Whilst I am hugely intrigued by the way in which the human brain works, I am not an expert in neuroscience. My simplistic understanding is that the human brain has three key parts or layers which control how the brain processes information and makes decisions. The primitive part (the spinal cord and base of the brain) is responsible for many of our automatic systems and is core to our survival. Breathing, eating and sex all fall to this part of the brain. Around this is the emotional layer (the limbic system) where fear, happiness and aggression all start to play a part. Finally, surrounding and encasing this is the rational part of the brain (the human cortex). It manages a variety of things including logical reasoning, abstract thinking, hearing, seeing and our personalities. This is called the ‘executive’ part of the brain because, when we allow it, it considers all the inputs from the brain and makes rational decisions.

According to scientists who have studied and photographed the brain when it is making decisions, whilst all three parts are active, the rational and emotional parts are constantly in debate and it is not always logic that wins. Often our emotions win over rationality and we then create logical excuses after the fact. These interactions occur deep within our brains so fast, we aren’t even aware of them. 

It is this last point and not neuroscience that I think is really interesting and particularly powerful when we consider building relationships with others. When we can connect emotionally with others, we will build a much stronger and deeper routed bond and we will actually care about how they are and how they are doing.

From a marketing perspective, emotional campaigns have been proven to be more impactful. In the book Brand Immortality, Pringle and Field analysed over 900 IPA advertising campaigns to understand whether campaigns designed to appeal to the emotions or campaigns which provided information to rationally persuade people had higher profitability boosts. The results showed ‘fame’ campaigns, effectively campaigns delivering maximum emotional engagement were the most powerful, followed by emotional campaigns, then a mix of emotional and rational and then finally purely rational ones. It proved that emotional campaigns are almost twice as likely (31% vs. 16%) to generate large profit gains than rational ones, with campaigns that use facts as well as emotions in equal measure falling somewhere between the two.

Years ago, I was fortunate to take part in an internship for Unilever and spent some time working on Lynx, Vaseline, Dove and Sure. I then became a student brand manager on Lynx whilst at university. Since this point, I have always found the deodorant market interesting and whilst over the years the market has changed dramatically, one thing that has remained constant is the way in which different brands have positioned themselves.

First, at one extreme is Sure which has a very rational positioning and focuses on the fact that the deodorant will last and protect for 24 hours. This is a very rational requirement, although based on a strong and clear consumer insight and need. People are worried that their deodorant or anti-perspirant will not last long enough and this will mean they will smell bad later. Sure provides information and evidence to address these fears and aims to ensure that everyone who uses the brand will be ‘sure’ that they will be protected for an entire 24 hours. The resulting feeling from a user is probably safety, trust, comfort and a belief that Sure won’t let them down.

Gillette positions itself as ‘the best a man can get’. I have often wondered what this actually means as although it feels like quite an emotional positioning, it is actually quite rational. In essence, it is saying that Gillette products are the absolute best on the market for men. Normally this is backed up by technical information (like ‘the smoothest shave because it has three blades’) and this reinforces the positioning, again a rational one. The positioning is one step towards emotion from Sure but is still very rational.

At the other end of the spectrum is Lynx (or Axe) which has a hugely different positioning. For as long as I can remember, Lynx has had a strong identity, and has been, is and will always be about ‘guy gets girl.’ All communication and packaging reinforces this positioning. Everything tells the consumer that if you use Lynx, you will do better with the opposite sex. This is very emotional positioning. Is it believable? I am not sure but it has stood the test of time in countries all around the world, so the evidence probably speaks for itself. There is no doubt however, what Lynx stands for and how it connects with people.

Many people have studied and written in depth about this subject. Malcolm Gladwell in his book  Blink says ‘we make instant decisions without knowing why, and then make up rational reasons to justify an emotional decision’. Al Ries states in Positioning in the mind of the consumer, “the mistake we make is to assume people make wise, rational decisions based on the objective analysis of costs and benefits.” Conversely, Maya Angelou captures the power of this reality really well when she says: “they will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel”. However, I think Benjamin Franklin probably said it best in 1793, “If you must persuade, ’tis better to appeal to emotion rather than intellect.”

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