Using the Old Brain to Influence Customers

Research in neuroscience reveals that the human brain is divided into three parts that act as separate organs with different cellular structures and different functions. Knowing how these separate parts work could help you create and deliver compelling messages to reach and influence customers.

Three Parts of the Brain

The brain stem, formed during the earliest stages of evolution, sits atop the spinal column in the base of the skull. This is the “Old Brain” (also referred to as the reptilian brain, because all vertebrates have one, from mammals to reptiles), a.k.a. the “Survival Brain,” because it’s responsible for fight, flight and feeding functions.

The Old Brain also oversees such important functions as breathing, sleeping, reproduction, circulation of the blood, and contractions of muscles in response to external stimulation.

The two other parts of the brain include:

  • The “New Brain.” The New Brain thinks. It processes rational data and shares its deductions with the other two brains.
  • The “Middle Brain.” The Middle Brain feels. It processes emotions and gut feelings and also shares its findings with the other two brains.

The Old Brain decides. It takes input from the other two brains, but it alone controls the decision-making process.

What Stimulates the Old Brain?

We’ve found six proven stimuli that influence the Old Brain. If you use these to speak to the Old Brain in a language it can understand and relate to, you’ll succeed with any audience.

  1. Personal. The Old Brain is a self-centered entity. General considerations about others don’t reach it. Think of the Old Brain as the center of me. Don’t assume that it has any patience or empathy for anything that doesn’t immediately concern its survival and well-being.
  2. Contrast. Before/after, with/without, slow/fast all allow the Old Brain to decide. Contrast is a safe decision engine. It enables the Old Brain to make quick and safe decisions. Without contrast, the Old Brain enters a state of confusion, which ultimately results in delaying decision.
  3. Concrete. Numbers work for the New Brain, but the Old Brain won’t decide based on numbers alone. The Old Brain constantly scans for what’s familiar and friendly, what can be recognized quickly, what is tangible and immutable. The Old Brain can’t process concepts like “flexible solution,” “integrated approach,” or “scalable architecture,” without efforts and doubts.
  4. First and last. The Old Brain forgets most everything in the middle. This short attention span has huge implications on how to construct and deliver powerful messages. Placing the most important content at the beginning is a must, and repeating it at the end is an imperative. Keep in mind that anything you say in the middle of your delivery will be mostly overlooked.
  5. Visual. The Old Brain is visual. Neuroscience demonstrates that when you see something that looks like a snake, your Old Brain warns you instantly of danger — so that you react even before the New Brain physically recognizes it’s a snake. This implies that visual processing enters the Old Brain first, which can lead to very fast and effective connections to the true decision-maker.
  6. Emotion. The Old Brain is strongly triggered by emotions. Neuroscience has clearly demonstrated that “emotional cocktails” create chemical reactions that directly impact the way information is memorized and processed by the Old Brain.

The Old Brain is skeptical. It needs concrete evidence before committing to a decision. This means that rather than talking about value, you need to prove it. The more you speak to the Old Brain the more you increase your chances of closing an important deal, raising money, or simply increasing the effectiveness of an internal communication.

Vistage speakers Christophe Morin and Patrick Renvoise are co-founders of SalesBrain, a San Francisco-based firm that helps executives develop sustainable competitive strategies.

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