Is your Message Brain-Friendly?

5 Tips for Designing Brain-Friendly Presentations and Advertisements

You’ve got something important to say. We all do. And it doesn’t matter if you work in education, advertising, sales or a local coffee shop; you just want to make sure your message isn’t falling on deaf ears.  The trick to communicating a successful message is not to place all the emphasis on what you’re saying. The real trick is to understand how your message is being perceived. However, very few people, teachers, companies, and organizations understand the importance of communicating in a brain-friendly manner.

Recent neuromarketing research conducted by NeuroFocus, the world’s leading neuromarketing firm, has shed light on the startling gap created by a lack of brain-friendly design in today’s society.  “We have found that about 75% of all content – not just advertisements — is not neurologically optimal,” Pradeep, CEO of NeuroFocus added. “The opportunity to improve is tremendous.” I could not agree more with Dr. Pradeep’s stance on seeking to improve the content and delivery of our messages.

We spend a lot of time crafting our messages to get them out to our audiences. When our messages aren’t understood we normally do two things. The first thing we do is repeat our message and if that doesn’t work we amplify our message. That’s the equivalent of me speaking gibberish, repeating my gibberish, and finally screaming my gibberish at the top of my lungs in hopes that you somehow get what I’m talking about. It sounds pretty crazy huh? Neuroscience has provided us with some great tips that can make your message and your delivery more efficient so you’re not wasting time and money.

Tip #1: Simplify Your Message

I could have easily titled this article “How to Create Neurologically Optimal Designs”, but that’s too much work for most people’s brains to process, especially if you’re not familiar with neuroscience. Most marketers make the mistake that their audience is just as familiar with their goods and services as they are. Break that knowledge bubble and begin to understand how your audience perceives not just your company, but your industry. Then you can begin to craft a consistently simple yet relevant message that could be absorbed with greater ease.

Remember that we have three main areas of the brain. The neo-cortex of the brain is the area that allows us to think in great depth and possibility about an idea or a message, but the part of the brain (reptilian brain) that decides to act on that idea relies heavily on emotion and simplicity.

This may include simplifying your offering as well. If you present people with two choices you have a much better chance at getting your desired outcome than if you presented someone with three choices or more. Boil your message down and perfect it. Avoid the marketing/sales mistake of “showing up and throwing up”. You’re offering may be bountiful, but sometimes showing all that you offer can turn off or overwhelm your customer who often times is only looking for one thing. Start with your customer’s most urgent and immediate need, present to it, solve it, and then move onto to their next important need.

Tip #2: Match Your Font, With Your Message

This is for those graphic designers out there. With an infinite amount of fonts in your design arsenals you should know the power your font can actually carry. When people read something in a difficult-to-read font they unwittingly transfer that sense of difficulty onto the topic they’re reading about [Drake Bennett, Easy = True, 2010].  This has been proven in studies where participants were asked to rate the difficulty of a workout regiment. The regiment typed in less legible font was perceived as more difficult compared to the same regiment typed in a simpler font. Surprisingly, a questionnaire presented in a less legible font is more likely to have people answer it less honestly that if it is written in a more legible one.

My best advice is to decide the goal of your presentation or advertisement. Do you want to grab someone’s attention or do you want to pass along information? Knowing the overall desired outcome allows you to become more attuned to the font you choose. For example, if you’re presenting to parents and teachers on a 5 step process for getting children to eat healthier you had best pick a font in your handouts that easy to read, and I’m not talking about “Comic Sans”.

Tip #3: Be Contextual

I can’t express the importance of contextual advertising. The best product placement advertisements are the ones that people never meant to happen. Think about the Air Jordan basketball shoes. How many of us watched Michael Jordan play, noticed the shoes he’s wearing, saw how good he played and went out and bought a pair? I know I did. It’s one thing to show a picture of your products. It’s another thing to show your products in actual use. If I look at a picture of a product, it’s just a product in my mind. If I see the product in use I see an experience, and I have my own experiences that I can relate it to.

"it's gotta be the shoes"

Tip #4: Placement of Stats, Pictures, and Logos

People interpret information on different parts of a screen with different sections of their brains.  Stimuli in the left visual field are interpreted with by the right frontal lobe, while stimuli on the right are picked up by the left frontal lobe [Kee. 2008]. What does this mean? The right (creative) side of your brain is very good at interpreting imagery, whereas the left (analytical) side of your brain is particularly good at processing numerical information and semantics.

You see with your brain. Not with your eyes. As you can see here your visual pathways cross as they relay the stimuli they're perceiving back to the brain.

Logos and pictures would stand a better chance of being perceived if placed on the left side of advertisements. Statistical information and financial projections would best served on the right side of the screen for presentations. This is a simple yet powerful fact in brain-friendly design.

Tip #5: Engage Your Audience Emotionally

Don’t just make people think. Make them Feel. Emotion helps you gain attention. Emotion helps you learn with greater ease. Emotion makes you memorable in the mind of your audience. Emotion can take many forms and can be a powerful aid so long as it’s relevant with your message: tell a story, crack a joke, create a mini-drama or even use a prop, but whatever you do avoid the norm. Understand that attention and retention is strongest at the beginning and end of your message. So leverage your emotions properly.

John Medina, author of Brain Rules, became an award winning professor because of his work in neuromolecular biology and his understanding of how to properly apply emotion into his lessons. The passing of knowledge doesn’t have to be tasking. Science backs up the fact that people learn and retain more when they’re emotionally engaged. John’s solution was to break a 50 minute class period up by 10 minute increments using an emotional tactics like jokes, stories and role-play. The emotional pace of the class was enjoyable and his students succeeded because they were engaged. Makes you think twice about giving the same old power point doesn’t it?

Brain-Friendly Beginnings

These are only just a few tips on improving your visual presentation of your ideas and messages. Hopefully as you’re sitting at your desk, in your office, or at your computer you’ll get a chance to practice some of these tips. The importance in communication should not be placed on what you’re saying, but rather how your message is being perceived. It’s not the market place, the media, or the internet; what matters most is where you are at in the mind of your audience. Be different, be memorable, and above all be genuine. Best of luck to you and thank you for reading.

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The Subtle Importance of our Surrounding Environments

A while back I wrote an article on how people unconsciously perceive and process information about the people we’re interacting with at lightning quick speeds. I want to expound on that article and focus on how people unconsciously perceive and process our surrounding environments in very much the same way that we perceive people, and how it can effect our performance both personally and professionally. To best do this we’re going to start with a story about Musician Amy Winehouse.

Singer Amy Winehouse on one of her better days...

The Prelude to Rehab…

In the summer of 2007 Amy Winehouse was clinging to life after suffering a nearly fatal overdose in her hotel room in London, England. In order to save her life doctors gave the singer a shot of adrenaline (epinephrine) and had to pump her stomach free of the narcotics that were shutting down her system. She eventually recovered, and has continued to battle drug addiction off and on since.

Anyone who has followed popular music over the years and decades understands that drug overdoses in hotel rooms is a somewhat common occurrence. Obviously drugs like cocaine are responsible for overdosing the human body, but in recent years neuroscience has shed light on the subtle yet important link that your environment and surroundings can play in overdosing. I will attempt explain why musicians often overdose in hotel rooms by focusing on their surroundings and not so much the drugs they’re taking and the direct impact the drugs have biologically.

Human beings are highly habitual and ritualistic, and this is especially true for people who frequently use drugs. Prior to her overdose Amy Winehouse was considered a habitual drug user, and almost certainly had a routine for taking drugs. Because I do not personally know Amy I can not give you a run down of her exact routine in relation to drugs, but I can provide you with a general template for such activities.

Hypothetically, let’s say that Amy’s routine for taking cocaine was to put on her favorite music in the living room of her house, sit down on her couch, and snort lines of cocaine off her coffee table. [This ritual is unique to each drug user, but people have rituals and usually do it in a specific place.] Eventually Amy will build up a tolerance to cocaine and will have to do more to get her desired high. Most people understand that your body will begin to build up a direct metabolic tolerance to drugs and alcohol, however what was previously unknown about drug use, and routines, is that your surroundings can actually affect your biology aiding in the development of a tolerance.

Onward we go on our drug adventure.  Week after week Amy continues to snort lines of cocaine off the coffee table in the living room of her house while her favorite music plays. All the while she is taking larger and larger hits. After all this time Amy’s brain begins to do something unique and unconscious at the onset of her ritual. Her brain basically says: “Okay we’re in the living room, and I hear music. Past experience tells me cocaine is soon to follow, I just know it. The body hates drugs so I’m going to get a head start and tell the body to start fighting off the cocaine right now.” And long before Amy has even taken a single line of cocaine her body has already began fighting off the cocaine in anticipation because of the environmental cues unconsciously detected by her brain.

Flash forward to London, England. Amy is in her hotel room (a new environment) and someone offers Amy some cocaine. While they’re cutting it into lines the question comes up, “how much do you want?” and Amy asks for the amount she is used to taking back home. The end result in the new environment is an overdose and near death experience for Ms. Winehouse. You see, Amy’s brain is not used to the new environment of the hotel room, and as a result her body is caught off guard by the amount of cocaine it just absorbed.

Usually Amy’s brain would tip off her body that cocaine is soon to be on its way and to begin proactively fighting it off, but by being in a new environment her brain, and as a result, her body are blindsided by the cocaine as it overruns her system. Though the amount of cocaine Amy took is the same as she has always taken, the change in her surroundings was a determining factor in her overdose because as it weakened her tolerance. Overdoses in new locations have actually helped shed light on the unconscious processing of our environments and the resulting influences it has on our biology and behavior. This holds true for everyday people who don’t use drugs as well. I’ll explain.

Dogs, Basketball, and Your Everyday Life

If Amy Winehouse’s story reminds you of a famous experience involving dogs, food, and bells you’re onto something. Using a bell and some food Pavlov proved that our environment (and stimuli) can affect our biology and our behavior in some big ways. Amy’s drug overdose goes to show us that if you add another component to the mix, like alcohol or drugs, the equation becomes more complex to understand and as a result our surrounding environment is often overlooked and underestimated when examining a certain problem or situation; even though the key to solving the problem may purely environmental.

"Ring a bell and I'll salivate. How'd you like that" -Bare Naked Ladies

Psychology teaches us the danger of the fundamental attribution error.  This principle could be the reason we often overlook our surrounding environments. The fundamental attribution error is a false justification that people often make when assessing their peers. It’s like saying “That person is acting they way they do because that’s just who they are.” Critical thinking and understanding would suggest that there is a lot more that goes into to understanding people’s actions and behaviors. Personality traits may play a role in the one’s behavior but it’s always tandem with experiences and environment.

The best illustration of the fundamental attribution error colliding with our surroundings comes from a study about basketball. A group of people were shown video of two basketball teams practicing outside shots. The first group shot the ball very well. The second group did not shoot the ball well. Participants in the study were asked to assess why the second group did not shoot the basketball well. Overwhelmingly their response was that the second group was just not as good of shooters as the first group. Interestingly enough a closer examination of the videos shows that the second group that shot poorly shot in a noticeably poorly lit gym. Very few people, if any, noted that the surrounding environment of the shooters could have been a reason why the second group shot poorly. For those of you who have shot in a poorly lit gym or at dusk it can and does affect your shooting and depth perception.

Everyday we are presented with problems and situations that demand critical thinking and understanding. Coming up with viable solutions means that we need to take into account all of the factors that determine behavior. The basketball study showed that in most cases people examine other people at a baseline value instead of holistically. But by taking a more holistic approach to understanding that includes our surroundings and environment we can begin to provide genuine solutions that can make a difference for those in our personal and professional lives. Our brains do an outstanding job of unconsciously processing information provided by our surrounding environment. What we need to make sure is that we consciously evaluate and understand our surrounding environments in the same detail and precision that our unconscious brain does.

Vision, Value and Love Handles

It is a New Year’s tradition that people make resolutions. The idea of a resolution itself is a refreshing concept. You are consciously making a decision to better your life in some form or way. Far and away the most common resolution is to lose weight. Unfortunately, many people will fail to actualize this goal because they have poorly planned or designed their strategy for obtaining their goal.

I mentioned earlier that a resolution is a conscious decision. However, much of our actions are actually at the mercy of our unconscious.  It doesn’t matter if we’re making a moral decision or a financial decision; our behaviors are often guided by our unconscious perceptions that are processed in our brains. One sense above all holds more weight than any other, and that is our vision.

In this post I want to shed light on how our visual sense guides our decisions in everyday life, and how sometimes our vision can lead us astray from our goals -like losing weight and even saving money. I’ll even offer solutions as to how you can neurologically design a better plan for accomplishing your goals this New Year.

We don’t See with our Eyes, We See with our Brains

Our eyes are responsible for the gathering of photons and light, but all that information comes together in our brains. We don’t see with our eyes, we see with our brains. Vision is our most dominant sense. Visual processes in the human brain actually account for half of our brain’s resources. Although we are highly specialized in visual perception we can still make mistakes.

Shockingly, these tables are the exact same length. Truth.

Let’s look at the table example above. It would appear that the table on the left is longer than the table on the right, but guess what, it’s not. They are equal length. The funny thing is that even after I tell you that this is an illusion it’s impossible for you visually perceive the tables as equal size. Its visual illusions like this that can lead us to make poor decisions in our everyday lives.

Bigger Plates = Bigger Waste Lines

While growing up many of us were scolded for not clearing our plates while eating dinner – some of us were even guilt tripped to a far away land where children were starving. This habit of clearing our plates is heavily dominated by our visual perception, and wrongfully so. Today, many consumers equate value to the amount of food you’re given for the money you paid for the meal. I call this the “super size” conundrum, because it’s a great to get the most bang for your buck, but does your stomach really need all that food? The answer is no. Your stomach does not need all that food.

Nutritionists long ago proved that a little bit of food will go a long way. One study suggested that a burrito could be the size of a bar of Dove soap while still being able to fulfill nutritional needs. So why do most of us consume “burritos as big as our heads” in their entirety? There are two reasons. 1. Eating is enjoyable and 2. For the stomach to communicate that it’s full to the brain takes about 15 minutes, and as a result while eating we’re guided more by our vision than by actual physiological signals. This is especially true for anyone who has eaten so much they gave themselves a stomach ache.

In nutritional study conducted in 2001, those who ate blindfolded ate 22% less food.

In 2001 Dr. Yvonne Linne conducted a study to see how much people would eat if they couldn’t see their plates. The participants were split into two groups and given equal plates of delicious food. Group one was instructed to eat until they were full. Group two was given the same instructions except group two was blindfolded. The end result was that group without vision, group two, consumed 22% less food than group one. Eating less food was achieved because group two had to rely on their own internal physiological cues for being full over the visual illusion of “clearing the plate” that guided group one.

Perception Solution: Smaller and Slower is Better

Unfortunately eating while blindfolded is frowned upon in public. So what can you do to reduce your food intake to a reasonable yet still healthy amount? It’s easy. Use smaller plates and glasses. If vision is still going to guide how much we eat just have the plate size work in your favor. It may seem like a big reduction at first but over time your stomach will adjust to a more reasonable serving of food. The same also applies for beverages as well. 8 ounces is a perfect serving size for a drink, but in a world 64oz Big Gulps (4 lbs of liquid!), 8 ounces seems like drop of water when it’s really not.

On the left you have a 12 oz bottle of soda, and on the right you have today's more common 20oz bottle of soda. The 20oz bottle of soda was actually devleoped with the idea in mind that people would drink less soda because of it's size. Sadly people didn't drink less soda, they just chugged 20 oz and got fatter. The extra 8oz of soda could acually account for 10% of your daily caloric intake.

Eating slowly will also help because you need time for your stomach to say “hey brain, stop eating. I’m full.” We live in a fast paced culture and eating slowly may not make a whole lot of sense, but it’s important to eat a slow pace. Just the other day I had to grab lunch on the go. I chose to eat a small Spicy Chicken value meal from Wendy’s (my favorite). Using the stopwatch function on my phone I timed myself to see how long it took me to eat my entire meal. My time: 4:56. Way too fast. When I can, I distract myself at lunch while reading a book, a newspaper, or a friend’s blog to stretch the time while I’m eating. I also take deep breaths between going back for more food and I try to attune to my body to pick up on the “I’m full signal”.

To Hell in a Shopping Cart

Interestingly enough our visual perception also plays a big role in how much we can spend at a grocery store. Just like how we base how much we eat off our plate size, we can get sucked into the same trap with shopping carts. One such study conducted by Martin Lindstrom compared two groups of shoppers. Group one shopped using shopping carts and group two shopped using hand baskets. The end result was that the shopping cart group, group one, purchased 31% more than the hand basket group.

Whether we’re clearing a plate of filling a shopping cart our unconscious vision plays a pretty unique role guiding our behavior. Here are some tips that might help you save money: 1. Don’t shop hungry 2. Use a hand basket instead of a shopping cart 3. Make a list 4. Break your shopping routine – do this by switching up the time of day you shop, where you park, and even what door you enter. Breaking your usual unconscious rhythm while performing a common task will actually help you focus on the subtitles of the task at hand.

Happy New Year, and best of luck to you on those resolutions!

Selfi$h: Is your Motivation Helping or Hurting you? You’ll be Surprised…

Motivation is one of those dangerous buzz words in business. Everyone knows they’re supposed to have it, but very few actually understand what it truly means and how it truly works. As professionals we come face-to-face with motivation every single day. Motivation permeates our work environments because through our social interactions we are either trying to motivate others or others are trying to motivate us to accomplish tasks. Ask any manager and they’ll tell you that effectively motivating people is no easy task. Ask a really good manager and they’ll tell you it’s the most demanding, yet rewarding task there is.

Outdated and Harmful!

Unfortunately, genuine, sustained motivation is rarely achieved in most business cultures today.  Some managers have found momentary success by using carrots and sticks to motivate their employee like financial rewards and incentives. Worst of all some managers use negative reinforcement in attempt to motivate. Although they might work briefly, in the long run neither of these tactics will lead to genuine sustained motivation and quality work. People are smart. They’ll catch on and after a while they become insulted by those tactics.

As I type this article our economy is trying to recover from a near fatal blow suffered at the hands of our own device. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the way we do business? This isn’t your run of the mill article on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, in fact, it’s much more than that. This article is a culmination of lessons learned from social neuroscience, neuroeconomics, social intelligence and case studies regarding management strategy. Let’s dive in.

The Negative Effects of Financial Rewards

James Heyman, a professor at St. Thomas, wanted to find out if paying people more money to perform a task actually led to greater productivity. His task was simple: using a computer mouse, click and drag a circle from the right side of the computer into the box that was positioned on the left hand side of the screen. Once the circle was successfully inside the box it disappeared and reappeared in its original position for the subject to do all over again. The subjects would have five minutes to drag circles into boxes.

The subjects were split into three groups: Group 1 was paid $5.00 before beginning their work, Group 2 was paid $0.50 (50 cents) before beginning their work, and Group 3 was asked to do the work with no mention of money at all. The subjects were oblivious to the amount paid to other subjects. So how did the groups perform for five minutes of work? Group 1 dragged an average of 159 circles. Group 2 dragged an average of 101 circles. What about our group that didn’t get paid anything? They must have done the least, right? Well, no. Group 3 dragged an average 168 circles – more than the highest compensated group.

Evaluating Your Tasks: Market Norms & Social Norms

Heyman’s study demonstrates how people in our society view specific tasks. There are two ways to look at the circle dragging task: from a market norm standpoint and from a social norm standpoint. More often than not people are willing to help another person out irregardless of financial compensation, but make mention of money and people evaluate their task from completely different perspective. This is best illustrated with the social norm of helping a friend move.

If I asked my friends to help me move knowing that at the end of it all they’d get pizza and cold beer they’d be more than willing to help me. However, if I offered my friends to help me move and I would pay them $10 (estimated cost of pizza and beer) each they would probably tell me to go to hell. The mention of money to my friends, and all people, changes their thought process from helping a friend to what they will get in return for their work. In general money can significantly change our thought process and shift our focus from task completion to self compensation or reward.

The Negative Social Effects of Financial Rewards

No one person is their own corporation. We all work with people in varying capacities, and we have to remember that our social interactions are the fuel for true motivation. Researchers Kathleen Vohs, Nicole Mead, and Miranda Goode explored how simply just thinking about financial compensation can affect social interactions while completing a task. In this experiment subjects were split into two groups and asked to perform two tasks in succession. The first task was to unscramble easy sentences. The second task was then to complete a complicated shape puzzle.

The two groups differed only in the types of sentences they unscrambled. Group 1 unscrambled neutral sentences (for example “It’s cold outside”). Group 2 unscrambled sentences that were related to money (for example “high paying salary”).  This unknowingly primed the subjects in Group 2 to think about money. After the word scramble tasks were completed the subjects in both groups were asked to complete a particularly challenging shape puzzle. Every subject was told they may ask for help if they needed it.

As it turns out Group 1 asked for help after an average of three minutes of work on the puzzle. Group 2, the “money” group, struggled with the puzzle and asked for help after five and half minutes on average. Thinking about money made the “money” group more self-reliant and less willing to ask for help. It doesn’t end there, however. In a continuation of experimental social interactions the “money” group was less willing to help the researcher enter data, and less likely to assist a “stranger” pick up a box of pencils that he dropped and spilled in the hallway. Thinking about money makes us selfish and self-reliant, and that can seriously negatively affect success in professional situations.

Increase Social Consciousness, don’t destroy it

Studies have shown that the most successful employees are not the employees who had the highest GPAs in college or the employees who graduated from the top colleges and universities. What the numerous studies have show is that the most successful employees are the people who are best at managing their own emotions and more importantly, the emotions of others they work with. These emotions govern our social interactions in the work place and while completing tasks. To get people’s best work you need to play to the needs of their social development. Many financial reward systems are actually undermining the success of socially intelligent employees by unconsciously promoting selfish behavior in place of socially conscious behavior while performing tasks.

When we think socially we use the part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex (green area), but when we're thinking in terms of ourselves we make our decisions with our reptilian brain (pink area). the very nature of the reptilian brain is to be primarily concerned with our own health and safety aka wealth.

Blind Motivation

Princeton professor Sam Glucksberg looked at how motivation works in complex tasks that involve incentives – like the tasks that most professionals do today. He used the famous “Candle Problem” to time people to see how fast they could solve the problem. The goal of the task is to attach the candle to the wall so that the candle does not drip on the table. The key to solving the problem is to use the box of tacks as a holder for the candle, a rather creative and ingenious solution to the task. He had two groups of people try to solve the candle problem. One group he told he was just timing them for norms. The other group he told if they finished in the top 25% of times they would get $5 and if they finished fastest overall they would get $20.

So what happened? The group that was promised rewards for the fastest times actually took longer to complete the task. In fact, they took and average of three and half minutes longer than the group that was not promised incentives. How does this happen? It’s simple. Rewards and motivation can serve as blinders for our vision.  A lot of the solutions to our problems are out on the periphery however through rewards promised for complex tasks we can only see right in front of our faces and there in lies the problem. Rewards and incentives distract us from true solutions to our problems.

Throw Away Your Carrots and Sticks

If-then motivational tactics remain in business because they worked well in the past. Like most business/management cultures today motivation is rooted in the industrial revolution. Motivating people was easier then because people’s tasks revolved around pushing a button and pulling a lever. Back then their tasks were simple and well defined, and for that reason the worker could be evaluated and rewarded for their work. That was then. This is now.

Today’s business tasks are far from clear cut and well defined. We work in the conceptual age – an age of business that requires us as employees to be critical thinkers and problem solvers drawing from multiple sources. Long ago we left the industrial revolution behind, yet for some reason we’re still using outdated motivators in attempt to get the most out of our employees today. There’s a clear mismatch here. In the past you could motivate by saying “If you do this, then you get that.” That simply will not do any longer.

There’s a Mismatch between what Science Knows and What Business Does

In his TED Talk best selling author Dan Pink drove this very point home that if-then rewards and higher incentives lead to worse performances in the work place. He maintains that our management systems today are rooted more in folklore than science. We can’t continue to go down his path and make the same mistakes in regards to motivation. Outdated if-then motivation systems applied to today’s complex business tasks either do not work, or worse, they do more harm. The reason I showed you three different motivational experiments was to demonstrate the variety of ways that poorly planned motivational systems can do harm. Dan Pink offers hope in this wonderful talk. Check it out.

Dan Pink’s newest book, Drive, comes out in just a few weeks. It will provide an in depth look into motivation in business today.  Personally, I can’t wait to read it.

This is Dan Pink reading his new book Drive. He is also the author of the national best seller A Whole New Mind.

What’s the right way to Motivate?

Just last week I sat around a table with my team of eight for a sales meeting. The sales manager was trying to “motivate” by using articles and talk of money and rewards. As he spoke of money and incentives I looked around the room and at my team’s faces. It was clear they were uninterested in what he had to say.  If the sales manager only knew what actually and personally motivated each employee his message might have been better received.

I am far from having all the answers in regards to motivation, but I understand these certain ideas to be true:

Understand the Motivations and Skills of Others: you’ll be surprised what people what drives most people to do great work, and then you’ll be able to connect with them to genuinely motivate them. Take it one step further and make sure your team does their best to understand the motivations of others as well, and remember, Passion + Talent = Unparalleled Success.

Promote Positive Social Behavior: encourage your employees to do work that benefits the group and follow up with them to ensure they’re asking for help and likewise helping others. Dedicate yourself to the success of others around you and you’ll find that they’ll start doing the same.

Create a Leadership Pipeline: find ways for your employees to have sense of self worth and leadership, even if it’s just for a single task. If you expect the best from your employees and communicate that to them you’ll be surprised at what you’ll get it.

Don’t Make Money an Issue: Pay people fairly and take the issue of money off the table. Money makes us selfish. It’s a fact.

Don’t Give Up: If you’re a manager be prepared to work harder and smarter than you ever have. You’re supposed to work for your staff to ensure their success. You’ll have to put others before yourself. Successful motivation is not a destination, it’s a journey. Be prepared to give and accept feed back. Be patient with others as they grow but all the while never stop giving them your best. Above all avoid carrots and sticks. You’re better than that 🙂

Sweet Brains are Made of these… The Neuroscience of Sleep and Learning

Nap time at work. Oh sweet temptation...

It’s 2:00pm on workday, and you’re sitting at your desk staring blankly at the computer screen. Your eyes narrow as you fight to keep them open. Suddenly you slip, if for just a second, to sleep. Your head drops toward your chest, but at the last second you catch yourself, and now you’re sitting at your desk slightly startled, but still painfully tired and hoping no one just saw you. What you wouldn’t give for a nap at that moment, but you drudge on with the rest of your workday in your dazed and tired state…

The described scenario is one that we have all been through. It’s a scenario that we share with hundreds of millions of Americans each week. In fact, it’s estimated that sleep deprivation is responsible for $100 billion dollars lost each year for US businesses alone. Growing up we were all taught that sleep is important and that we need our 8 hours a night. Unfortunately for most of us that was all the instruction we received about sleep. Sleep has long been a mystery for neuroscientists, however recently studies have given us much more useful insight into our sleep patterns.

The Neuroscience of Sleeping

A healthy human brain is based on a balance of neurotransmitters and energy. In regards to sleep the human brain has two opposing forces that are always “at war” with each other, thus creating a balance. One force fights to keep us awake and the other force fights to keep us asleep. Together this “war” regulates itself in a cycle that when followed keeps us functioning in a healthy optimal state. This was proved in the research by famed sleep researcher, Dement.  Dement did a lot research to discover how we sleep, but much of the mystery remains as to why we sleep.

It was originally thought that we slept to rest our brains; however that turned out to be incorrect. In reality our sleeping brains spend just as much energy our awake brains for 80% of the sleep cycle. So while our bodies are resting our brains are as active as ever. Many researchers look at sleeping brain activity and can make a strong link to learning and cognition.

In a military conducted study a soldier who lost one night's worth of sleep showed a 30% drop in cognitive skill. when the soldier lost two nights of sleep he displayed a 60% loss in cognitive skill. if you're in college and reading this you better think twice about pulling that all nighter.

Do we sleep to Learn?

John Medina, in his book Brain Rules, tells of a story about an accountant who talked in his sleep every night. This accountant didn’t just talk randomly, however. Each night this accountant would recall the numbers and statistics, with accuracy, from his day’s work. It’s believed that our brains work like this accountant’s brain in sleep – recalling and consolidating the information we learn through out the course of our days. The neurons of the brain show vigorous rhythmical activity when you’re asleep – perhaps replaying what you learned that day. (Brain Rules, Medina. 2008)

in a haste to return home for the night researchers accidentally left the electrodes still attacted to their test rat. they were studying the rat's neural activity while it navigated a maze. when they reviewed the rat's brain activity from sleep it was shockingly similar to the brain patterns demonstrated while the rat learned to navigate the maze. sleeping to learn...

The conscious human brain processes all sorts of information through out the day. The types of information we consciously process are not limited to the just the empirical, like the accountant’s statistics and numbers or school work. Because the human brain is highly emotional we process information that has emotional content as well. Emotional memory could play a role in our dreams/nightmares. It would seem that each night our brain turns off the outside world to process, reprocess, and then fine tune our cognition. Losing sleep can strongly negatively affect your ability to learn properly.

Promote Napping!

The truth is that everybody experiences the dreaded “nap zone” each day because it’s part of our biology. The drive for the afternoon nap is universal, and because of that it should be respected. The ever common “9-5 workday” is not a natural occurrence. It was actually invented out of necessity for the industrial revolution to ensure productivity.  And here we are a hundred years later still obeying a schedule set forth by men who pushed buttons and pulled levers. I am not saying we have to change our work days, but just accommodate for nap time.

NASA researchers found out that a 26 minute nap equated to a 34% increase in a pilot’s performance. Napping actually increased performance! The 36th president of the United State of America Lyndon B. Johnson routinely would close the doors to the oval office, put on his pajamas and take a 30 minute nap. Refreshed from his nap he was ready to take on the rest of his long day as leader of the free world. It’s amazing what a nap can do for productivity. This is evidence that the design of our work days should be more sensitive to our biological needs and drives. Some companies, like Google, and even schools are taking a serious look into “nap time” and the design of their days to accommodate for sleep needs and cycles.

Sleep researchers discovered that the adolescent brain requires 9.25 hours of sleep on average. to accomodate this research one Minnesota school district moved the start time of their school days from 7:20am to 9:00am. It was no surprise that this moved proved to be successful when the average GPA increased school wide and test scores jumped.

Sleep on it

In the end we all will have spent an astonishing 1/3 of our lives sleeping. My advice is to take time to truly understand your need for sleep. 8 hours has long been the recommendation, but some require more and some require less. The link between sleeping and learning is extremely intimate and should be respected. If your livelihood is based on your cognitive performance, by all means, get your rest. If you need more motivation, people who get the proper amount of sleep also have healthier bodies in addition to their healthy minds. Thank you, and good night.

What Exactly about Sex is Selling you? Can Neuromarketing sort through the Clutter of Sexual Imagery?

It’s safe to say that our culture today is saturated with sexuality. Browse any magazine, surf any channel, and gaze up at any billboard and you’re bound to find a sexually progressive advertisement staring you in the face.  As long as there has been marketing there has been the playful, and even the not so playful, use of sex in advertisements to gain an advantage in the market place.  With sexual images all around us seemingly at every turn I am turning to neuroscience to help cut through the clutter of sexual marketing to find out what really works and what doesn’t.

Is that a Burger in your Swim Suit or are you just Happy to See Me?

This spicy ad for Carl's Jr. got people talking...

In 2006 Carl’s Jr. hit the airwaves with perhaps the most sexually charged advertisement ever for a fast food chain. The 30 second commercial featured Paris Hilton flexibly washing a Bentley with soapy water and then moved to her seductively eating a Spicy BBQ Burger on the hood of the car, all while wearing a very revealing swim suit. Some media outlets declared the ad “too hot for television”, but never the less the ad was declared a smashing success. To the untrained neuromarketing eye it would appear that sex does in fact sell, but it’s not as clear cut as marketers and consumers would like to think. In fact, Carl’s Jr. used several different avenues to enhance the success of their sexually based advertisement and they may have not even known it at the time.

The Physiology of Sex and its Influence on your Brain

Every purchase we make is a decision, and neuroscience in the past decade has done a great job of unraveling the mystery of how our brains make decisions. As it turns out our “old brain”, or reptilian brain, is our decision center. Despite having a highly evolved neocortex, it was an astonishing find to discover the part of our brain that holds the most weight in our decisions is a brain that we share with most other animals. The reptilian brain’s soul focus is to help us thrive and survive. Evolutionarily speaking our reptilian brain wants us to procreate, a lot. A major influencer of our reptilian brain is our limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for our emotions and coincidentally the part of the brain that houses the hypothalamic structure which itself is responsible for regulating sex drive amongst many things. Okay, so what the hell did I just say? The anatomy and physiology of our brain allows for our sexual drive and emotions to play a key role in influencing our decisions.

Is your Marketing Sexually Relevant?

Congratulations Felt, you just wasted money on your marketing

A lot of marketers run the risk of using sex to sell something that it really has no connection to, like this bicycle. This is a prime example of forcing sexual imagery into an advertising campaign. Honestly, how many bikini clad beauties do you see riding around on grandma bikes? The end result here will be failure. Subjects that were submitted to fMRI testing – real time brain scanning – showed that in sexually non relevant advertising the sexual imagery actually distracted them from the marketers’ message. In this particular advertisement sex is doing the opposite of selling because the only thing people are focused on is the hot chick in the bikini, not the bike. In the over advertised world we live in marketers make this mistake all the time. This brings up a good question: If sex is supposed to be relevant in marketing how did the ad featuring three unrelated and arguably non relevant items of Paris Hilton, a sexy carwash, and a burger work so well for Carl’s Jr.?

Our Brains Love a good Controversy

Carl’s Jr. didn’t just air a sexually explicit advertisement for their new burger; they stirred the pot and created controversy. Controversy is a story that is packed with high levels of emotion, and as we learned before emotion, like sex, is a key influencer of our decisions. Carl’s Jr. was wise to use Paris Hilton in their commercial. As an emerging household name at the time she was their anchor for gossip and controversy. With sex as the driving vehicle the ad got people talking, it got some people outraged, and in the end it led to people seeking out the advertisement to see what it was all about. Marketing mission accomplished.

In the 1990's this was considered racy, we may scoff at it now but back then it helped launch Calvin Klein Jeans to success

Supplementing sexuality with controversy is page right out Calvin Klein’s playbook.  This designer rose to new levels of success in the 1990’s by using sexual controversy to gain exposure and drive sales for his line of jeans. He used the famous face (and body) of Brooke Shields, his jeans, and consistent design to paint a progressive picture of in your face sexuality to gain exposure, and it worked. By the mid 90’s anyone who was anyone was sporting a pair of “Calvin’s”.  Today this tradition continues with Eva Mendez as the new face (and body, oh what a body) of Calvin Klein, but because our advertising world is so saturated with sex no one’s talking like they were in the early 1990’s.

When everyone uses sex to sell it's hard to stand out. You might think "if you wear Guess clothes, you'll be sexually desirable", but there is nothing about this ad that stands out. Young unknown beauty is all around us, selling us everything. I'm sorry to say Guess's marketing is falling on deaf ears.

To reach our brains marketing has to stand out and be different. In a world jam packed with sex the path to different has taken us to a very familiar place, the mirror.

The Jim & Pam Effect

Our brains adapt to our environments very quickly. The truth is that we’ve become so accustomed to seeing the ultra beautiful and sexy selling us stuff that it is no longer working like it used to. To find out if this was true neuroscientists recently studied the fMRI scans of subjects as they browsed pictures of the ultra sexy and the average. As it turns out the brains of the subjects responded more favorably to the marketing images of people that they felt they had more in common with.

John Krasinski and Jenna Fisher helped make average the new beautiful

To best illustrate this point I turn to one of my favorite television shows, The Office. By entertainment industry standards John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer are physically middle of the pack, at least at first impression. However, both actors have grown to become some of the most famous television and movie stars today and have even managed to evolve into sex symbols. On the show Jim and Pam are perceived as being “just like you or me”, but as a neuromarketer I can argue that they are at the right place at the right time from a perception stand point. Ask anyone on the street if they have more in common with the ultra beautiful Kate Moss or Jenna Fischer and you’ll get Jenna Fischer over and over again, and that matters to people because they can relate to her.

Who said Sexuality was just for the Ultra Beautiful?

The marketing strategy of using real relatable people was the same strategy that Dove used to drive their successful Real Beauty Campaign and stand out from every other hygiene company out there at the time. In doing so Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign got people talking because some of their ads showed average women in their underwear, something that society had not seen before. There marketing was salient because it was uniquely relatable and different, and at the same time it stirred up a bit of controversy – something that you need to do to go viral.

In a world the ultra beautiful Dove stood out by letting the beauty of real shine, and it worked.

Using sex to sell is a skill. You can’t just slap a picture of gorgeous woman next to product and magically sell it. Dove showed you don’t even to use a gorgeous woman. You have to take into account a lot of factors: The sexual relevance of your ad, the current environment of the market, story telling and controversy, and emotions (and this just relates to conceptual ideas, design is another discussion).  You probably won’t even notice most of the sexual advertising around you, but next time you’re stopped and find yourself staring at a particular sexual advertisement ask yourself, why did it just work?

I Want to Break FREE: The Neuroeconomics of Discounts and Business Strategy

FREE

FREE. It's not just another discount.

As workers poured into the lobby of an office building one morning they encountered a candy sale of sorts. On the table were two kinds of chocolates for sale. One of the chocolates offered were Hershey Kisses. The price tag on the Hershey Kiss was $0.01 (one cent). The other chocolates offered were Lindt truffles – a high quality chocolate renowned for its flavor. The Lindt truffle was priced $0.15 (fifteen cents). Overwhelmingly, 75% of people purchased the Lindt truffle recognizing the value in the price for such a high quality chocolate. This chocolate sale was actually the experiment of MIT economist Dan Ariely and he wanted to find out how discounts affect our decisions.

The next time around Ariely decided to lower the price of both chocolates by one cent. This meant the Hershey Kisses were now $0.00 (FREE) and the Lindt truffles were now $0.14 (fourteen cents). So what happened? The preference for chocolate was actually reversed. The Hershey Kiss was now chosen 69% of the time. The price difference was exactly the same between both chocolates, but it seems the word FREE may have had something to do with the dramatic role reversal of chocolate preference.

predictably-irrational-dan-ariely

The Neuroeconomics of FREE

FREE isn’t just another discount. The word FREE when encountered in purchasing decisions is loaded with emotion, and surprisingly, emotions are responsible for more of our decisions than logic.  Economists have long thought that logic and logic alone is what guided our behaviors and decisions when in the purchasing process. However, Neuroeconomics teaches a more up-to-date approach of how we make our financial decisions, and as it turns out more often than not our emotions are what guide our behaviors. As humans, and as consumers, we make think logically but we act emotionally. So when you’re shopping and you encounter FREE it impacts you in a way that other discounts cannot . We all share the common belief that FREE is good (most of the time), and the added positive emotional boost that you get from FREE just can’t be achieved through any other numerical discount. I’m also willing to guess there is a physiological boost from just seeing FREE.

FREE is the Future of Business

We live in the digital age, and as a result FREE is becoming more and more common. This is possible because the falling costs of digital technology lets companies make as much stuff as they want for devastatingly low costs, and when you can make stuff for low costs that enables you to give it away for FREE. Chris Anderson, author of Free: The Future of Radical Price, made a great point in saying “Give a product away, and it can go viral. Charge even a single cent for it and you’re in an entirely different business…The truth is that zero is one market and any other price is another.”

free-chris-anderson-thumb-300x445-90541

Companies can make a lot of money by giving stuff away. Businesses like Google have made large amounts of money by giving away FREE email services, however on the backside they’re increasing their revenue by selling advertising on that space. Amazon was able to boost online sales world wide by offering FREE shipping on orders over a certain amount, and because one item alone wouldn’t typically reach that required amount for FREE shipping consumers ended up adding another item to their shopping carts just to attain the benefits (both financial and emotional) of FREE.

Leveraging FREE in Marketing and Sales

Like anything there is a skill required in utilizing FREE in your business strategy to create success. Amazon leveraged FREE shipping to gain additional sales that otherwise would have not been there. Google used GMail to gain exposure to millions of users so they could sell advertising space to other companies. The strategic use of FREE allowed Google and Amazon to increase their revenue. These are just a few examples of how FREE is used in business everyday.

Apple was able to boost iPod sales initially by giving away the software program iTunes. This FREE program allowed Apple to gain familiarity with consumers and at the same time opened the door for them to easily purchase downloads and hardware to enhance their media experience. Taking it a step further the iTunes Store offers a FREE download each week and all you have to do to get the FREE song is sign up for an iTunes account. Free used properly is brilliant.

FREE can be good for businesses but it can also be bad. YouTube for example has failed to make Google any money thus far. In fact it’s draining money from Google. YouTube lets people upload and download videos as much as they want for FREE, and that is the problem. An estimated 75 billion videos will be served up by YouTube this year. Even though technology costs are almost near zero for YouTube, any fractional number multiplied by 75 billion is going to be a lot. In fact a recent report by Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube’s bandwidth costs in 2009 will be $360,000,000. [Gladwell, New York Times July 2009] YouTube’s continual FREE transactions are costing Google dearly because the user has no restrictions on FREE. For YouTube to turn a profit they need to find a solution that properly leverages FREE in their business plan and strategy.

Purchasing FREE: Buyer Beware

Hopefully after reading this post you will be more attuned to how businesses utilize FREE to influence your purchasing decisions. People love FREE. However, FREE sometimes is not the best option because we can emotionally overreact to FREE leading us to make poor decisions. Dan Ariely talks about purchasing a car a few years back. Because he has two children he thought logically and came to the conclusion that he should buy a minivan. Given his situation it was the most sensible option, but when he got to the dealership he was distracted by this beautiful Audi coupe that advertised FREE oil changes for the first 30,000 miles. Mislead by his heightened emotions to regain his youth and the FREE oil change offer he abandoned his logic and paid more for the Audi. Although the Audi is a nice car, Ariely regrets his decision because he knows the minivan would have been the best choice. In addition to practicality, Dan estimated his FREE oil change expenditures to be near $150 hardly worth his initial response to FREE the first time around.

Some FREE Advice

As I am finishing writing this post I just noticed that I am sipping a calorie FREE can of Diet Squirt. Over my shoulder my television is playing and I just heard a commercial for a fast food chain that is advertising Zero (FREE) Trans Fats in their food. It would appear that FREE is all around us urging us to purchase. Next time you set out to make a major purchase keep FREE in the back of your mind and make sure it’s truly the best decision for you in the long run.