficiency that their lives lack, that can be fulfilled by the product. Marketers should pay attention to understand why customers need the product. For example, a company selling industrial drills should be able to identify that their customer’s pain is that they need to probably drill a dense surface and don’t have the right equipment for it.
  • Differentiate Claims – Marketers should be able to ascertain how their product and their company are different, and how they can ease the pain of their customers. These questions should reveal concrete answers. Therefore the industrial drill company could advertise that they are different from others in having the most reliable products, or the best customer service.
  • Show The Gain – Marketers should then aim to show or demonstrate to customers how their product can ease the pain and additionally add value to their lives. This is where marketers need to show customers hard evidence using testimonials, success stories, prototype demos, share data, etc. to make customers see and understand the pros of the product. For example, the industrial drill company could share a story of how their product enabled smooth and swift completion of a water pump project in the city.

Once marketers have their prep in place, they can effectively move ahead to deliver the message to appeal to the old brain.

Structuring An Appealing Message

Once marketers do their preparation, it’s time to structure a clear message that will appeal to the consumer’s old brain. Structuring the message uses the following building blocks.

  • Using Big Pictures – Using images can help structure a clear picture. Customers should be able to visualize the solution that the product offers. Demonstrating a ‘before and after’ scenario works well here. For example, a mattress selling company could use images of a tired and sleepy person at work contrasting with images of the same man sleeping soundly on the company’s mattress.
  • Proof Of Gain – Showing customers proof or evidence of the success of the product, or showing them how the product will improve their life by using statistics is the next building block, for example, giving statistics such as ‘99% of our customers say their sleep has improved with our mattresses.’ 
  • Using Impact Boosters – Impact boosters are small details about the product that are based on visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic learning. Such boosters help in fine-tuning the message, therefore marketers should attempt to use all three in their messages. The visual described earlier could be accented with soothing music, or even inviting customers to share their experiences are great examples.

Present To Appeal To The Old Brain

The most obvious method of marketing and advertising is the face-to-face presentation. However, no matter what form of marketing is used, it is imperative to appeal to the old brain, especially during the presentation.

Presentations should aim at grabbing the attention of customers from the word go. In order to successfully get them to notice the product, marketers can use the following ‘grabbers’ or techniques that grab the customers’ attention.

  • Mini Dramas – Mini dramas show or depict the customer-facing the pain that a product will ease. Next, marketers can show customers a ‘before and after’ contrast change that occurs after they use the product. Mini dramas can make any product memorable. A company that sells ‘toughbooks’ – almost unbreakable laptops – can use a mini-drama that shows the pain of a person who drops their laptop. Just as it is about to hit the floor, the person remembers that they are using a ‘toughbook’ and have no reason to worry about it breaking.
  • The Rhetorical Question – Rhetorical questions, though not meant to be answered, get the customer thinking and can be used to illustrate a point. Questions drawing comparisons or contrasts, or hypothetical questions propel the old brain into thinking of the solution (the marketer’s product).
  • Props – Using props to show customers the value of the solution helps them remember the presentation. For example, a company selling security solutions can use their automated locks as a prop.

These grabbers target the old brain and help marketers grab the attention of their customers successfully through their message.

Confidence While Handling Objections

Doubt is a natural phenomenon that marketers face. It is, in fact, a sign indicating that the customer is considering buying. However, salespeople should always clear doubt and never leave it unanswered. Therefore, they should have strategies in place that can manage customers’ last-minute objections and doubts.

It is however essential, that marketers understand the difference between objections that are valid and misunderstandings. Often, when presentations aren’t as clear as they should be, customers could misunderstand what’s being presented and have objections. The following steps can be used to clear any objections customers could have.

  • Rephrasing The Objection – Marketers should firstly rephrase the objection, to be sure about what customers are worried about.
  • Stepping Into The Objection – ‘Stepping into’ includes physically getting closer or moving towards the customer who has raised the objection. This shows that the marketer is keen to hear out the customers objection and unafraid to face them.
  • Listening To The Customer – This includes patiently hearing the customer out and giving them time to express their perceptions and opinions.
  • Proving The Point – Once the customer has given their perspective, it time for the marketer to prove his point. Marketers can show or perhaps offer them a prototype, telling the customer success stories, etc. that appeal to the old brain.
  • Expressing One’s Own Opinion – Sometimes, misunderstandings are not the basis of an objection. For example, the customer might feel that the product is expensive (that is an opinion rather than a misunderstanding). In such cases, marketers can begin with the aforementioned steps and next move on to confidently express their opinions to the customer that the product is actually not expensive. 
  • Highlighting A Positive Aspect Of The Objection – Here, marketers should appeal to the old brain by telling stories that can link to the customer’s objection. They can give the customer subsequent proof by saying, “Our prices are actually competitive, considering the higher quality of our products.’

Credibility Builds Trust

Credibility is often the basis on which customers trust products and brands. Especially in presentations, it is essential that marketers build credibility first. It is essential to remember that one cannot pretend to be credible, however, even if one does lack it, one can take steps to increase credibility.

The first requirement for marketers to build credibility is to have passion and integrity. No one will believe in the product if those selling it are not passionate about it. 

Secondly, people tend to be attracted to those who are similar to them. Therefore, marketers need to thoroughly research the audience they are going to present their product to and then perhaps pointing out those similarities to them. 

Third, expressions and communications are vital to building credibility. People tend to shut off if the presenter fumbles and mumbles, and seems unsure while presenting. 

Fourth, presenters should be able to have flexibility in their presentation and creatively fit it to the audience. For example, one can change the colors of the presentation to blue to appeal to an elder audience as it represents trust and authority.

Finally, confidence is key. Those who exude fearlessness often present with enthusiasm. Such enthusiasm will attract customers and keep their attention and gain their trust.

Emotions And Language Can Make  A Message Stick

Let us compare the message to a cupcake. The cupcake in itself is the real substance. However, the cupcake still needs Choco-chips and sprinkles to make it more enticing. Therefore, it is language, emotions, and stories that make a message more enticing to the old brain and more likely to stick.

The old brain loves being directly spoken to. Therefore, using the work ‘you’ helps to catch its attention. It also responds better to sharp contrasts such as with/without the product, before/after, comparisons between competing products in the market, etc. However, it is important to remember that the old brain has a short attention span. Therefore, keeping it short and concise works best.

The old brain also connects faster to messages that elicit emotions. For example, to make a presentation memorable for the old brain, marketers could use happy stories, images, etc. The old brain also cannot differentiate between a really good story and reality, and the truth is that the old brain loves stories.

Therefore, incorporating a well-detailed story, describing why the story matters to the customers, will keep their old brain glued! The message will be more memorable if it has an appealing, funny, engaging, punch line.

The Old Brain And Job Interviews

A job interview is not very different from a sales pitch. The interviewee, after all, needs to sell his own credentials to the interviewer. In this case, the very same principles of preparation can be used to excel at interviews.

  • Diagnose The Pain – This works just like a marketing situation. While going for an interview, the interviewee should research the ‘pain’ that the company wishes to ease by filling in the position applied for. Maybe the previous employee left the job within a few months, thus the company’s pain could be ‘retention’. The interviewee could mention that he is looking for a long-term position.
  • Differentiating Claims – The interviewee should first keenly listen to what the interviewer is saying, what information he is revealing about the position, the competition, or the interviewee himself, and then drive his claim home. He should focus on how he, the interviewee, can help ease the company’s pain. For example, rather than saying he is a great project manager, the interviewee could elaborate on how his management skills can be an asset to the team.
  • Demonstrating Gains – An interviewee should be very specific in telling the interviewer what his company could gain by hiring him. For example, the interviewee could bring along certificates of specialized management courses he has taken, or even provide an overview of successful project completion in the previous company.
  • Appeal To The Old Brain – Right from managing communication, expression, using language and emotions to appeal, building credibility, handling objections with confidence, and using the right grabbers, interviewees can use these tactics to appeal to the old brain of their interviewers.


The old brain is the decision-making center of the brain. For marketers, therefore, it is essential to have a clear understanding of how the old brain works and how to use tactics to get their marketing messages to appeal to the old brain.

Communicating with the old brain directly will help marketers win their customer’s trust and get them compelled enough to choose their products, thereby enhancing sales.