Solving Real Problems with Conceptual Solutions

I wanted to share with you one of my favorite TED talks.

 

The term “value” is so ubiquitous (triple word score!) in business today that it runs the risk of losing its meaning. Most professionals know the importance of “value” but rarely spend time digging deep and understanding the elegance of the concept of value.

 

In this TED talk Rory Sutherland gives a very insightful and humorous survey of the history and conceptual complexity of value. He’s brilliant. Enjoy!

 

How to Call the Baby Ugly

Speaking effectively to the deficiencies of your potential customers.

By: Kevin Torres and Jeff Sobieraj

In a recent HBR Blog article The Worst Question a Sales Person Can Ask, authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson take a stance against the exploratory, question driven approach that dominates the sales landscape today. In the article Dixon and Adamson bring up a topic rarely covered in sales education and training, that most businesses don’t actually know what they’re doing wrong.

If most businesses are blind to their own shortcomings, asking general questions would otherwise prove to be an ineffective approach for getting the customer to voice their concerns. At a certain point in the sales process it is a necessity to bring up the subject of your customer’s deficiencies to move the sales process forward because your customer may be unaware of their issues. The goal of your sales interactions should be to let the customer discover, in their own way, that he/she has an issue or area that could be improved. If questions aren’t working it might make sense to go at your problem head-on.

Breaching the topic of your customer’s deficiencies is much easier said that done. Incorrectly communicate your message, no matter how good your intentions, and you run the risk of offending your customer. Any kind of direct challenge will most likely result in one of two responses: defend or deny. But if you’re able to effectively speak to your customers deficiencies, the sales experience you’ve provided would be valued by your potential customer as you will have come off as insightful, informative, and respectful.

Empathy

You would never think to call a baby ugly in front of its parents. With sales it’s the same concept. Just like you, your potential customers take pride and have an emotional investment with their job and their company. With that being said, most people don’t take kindly to unsolicited advice or insight. This is the mine field you travel through as you progress in the sales process. Seek to understand your customer and their roles and responsibilities before breaching the topic of their business deficiencies.

Focus on the solution

“If you’re focusing on the problem you can’t see the solution. Never focus on the problem.” – Arthur Mendleson [Patch Adams 1998]

This quote couldn’t be truer when you’re communicating with your customer about deficiencies in their business operations. Constantly speak to the obtainable outcomes of providing a meaningful solution for your customer’s problems. Keep the focus positive and give objective examples of businesses or people who were in the same situation and the solutions you provided. Sharing similar customer success stories takes the customer of the island and shows them it’s okay they’re deficient in certain areas so long as they can correct it moving forward.

Prime your customer for advice and insight

The use of brain imaging for social neuroscience teaches us that how you say something is actually more important that what you’re saying. Surprisingly, negative information delivered in a positive manner is better perceived by our brains than positive information delivered in a negative manner. Millions of years of evolution has primed our brains to respond better and faster to physical cues and mannerisms than to the use of words. So remain positive, upbeat and confident as you begin to discuss possible solutions to your customer’s deficiencies.

Would you perceive this as good news or bad news?

Although communication is overwhelmingly physical, your words still carry a lot of weight. So I enlisted the help of a good friend and top notch sales professional Jeff Sobieraj to help provide some good “ice-breakers” or softening statements for discussing your customer’s deficiencies head on. We’ll leave you with these:

“Do you mind if I share something with you…”

“Can I ask you a question off the record…”

“I have to tell you something here, and please don’t hold it against me…”

“I have to level with you here: you have to change this process/strategy/technology. Whether you’re working with me or another vendor it’s important for the sake of your business that this get fixed…”

“I know this isn’t your first rodeo. What is it that you think needs to change here…”

“I had a chance to research this issue and I actually found some areas where you can improve your effectiveness. Do you mind if I share them with you…”

“With all do respect, this is a problem area for you. The good news is there are things can be done to fix this issue and even improve upon it. I’d like to discuss it in more depth…”

The Science of Selling: The Numbers Game

Numbers…

neuroscience sheds some light on how to best use numbers to motivate your business development team.

Numbers are an integral part of business. Numbers provide keen insight into every facet of business: service, sales, and operations. Reports, statistics, and analytics are routinely placed in the hands of leadership for evaluation. This process of evaluating numbers directly affects how leadership manages and motivates their workforce. It’s not too uncommon for leadership to incorrectly attempt to motivate their workforce as they perform conceptual tasks by using numbers.

In both of the best selling books A Whole New Mind, and Drive Dan Pink beautifully illustrates the dramatic shift in business from manual, industrial tasks to conceptual tasks and how it affects motivation. In short, numbers are ideal for motivating and managing the completion of manual tasks, however this is not the case for the completion of conceptual tasks.

numbers aren't ideal for motivating conceptual tasks.

There is no greater conceptual task than business development. There’s no magic button for making a sale or marketing your good or service effectively. The key challenge in business development is providing conceptual solutions while effectively managing social interactions.

Neuroscience and Numbers

The brain that currently sits inside your skull has been a work in progress for millions of years. Over that length of time our ancestors succeeded largely based on their intelligence and the ability to form social bonds. Our current brain is a masterpiece of higher level thought and the innate ability to connect with others to accomplish tasks.

Numbers have only been around a few thousand years. On the evolutionary timeline of human brain development numbers only occupy a tiny sliver space. Today’s economic environment is made up overwhelmingly of conceptual tasks. It makes sense to embrace our ability for complex thought and social interaction. Numbers, surprisingly can short-side our ability to successfully perform conceptual tasks.

The reason why numbers can undermine our conceptual abilities is that our brain, amazing as it is, is actually quite poor at multitasking (Brain Rules). We use different parts of our brain to perform social interactions than we do to evaluate numbers, and these two areas of the brain do not work well in concert. Studies have shown that just thinking about numbers, specifically from an economic standpoint, can actually make people more selfish. Since conceptual tasks rely heavily on positive social interaction, selfish thoughts can compromise ones ability to perform optimally in this area.

Management and Motivation Tips for Conceptual Tasks

  • Lead your team by promoting social behavior that will further along the sales process. Keeping the focus on making a positive impact for your customers is the key to long term motivation and success. Always keep moving forward.
  • Performance reports and analytics should be used in review of your employees, not as the main motivator. There’s no quicker way to strip your team of autonomy and motivation by saying you need to do x phone calls, x meetings, and x presentations to have success. Activity is important, but not the end all be all of business.
  • Do NOT use your CRM to police your business development team. CRMs are meant to manage customer relationships, not harass your team. Trust the employees you hired, they all want to be successful.
  • Allow your employees to set a trend in behavior, once that trend is in place evaluate it to see if their goal is being reached, if not adjust accordingly to help them reach success and keep the tone positive.
  • Avoid falling in love with your reports. Remember, success is a byproduct of our behavior and a result of doing things the right way. The only number that matters should be the final sale, the result.

Neural Optimal Design in Use

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I promise that is going to change. I have written a lot in the past about neuromarketing and neural optimal design, but I felt it would be good to keep this post short and sweet by showing you some good marketing design that has neural influences.

Chipotle Tabasco's bottle old and new

I snapped this picture of these two Tabasco bottles while I was eating a burrito at my local Chipotle. Since I normally drench my steak burritos (and everything else) in Tabasco’s Chipotle Hot Sauce I have become quite attuned to this bottle and was amazed when I saw the new design.

I put them side-by-side because the new bottle’s design is great for two main reasons:

1. What jumps out at you is “BEST BITE”, but only then you realize that there is more to the message and it draws you in to read it more closely. Remember, the brain loves simple puzzles, and the main message on this bottle is perfectly arranged to draw in hot sauce users.

2. More image. Less Text. As you can see a hamburger has made an appearance on the bottle. Compared to the old bottle of hot sauce the picture breaks up the wordiness. Remember, a majority of the brain is dedicated to vision. That means your message has to contain a visual element.

GO DO GOOD is a fun take on social marketing

While roaming the streets of Chicago, my hometown that I miss dearly, I had to smile when I came across this sign on State Street (that great street). It’s simple puzzle like design stopped me and several others in our tracks on a busy city sidewalk to consciously process the meaning.

“GO DO GOOD” is a social marketing campaign that is built around promoting good public behavior. As I continued walking down the street I saw several city public works employees sweeping train stop wearing bright yellow shirts that had the same GODOGOOD logo. Maybe it was just the buzz of being back home or maybe it was the marketing design, but it got me. I felt like doing some good and held the door open for a lot of strangers at the next place I walked in to.

I’ve said it a lot of times, marketing is evolving. The old goal of marketing was to say “hey! look at me”, and because of that we’ve become senselessly over communicated. I believe the new goal of marketing is to have people genuinely interact with your message at a conscious level. Tabasco bottle or social marketing campaign, these two messages do just that.

Burritos and Your Brain 2.0

A long time ago I wrote an article called Burritos and your Brain. The article examined the ill received reactions from loyal customers when Chipotle decided to change their marketing design in an attempt to introduce a new logo, and how Chipotle promptly returned to their familiar marketing design shortly there after.

A little over a month ago I was driving when I spotted a billboard in the distance that looked like Chipotle’s marketing design. As I got closer I nearly crashed my car. Why, you ask. Because Chipotle had made changes to their marketing design yet again, but this time they absolutely nailed it.

This was the exact Chipotle advertisement that I saw.

Let’s examine what makes this ad so powerful by examining it through lessons and principles learned in neuromarketing:

This Ad is a Puzzle. The brain loves simple puzzles. Puzzles shake us out of our subconscious auto pilot and demand our conscious attention. With this ad you can see the bold words calling out to you, forming it’s own simple message, but it only draws you in more because you have to read the sentence that the bold words originate from. Rather than this ad just be noticed, it actually causes the consumer to consciously interact with it.

The Buying Brain Loves Puzzles. CEO of NeuroFocus Dr. Pradeep does a fantastic job of describing this in more depth in his book The Buying Brain.

The Ad is Salient. Chipotle’s marketing design was originally created to stand out against the clutter and noise of most marketing design that fills are daily environments, and it has historically worked for them. This ad is no different. The brain loves clear contrast, and it doesn’t get any clearer than “black and white”. That’s exactly what you get when you see this ad. The black bold words pop off the white background. This ad is clean, clear and contrasting – all the things your brain likes.

Great use of Font. The “Confidential Font Type” is bold and noticeable compared most other marketing design. It’s also synonymous with Chipotle. How many other companies do you see using this font on a national level? None, exactly. The font is also uniform, meaning that the letters are all the same case. In advertising the brain actually prefers when the font is uniform.

Good Logo Use. The use and placement of the logo in the ad is very important. The use of the Chipotle logo is subtle. Studies have shown that brain prefers the subtle use of logos. Company logos that are too in-your-face have actually shown negative perception from consumers’ brains. That is definitely not the case here.

Good Logo Placement. Keep in mind that this ad was placed outside, so you want your message to be centered and high on the background so it draws vision upward. The logo placement defers to the message itself letting, it go front and center. The logo is also placed on the right side of the ad. Images should be placed on the right side of material because it’s perceived with the left side of the brain – the side of your brain that is best at processing images and pictures.

Thanks for Reading!

I am glad to see Chipotle continuing their marketing dominance. I cannot express how hungry I am for Chipotle after writing this article. Steak burrito, here I come! Thanks for stopping by social-brain, and thanks for reading!

How are Neuromarketing Companies Marketing Themselves…

The Neuromarketing Frontier

The field of neuromarketing is actually still very young. Although cognitive neuroscience has been researched for decades, neuroscience as it pertains to perception and decision-making in business is still in its infancy.

My research and experience with neuromarketing has taught me a few important things about the nature of this field. Before assuming the role that I am currently in now, I was actually looking to go back to school to obtain a PhD in neuromarketing. Over the past 18 months as I searched school by prestigious school I noticed something, there were little to no neuromarketing PhD programs – largely because there were little to no professors of neuromarketing.

as we see more and more neuromarketing research used in business today it will eventually lead to neurobased classes in business schools around the nation.

Although specific research was being conducted at schools like Emory, Cal Berkley and many more, there was little academic support for neuromarketing as a major program inside business schools. This confused me as I continued to read study after mind-blowing study regarding neuromarketing, and then it hit me. The university labs that were conducting these studies were academic partners with major corporate sponsors and neuromarketing companies.

Where is Neuromarketing Research Coming From?

Companies like NeuroFocus, Buyology Inc., Sands Research, EmSense, and The Consumer Neuroscience Division of Millward Brown have been directing this field and driving neuromarketing research for all. As neuromarketing becomes a more familiar research tool for companies, these will be the names that businesses most likely to turn to improve their marketing effectiveness.

And suddenly you’re hit with a new and exciting thought – how do the companies that provide neuromarketing consulting effectively market to their customers in this new and soon to be highly competitive market? This is the beauty and superb difficulty of marketing and sales strategy that all companies face in varying capacities.

Neuromarketing companies, better than most, are supposed to understand the scientific process of marketing design, communication, and strategic execution – so it very exciting to see how they will approach business development in this new market. And it would seem that some of these companies are starting to make their first strategic marketing moves already.

NeuroStandards and The Law of Leadership

A month ago I came across a press release that announced that the world’s largest neuromarketing firm NeuroFocus had created NeuroStandards, the first and only set of scientifically sound principles for conducting EEG-based, full-brain measurements intended for application to market research studies. As I read the press release I recognized that this was no ordinary press announcement. It was also a strategic marketing move, and a very good one at that.

Highly Recommended Reading. The Buying Brain and Buyology are examples of how neuromarketing companies are leveraging education and knowledge to reach their consumers. Buyology was written by Buyology Inc. Founder Martin Lindstrom, and The Buying Brain was written by NeuroFocus CEO Dr. A.K. Pradeep. The Buying Brain gives excellent insight into basic neuroscience principles and leads wonderfully into concepts and trends that are currently at the forefront of neuromarketing.

The Law of Leadership is a term that comes from Al Ries and Jack Trout’s book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and builds off of positioning strategy. The core lesson behind positioning strategy is that it doesn’t matter where you’re at in the market place, but more importantly where you’re at in the mind of the consumer.

The Law of Leadership is the rule for the importance, and advantages, of being first in a product category in the mind of the consumer, and the marketing behaviors a company should take when widely recognized as a leader. And that brings us back to NeuroFocus, because in the past year they have been continually recognized as the world’s leading neuromarketing firm.

What stood out about NeuroStandards is that it was a press release that presented standards for conducting neuromarketing research for an entire industry. Rather than boast their own standards for research, NeuroFocus effectively positioned themselves firmly in the mind of the consumer as the leader by educating the consumer as well as other neuromarketing companies on best practices for the industry – something they can leverage in sales processes moving forward.

if you're the leader, just don't grow your slice of the pie. grow the entire pie!

For example if the neuromarketing industry was a pie and each neuromarketing company was a slice that makes up the pie, as the leader it doesn’t make any sense to grow just your slice of the pie. It actually makes more sense to grow the pie as a whole – thus indirectly growing your slice of the pie. By using NeuroStandards, NeuroFocus was able to effectively communicate their role as the leader by providing industry-recognized education for all.

The Emerging Role of Education in Marketing

Today’s consumers are smarter than they have ever been.  The Internet has drastically reshaped business by allowing people to research and compare every product, service, and company. This has prompted companies to add another layer, education, to their marketing and branding strategies.

I’ll end this post with a bit of sales and marketing advice that has helped me over the years. Provide education relevant to your customers, and sell industry knowledge just as much as you sell your products and services. Consumers are hungry for knowledge relating to their emotional buying intent and interests. So give them what they want, especially if you’re the one leading the pack.

Thank you for reading!

The Neuromarketing Merits of “Icing”

Maybe you’ve seen this? You’re out at a bar enjoying the local nightlife on the weekend and suddenly you hear a group of cheers coupled with laughter. You turn your head to see what the commotion is about, and just then you see a young fellow take a knee and begin chugging a bottle of Smirnoff Ice while his friends taunt him because he was surprisingly handed this beverage. The frat boys in the bar cheer and the on-looking hipsters roll there eyes in disgust. What you’ve just witnessed is a ritual called “Icing” someone.

Surprisingly “Icing” has caught on in major way and doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down.  As absurd and childish as this drinking game may appear it actually is no different than a lot of other rituals that surround some of America’s most beloved alcoholic beverages.

"Ritual and superstition can exert a potent influence on how and why we buy" - Martin Lindstrom, Author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy

Truth and Limes

I was at the bar with some of my closest friends last week and I ordered a round of Coronas to bring back to our table. I successfully brought all the beers to the table but in my haste forgot the limes on the napkin at the bar. The way my friends reacted when they realized that I brought back Coronas with no limes you would have thought I kicked a puppy.

You see, people are very ritualistic. We rely on our routines, our rituals and even our silly superstitions to get us through the day.  What I had done when I was out at the bar with my friends was violate the ritual of drinking a Corona. Serve 99% of people with an ice cold Corona with no sliced fruit and their follow up question will always be “Where’s the lime?”

The interesting thing about the ritual surround drinking a Corona is that is was invented by a bartender on a slow night sometime in 1981. I always make it a point to ask my fellow beer drinkers why they think the lime goes in the bottle and they always give me one of two answers: something about sailors on a boat or the silence of thought followed by a defeated “I don’t know…”

No matter the reason for putting a slice of lime in your beer it had done something amazing for the Corona brand. The ritual of the lime separates Corona from every other import out there in the mind of the consumer. The lime ritual was attributed to helping Corona become the #1 selling imported beer. Could the same bright future be in store for Smirnoff Ice?

The Cognitive Psychology of Rituals

You might not realize it but every day in your life is made up of a series of rituals – many of which have become so ingrained in the fabric of your life that you don’t even consciously notice them.

Other rituals hold such importance that people set aside time to consciously work through them. The best example of this is religion. People from all denominations of religious groups set an hour or so a week to practice their faith in a conscious ritualistic fashion.

Rituals are cognitively pleasing and ease our daily interactions providing us with a flow to otherwise mundane activities. However, recent research is shedding new light on why rituals, both conscious and unconscious, are so important to humans.

We live in a stressful world. Wars, fluttering economies, and disease are just some of the concerns that people face every day. Like most grave concerns they often reside out of our control. It’s now believed rituals are so important to humans because our ritualistic behavior allows us to have a sense of control in an otherwise hectic life.

“If you remove the appearance that they are in control, both humans and animals become stressed. During the Gulf War in 1991, in areas that were attacked by Scud missiles, there was a rise in superstitious and ritualistic behavior.” – Dr. Bruce Hood, University of Bristol

Humans have been susceptible to stress over the entire course of our evolution. Today we fear war and our economy. Thousands of years ago we feared getting eaten and things as simple as thunder storms. Take a look back through time and realize every single culture before us has had its rituals. No wonder putting a lime in your beer just makes sense for most people.

The future of Icing

Icing is a ritual that has caught on in the short term. It has a shared set of understood rules, actions, and for some “bros”, very passionate beliefs. Smirnoff has denied any marketing effort in creating the ritual of icing, and I believe this to be true because it’s too simple and effective for any marketing mind. But for now bros will keep icing bros and that leads to six packs of Smirnoff Ice flying off the shelves.

My gut feeling is that the Icing trend will wear itself out by the end of the summer. The key to any ritual is that it is relevant, and this is where Icing lacks the proper horsepower to sustain itself for months or even years to come.

Corona has and always will ride the wave of the ritual of the lime, because flavor is the relevance of their ritual, and that is universal to all beer drinkers. Like Smirnoff, Corona didn’t invent the lime ritual, but I’ll be damned if they don’t embrace it. Look no further than their marketing for proof of lime branding.

Smirnoff Ice has gained notoriety because the ritual of Icing.  How long they choose to sustain this notoriety is up to Smirnoff’s marketing dept. One thing remains certain in this game of rituals and marketing – they work, and in different capacities at influencing our behavior to buy.

Neuromarketing: Lessons and Insights in Virtual Media and Print

The rapid and diverse evolution of technology has allowed virtual media to show unprecedented growth in recent years.  As a result many companies that were mainstays in American culture have fallen on difficult economic times because the medium for which they have traditionally communicated with their consumers has drastically shifted to virtual media.

We used to gets ads just in print. Now you can get ads on your iPad. It's obvious virtual media has its benefits, but is it what's best at getting to your consumer's brain.

The economic benefits of virtual media are many.  Because technology is relatively inexpensive companies and marketers are able to reach more people through many different channels of communication. As a result traditional print is on the decline. Although virtual media has shown to be the most effective way to reach more consumers with greater ease it begs the question, is virtual media the most effective way to communicate with the human brain?

Neuromarketing: Beyond Focus Groups

To better understand the differences in the effectiveness of virtual media and physical media Millward Brown teamed up with the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University on behalf of The UK’s Royal Mail.  Rather than using focus groups that rely on participants to articulate their subjective thoughts and feedback Millward Brown decided to use neuroscience to observe the emotions of participants in real time as they observed print and virtual ads. Here is the link to the study.

We used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanning to understand how the brain reacts to physical and virtual stimuli. [Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail, 2009 Millward Brown: Case Study]

Lessons in Emotion: Let’s Get Physical, Physical

The latest neuroscience research has only furthered our understanding of the role emotions play in the success of marketing campaigns. If encoding memories was a machine, emotions would be the lubricant that keeps it running smoothly. Neuroscience has also shed light on the role emotions play in decision making. Lessons learned in this specific area of science can best be summed up in the phrase “we think logically and act emotionally.”

This is an fMRI image used from the Millward Brown/Bangor study. The red area is activated by print ads and the blue area is activated by virtual media. Notice there is a greater response from the print ad in two key areas of the brain associated with emotion.

The research conducted by Millward Brown strongly suggested that greater emotional processing is facilitated by physical material than virtual material. One might think that because more senses are stimulated through physical interaction this would account for the increase in brain activity, but measures were taken in the study to focus on emotional processing and cancel out extraneous signals from the brain. Physical print ads are better facilitating emotions.

Applying Neuromarketing Lessons to Marketing Design

Traditionally the goal of marketing was to get your message out to as many people as possible. Over time market research allowed companies to fine tune their messages and target specific audiences. Virtual media may be the quickest and easiest way to reach the most people, but marketers should understand role their marketing can and should play in each stage of the business development process.  Virtual media works wonderfully as a tool to get your message to the masses but sometimes you need to get more in depth.

The goal of neuromarketing is to create genuine interactions between consumers and your message. This is done by understanding and utilizing emotion to build successful relationships, no matter how brief those relationships are.  Applying the research discussed previously in this article would allow you to strategically create a marketing campaign that leverages both virtual and physical media to reach your desired audience in their specific roles.

For example this would equate to creating a marketing campaign that targets both consumers and retailers yet uses two different mediums to communicate (and genuinely interact) with the same message. Neuromarketing can also be extremely relevant in b2b sales and marketing. Often times in the b2b sales process you have to influence a decision maker or panel. If you have a strong value proposition then I would recommend using a physical (and relevant) medium to market to your decision makers and key influencers.

Millward Brown’s study findings are simple and yet powerful in meaning: Physical print ads are better at facilitating emotions.  I have been in awe of the Apple iPad because it has become technological wildfire.  Trends in the market suggest this is the future of our media flow. The pull as a society may be strong to put all your eggs in virtual media basket, but never the less business is and will always be done on a personal and very real level. And it’s only on that personal level you’re going to understand the meaning of emotions – those tricky unconscious feeling that make you love, hate, and buy.

The Predictive Process of Perception

Let’s begin with this simple, yet little known fact: our cognition guides our perception. Our five senses are nothing more than receptors for photons of light, wavelengths, air pressure, and so on.

The truth is that we see, touch, taste, smell, and hear with that magical three pound mass between our ears. The brain, in the most efficient manner possible organizes our multisensory inputs to help form our perceptions. But what if the perception process began long before we gathered input from our senses?

The perceptual process of the brain is surprisingly predictive in nature, and a lot of times our predictions are guided by our unconscious. To gain a better understanding of the predictive process of the perception we’re going to step into a college classroom.

“Our teacher was a nice!”  “Our teacher was a douche bag!”  “Wait. Don’t we have the same teacher?”

same class, different perceptions.

A college class was told they were going to have a guest speaker for their class. As an introduction a piece of paper was handed out to each student describing the guest speaker’s credentials and a brief description of his personality.

What the students didn’t know is that there were two types of papers handed out in the class. The only thing that differed on the two papers was the description of the guest speaker’s personality. On one form he was described as having a warm and open personality. On the other form he described as having a cold and stand-offish personality.

Here’s where it gets interesting. All of the students sat through the exact same lecture in the exact same room at the exact same time. At the end of the guest lecture they were given a singular form that asked them to rate the teacher’s performance and overall demeanor.  Interestingly enough the students responded to the review form accordingly to the pieces of paper they were handed prior to the lecture.

Puzzled by Perception

Understanding the complexities of perception was one of the main reasons I chose to study neuroscience in college and continue to today. I have always been amazed by situations where two people can look at the same object, or partake in the same singular interaction and derive two entirely different perceptions. I guess that is the beauty of cognitive diversity; everyone has their own lens or cognitive predisposition that guides the way they perceive the world.

As a marketer I was intrigued by another mysterious form of perception. It was called “value”.  “Value” is a ubiquitous term that is thrown around in business today that suggests something is perceived as favorable and possesses great meaning. You can place value on anything: ideas, goods, services, even people.

However, if you spend the time examining “value” you would realize that on the front end value is nothing more than imaginary perception.  Once you break down the perceptual process you will find that value is completely subjective and relative. I know this to be true because as a marketing and sales strategist it’s my job to construct and create value on a client by client basis.

Using Jungle Fruit to Explore the Perceptual Process of Value

The perceptual process of value something is actually broken down into three stages:

Part 1: Predicted Value (Expected Value)

This is where we construct a prediction of how we will perceive something. The interesting thing about this stage in the process is that it’s completely subjective and often times hypothetical.

For example, let’s pretend I just came back from the jungles of Brazil and discovered a new fruit that has never been eaten before. I am bringing it back to the states and want you to try it before anyone else and tell me if you like it.

At this point you would be asking questions to familiarize this unknown fruit. What’s it taste like? What’s it look like? What’s fruit is it similar to? Do I like the fruit it looks similar too? My point here is that you can ask a million questions to familiarize yourself with the unknown tasting fruit, but in the end you’re going to form some type of perception that you’re tied to. So let’s say you expect the fruit to taste like a pineapple, and you hate pineapple.

Part 2: Experienced Value

This is the part of the perceptual process where you actually experience something. This stage is objective and real.

you either like or disliked this fruit long before you even took a bite.

In our unknown Brazilian jungle fruit example this would be where I sit you down and make you take a bite of the fruit that I smuggled out of Brazil and past customs. Before you even bite into the fruit I can see a grimace on your face because your predictive perception is that the fruit is going to taste like something you dislike.

You continue to grimace as you begin to chew your first bite, but then after few seconds your grimace turns into a wide-eyed smile. To your amazement the unknown jungle fruit tastes like a mango. You freaking love mangos.

Part 3: Overall Awarded Value

This is the final stage in the perception process where you decide how much you value something based on your expectations and experience. Value falls on a spectrum so your awarded value varies in degrees.

In regards to jungle fruit you feel value the fruit at a 7 on a scale of 1-10. Odds are that you would have rated the fruit a 9 or a 10 if you expected the fruit to taste like a mango. You went into the tasting weary but left pleasantly surprised.
The interesting part about the process of perception is that it’s overwhelmingly front-loaded and predictive. A lot of times we seek to justify our predicted value and aren’t even aware of it. The most important part of the process should be the experience, but our experiences are often guided by our predictions. Looking back at the college guest lecture scenario you’re able to see that the paper guided the predictive value of the guest lecturer in both sets of students.

The Neuroscience of Predictive Perception

From a neurological standpoint predictive sights and experiences trigger less brain activity, and physiologically speaking it’s actually a good thing to use less energy. The brain has a finite amount of mental energy and as a result is highly efficient in its use of it. Mental tasks like critical thinking and examination require our brains to burn up a lot of this mental energy and are normally reserved for the first time we encounter a new or salient stimuli.

The brains accounts for 2% of your body's mass yet 20% of your body's energy consumption. Our brains our predictive to help conserve energy.

To increase overall efficiency our brains predict the familiar leading into expected unfamiliar situations. That is the beauty and complexity of the human brain that is not only reactive but proactive as well. Constructing expectations is actually more mentally efficient in the short term. As a result of these physiological processes in the brain people can be “primed” for perceptions and behavior, and in some cases that leads to a mismatch in cognition and reality.

The region of the brain that allows us to construct our expectations for perception is the prefrontal cortex. This is a highly evolved part of the frontal lobe of the brain that allows us [humans] to think hypothetically. In essence our prefrontal cortex allows us to perceive with out actually perceiving, and then create an expectation from that process. A lot of times we then seek to validate our expectations.

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

We have all heard the old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” However, actually not judging a book by its cover is much easier said than done. We know the process of how we perceive and award value. If you know how to navigate this process you can begin to really focus on the objective experience instead of the subjective expectation.

Clear your mind before trying something new and try to shake free of what might jump into your head before you experience a stimuli or situation.  Sometimes our subjective predictions hold emotional weight. In these situations it will take more practice to detach from your expectations, but logic can override emotion and that control will serve you well in decision making.