Episode 251

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As agency owners, we are constantly searching for new ways to harness the power of persuasion and trigger an audience’s buy-button on behalf of our clients. Understanding what’s happening inside the consumer’s head and what drives their behavior is where that effort begins. We’ve always worked to understand how audiences in the past, but what if we could leverage data and science to crack the code and target the decision-making part of a prospect’s brain?

As a neuroscientist and an agency owner, my guest Patrick Renvoise bridges the gap between science and marketing so agency owners can understand what makes different audiences tick.

He has taken an entirely new approach to persuasion that enables agency owners to better recommend marketing solutions to their clients by explaining the science behind them. It is one of the many reasons Patrick co-founded SalesBrain, the world’s first neuromarketing agency, where he currently serves as the Chief Persuasion Officer.

In this episode, we’ll explore the science behind human decision-making and how we can harness that for our agencies and our clients.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Agency Owner | The science of marketing

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How the brain reacts to persuasion
  • The role of the primal brain in decision making, and how to reach it
  • The six stimuli of the primal brain and how to leverage them in your work
  • Why logical and emotional messaging is not enough to impact your customer’s decision
  • How to position your agency against all of the other agencies in the landscape

The Golden Nuggets:

“Traditional marketing is about asking people what they want, but it’s useless because people don’t know what they want.” @patrickrenvoise Click To Tweet “Until now, nobody has ever created a bridge between the world of neuroscience and the world of sales and marketing.” @patrickrenvoise Click To Tweet “The Primal Brain can only be triggered by an emotional stimulus.” @patrickrenvoise Click To Tweet “In reality, we still react to stimuli in a very primal way.” @patrickrenvoise Click To Tweet “Agency owners shouldn’t optimize their messaging for right now; they should optimize it for when the customer is going to make their decision.” @patrickrenvoise Click To Tweet

AMI works with agency owners by:

  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for agency owners and their leadership teams
  • Offering AE Bootcamps
  • Conducting individual agency owner coaching
  • Doing on-site consulting
  • Offering online courses in agency new business and account service

Because he works with over 250+ agencies every year, Drew has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written several books, including Sell With Authority (2020) and been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”

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Announcer:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to midsize agencies are surviving, and thriving, in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable; scalable; and if you want down the road, sellable. With 25 plus years of experience, as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome back to another episode of Build a Better Agency, super glad to have you back. On this show we try very hard to stay uber focused on talking to guests about, or my solo guest, talking about how you can build your agency to be a stronger more profitable business. And the whole goal is to help you scale it if you want to; help you sustain it, so that you don’t have quite so high of highs and low of lows but it’s a nice steady growth; and down the road, if you want to, that you can sell it, that you’ve built something that is worthy of a sale. But mostly what I care about is that the agency is running well, that you love the work you’re doing, and that you’re making great money doing it. So as a result we often have guests that talk about business fundamentals and aspects of our work, in terms of growing the business. We talk a lot about the business side of the business and so we don’t tend to dabble in science very often.

And this episode is going to be a huge departure from that because we are going to dive deep into science but you are going to love it and I promise you you’re going to quote this episode, that’s how good this guest is. And I cannot wait to pick his brain on your behalf.

So I’m going to tell you a little bit more about him but first I want to give you this reminder: if you have not taken the Agency Owner Assessment that we built a couple years ago, or you took it two years ago and you want to compare your results that you got then with what you would get today, head over to AgencyManagementInstitute.com/assessment. It’ll take you about six minutes to take the assessment and it’s going to measure your agency in five key areas, and then it’s going to send you a report, it’s going to email you a report that tells you, based on your answers, where you need to focus your time and attention. And we also did a webinar late last summer that looked at all of the agencies that had taken the assessment. And so if you are interested in seeing that webinar you can watch that. If you go under the webinar tab on the website you can see that. So take the assessment first and then watch the webinar to see how you compare to other agencies. And, again, that’s AgencyManagementInstitute.com/assessment.

All right, let me tell you a little bit about our guest. Patrick Renvoise is a neuroscientist but he’s also an agency owner, so he is fascinated by these two very disparate and yet connected topics, which is how the brain works, the science of how the brain works, and marketing. And so he’s written several books on this topic, specifically around the power of persuasion and how we, as marketers, can find and trigger our consumers’ buy button. And so we’re going to dig into this, in terms of how the brain works. And what you’re going to find, I think based on my reading of the book and some other information that Patrick gave us, is that oftentimes what we, air quote, know to be true there is science behind it. And you can use this science to help clients understand why you’re recommending what you’re recommending. But also, I will tell you, there is science behind some of the things I’ve been telling you to do around your agency.

So my first major in college was psychology. I really thought I was going to be a therapist. And I guess, in some ways, it turned out that I am. And there’s a long story, which I’m happy to tell you over drinks sometime why that didn’t play out the way I thought it was going to. So I find all of this fascinating. And Patrick is the expert in this field of combining this brain science with marketing and so I’m super excited to have him here with us, and that he’s going to share with us what he knows. So without further ado let’s get to Patrick Renvoise and find out everything he knows about our brains.

Persuasion, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Patrick Renvoise:

Welcome, good day Drew. Thank you for your invitation.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. So we’re going to talk science today, which is not something we talk about a lot on the podcast, so you may have to go slow for me and I may ask you to help me with the big words but I’m excited to get into this. So give people a little bit of an understanding of your background of how you came to write The Persuasion Code and how you came to understand this … I know you have a special name for it but this mapping of the brain, and how we persuade and make decisions.

Patrick Renvoise:

Yeah. So I’m actually a nerd. I graduated in computer science and electrical engineering, and I spent my life selling very expensive solutions, hardware and software, things in the millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars. So my expertise is what’s called the complex sales. And then 20 years ago, after realizing that I had learned how to persuade people, I had learned it for myself, that was not exciting anymore for me to just continue to persuade other people. Instead I thought, “Well maybe I can teach other people what I have learned in a lifetime of persuasion.” And I found the answer is not in sales and marketing books but I found the answer is in neuroscience book. If you look at the world of neuroscience today people understand quite well how the brain works when it comes to making a decision, but we in the business world have not connected with those people yet. In fact, my very first book was titled Neuromarketing. Neuro, as in the brain, and marketing, as in I’m going to try to sell you something you might not need.

So I created this very first [inaudible 00:06:46] the co-author was my partner. The very first book on nueromarketing. And then another 15 or 16 years later we finally realized that neuromarketing was yet only one tool to reach the ultimate goal. And what’s the ultimate goal? The ultimate goal in sales and marketing is to persuade people. So, again, I had learned this over a lifetime of trial and error but when we looked at the science of what neuropsychologists, evolutionary biologists, all these experts on the brain they tell us about the brain work, then we can come up with a very simple step by step process of what it takes to persuade.

Drew McLellan:

So I know that you talk about the buy button and how that lies in the brain of the buyer.

Patrick Renvoise:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

And one of the things that I found very interesting was that your premise was that … I know you don’t mean this literally but we don’t have one brain, we have two. So help us understand that a little bit.

Patrick Renvoise:

Yes. Well for the longest thread of time, and because of a French philosopher called Descartes, we were under the illusion that homo sapiens was a rational decision making machines. In other words that we were using our neocortex, what makes this unique to a human. When in fact the name of our species in Latin is homo sapiens sapiens. You have to say it twice. It means the one who know they think. Why? Because of all the species on Earth we are the only one that are thinking a lot before we decide. Most animals they simply react to the stimulus. If you put a piece of sugar in front of the nose of the dog it’s going to be very hard for the dog to resist the urge of jumping on it. If I put a piece of sugar in front of your nose you’re going to go, “No, it’s too early in the day. I don’t need the extra sugar. I have cholesterol, I have diabetes.” So we think more than any other species on Earth before we decide. And, in fact, that’s the name of our species.

But neuroscientists have established today, beyond reasonable doubt, that when we decide it’s not our neocortex that drives the process. It’s actually a brain which lies underneath it. It has many different name. We call it the primal brain. A researcher by the name of Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economy called it system 1. And Kahneman, and some other high level researchers, have established beyond reasonable doubt that the primal brain, our ancestral brain, our reptilian brain, our old brain, our limbic system if you want to call it, they are not quite synonyms but that’s the idea, that that brain that lies underneath it is the key to persuasion. And this is a brain that we share with all vertebrates because any animal that has vertebrates their nervous system, in other words the organ of decision making, is the termination of that neurosystem.

So even a very primal animal, such as a reptile, has to make a lot of decisions every day, right? A reptile makes a decision of, “Am I going to eat this? Am I going to eat that? Am I going to crawl here? Am I going to crawl there?” Well that’s the brain inside the skull of homo sapiens that still drives the decision making process. And, again, this is not something which is unknown in the world of business. People that have spent their time studying the brain they know this, but nobody has ever created a bridge between that world of neuroscience, and the world of sales and marketing. So that’s what we do, we teach people how to reach that system 1 or that primal brain.

Drew McLellan:

I think most agency owners, and their employees, we talk a lot about that we get that people buy based on emotion.

Patrick Renvoise:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

And that we have to stimulate that with our work. So basically we have to touch their emotional side and then we give them the facts so they can rationalize their buying decision, right?

Patrick Renvoise:

That’s right. In fact, Antonio Damasio, one of the most famous neuroscientists, said, “We are not thinking machines that feel. We are feeling machines that think once in a while.” So that knowledge has permitted it. And ever good agency knows this, right? But they yet don’t have a formal model of what it needs today, of what it takes to do this. In other words, as you said, that primal brain is the organ that can only be triggered by emotion. And, in fact, it’s one of the six stimuli that you can use to reach the primal brain. In other words, if I give you a stimulus and that stimulus has zero emotional content it will have to be treated by the higher levels of the brain or the neocortex. So by definition, when you try and stimulate your audience, it needs to have an emotional component. But guess what? It’s only one of the six stimuli to that primal brain, to system 1.

So for us by … I’m going to use another analogy if you want. All the effective advertising agencies they understand the language of the primal brain but they have not really come up with a simple step by step process that will maximize your chances to always talk directly to that brain, so that’s what we’ve done. We’ve unveiled that language. It happens that a lot of agencies are already fluent in the language. And when we teach them that language the light bulb goes on, they go, “Oh schmuck. Now I understand why I was doing it right most of the time. And in those 5% to 10% where we didn’t do such a good job and it failed now I understand why it failed.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I know that you’ve outlined … And we’re going to get into the six ways and all of that, so I’m going to extract as much of this out of you as I can in our conversation. But I want the listeners to know that that is what you’ve broken down in The Persuasion Code, the book that you co-wrote. And it’s also the topic of the TED Talk that you did, that we will also include a link to in the show notes. So if you listen to Patrick and you’re like, “I want more of this,” or, “I want to expose my team to this in a deeper way,” those are some good resources for you to go. But now let’s talk about what are the six ways that we can stimulate that primal brain to push the buy button?

Patrick Renvoise:

So let me give just a quick snapshot of the difference between the primal brain and the neocortex.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

Patrick Renvoise:

So our neocortex is rather recent in evolutionary term. In other words, our specie is about 220,000 years old, so homo sapiens is a very, very young specie. By contrast our primal brain is about 500 million years old, so our neocortex started to appear only about 10 million years ago. It really started to develop when we became homo erectus, but even homo erectus was not very, very smart. It’s only recently in evolution that we started to use more and more of our neocortex. So the primal brain is 100 times older than our rational brain. It’s the brain that Daniel Kahneman calls the fast brain. And the primal brain is the brain that is meant to react quickly. Why? Because speed is more important for survival than smarts.

By contrast our neocortex is our slow brain but it’s what makes us smart. It’s the brain that we use when we talk, for example. It’s the brain that we use when we solve complex mathematical equations. But there is a very simple reason why we still use our primal brain to decide. It’s that speed is more important for survival than smart. So finally the hardware that we use to decide is wired to make quick decision. And on top of that, if you want, we’ve built a little bit of software which is very thin, which is trying to make us smarter but in reality we still react to stimulus in a very primal way.

And, again, it’s not just pure luck. It’s because even flies are surviving, right? And flies are not very intelligent. In fact, a human being has about 80 billion neurons in its nervous system, a fly only has 20,000 neurons in its nervous system, yet the fly survived.

Drew McLellan:

And outsmarts us often.

Patrick Renvoise:

Exactly. Its survived because it can escape our hand. And it does that it’s almost a miracle because the fly does this with 20,000 neurons. And with 20,000 neurons you cannot show off. You can only be a fly. So your washing machine has more intelligence than a fly but the fly survived because life is fundamentally meant to react quickly because speed is crucial for survival. So that’s the brain that decide that, that’s our fast brain.

So I could go deeper into that fast brain but it’s really important for people to understand that we have both brain. And when those two brains are in agreement on how to make a decision that’s easy, the decision is instant. But the problem is that most of the time our primal brain is really our unconscious brain. It’s the brain that, for example, when you climb the stairs your brain is telling your lungs, “You need to bring more oxygen so I can provide that oxygen to my lower leg muscles and I’m going to need to increase your heart rate, your breathing, your digestion.” All this needs to happen very quickly and you’re not even conscious of it. See when you eat an apple your primal brain will tell your stomach to send more juices, more acid in your stomach so it can digest the apple but you’re not conscious of it, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Patrick Renvoise:

And amazingly enough that’s the brain that drives the decision making process. In fact, the expert on that field they talk about the field of persuasion being a bottom up approach. In other words, persuasion starts from the primal brain and then it radiates to the upper layers in the brain, not vice versa. But think of how most people, when they try to persuade, what do they do? They try to use logical argument.

Drew McLellan:

Right, facts.

Patrick Renvoise:

Right, facts. Smart advertising agency know that it’s not enough so they sugar coat that rational argument inside some kind of emotional stimulant but there is more to understanding that primal brain so that you make it react in the proper way. Again, by studying it for 20 years we’ve been able to highlight the fact that that primal brain is going to react only to six stimuli. The emotional one is the last one but I’m happy to describe with you more of the other six stimuli so that people understand how it works.

Drew McLellan:

Yes, please tell us that.

Patrick Renvoise:

Right. So the first stimulus is personal. What does that mean? It means, fundamentally, our primal brain is trying to avoid pain or eliminate pain at all cost. But it does that without any sense of compassion, if you want. In other words, at the primal level it’s all about my survival and I know that whatever decision I am making today I need to maximize my probability to survive. Now remember that crocodiles they don’t know compassion, they eat their own offsprings. Compassion is a neocortex emotion. It can be very effective when you try to persuade people in a lot of different situation, that’s not what I’m saying.

But what I’m saying is if I try to talk to you, Andrew, today and I try to sell you my book for example, right? I know you don’t care about my book. You only care about the fact that my book help your business, it helps your personal development, but you don’t care about me. So not only when you stimulate your audience you have to always instantly answer the question what’s in it for them? Because, fundamentally, the primal brain is a selfish brain that’s only worried about its survival. So that’s the first stimulus, personal.

The second stimulus is contrastable. By the way, let me give you the list all together so that people get the hint of what it’s going to be about. But the primal brain is personal, it’s contrastable, it’s tangible, it needs memorable stimulus, it’s visual, and finally it’s emotional. So, again, personal, contrastable, tangible, memorable, visual, and emotional.

So first one is personal, second one is contrastable. What does that mean? Well that means your brain … Although you’re not doing much right now, rather than being sitting in front of a computer and talking to me, your brain is processing about 11 million bits of information per second. That’s what the neuroscientists tell us. Even at rest your brain is processing. Now this stimulus they come from your five senses and what’s called internal cognitive processes, in other words what you’re thinking about. So if right now you’re thinking about what do you have in your fridge, or lunch or dinner tonight, that’s forcing your brain to process that information. So all together your brain is processing 11 million bits of information per second.

Unfortunately the field of focus, or attention, has proven that we can not direct our brain to process more than 50 bits per second. So of the 11 million bits that your brain is processing right now your field of focus is like using a laser, a little dot, on a huge screen and you can only be conscious of those 50 bits per second. So how does your brain decide which bits of information to focus on? There is a very complicated system in the brain called the reticular activating system, which lies, by the way, between the neocortex and the primal brain. And the job of those neurons is to say, “Well guess what? If I could not detect any contrast in the information that I’m receiving, for a very simple survival issue, I’m not going to pay any attention to that.”

The opposite of this would be imagine if you’re driving in the dark at night and suddenly there is a flash of light on your right field of vision. As a reflex your eyes will turn there because your brain will say, “There is a flash. Maybe it’s dangerous. I need to focus my attention on this bit.” So by definition the primal brain can only be triggered by contrastable information.

Drew McLellan:

So in other words if the work we do looks like everybody else’s work then we are less likely … And, again, we know this-

Patrick Renvoise:

That’s right.

Drew McLellan:

… with instinct but the reason that the brain … The reason why this works, if our work is generic and looks like everyone else’s, or if our agency looks like every other agency out there, we cannot garner the attention of our audience because the brain just disregards.

Patrick Renvoise:

Exactly. In fact, 98% of all websites start with the same sentence. What’s that sentence? That sentence is, “We are one of the leading provider of.” So if you’re an agency you’re probably claiming that you’re more creative than other people. But, I mean, I can demonstrate later that the proof that you give to people that you’re more creative than others is not going to be accepted by the primal brain of your audience because the proof that you’re using are not going to be working. So, again, contrastable is really important in what you have to be able to say. So what you’re doing now is you’re already translating one of the neuroscience concept into some direct business application, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right, right.

Patrick Renvoise:

What that means for an agency is you have to be able to say, “We are the only one who do this and that.” Not only does the agency need to do that but when they create a campaign for that customer they have to find a way to create that contrast in the campaign itself. And the easiest way to understand contrast at that level is … You know the traditional way people sell you a program to lose weight? When you see a program to lose weight they use contrast because what do they do? On the left side they show you a guy who is severely pound and on the right side of the image they show you the same guy who only weighs 200 pound. So that stimulus has contrast because you see an instant before and after. And that’s visual, there is almost no text, right? Or it’s the same idea when you see the guy with no hair on the left side and then the same guy with the head full of hair after he’s taken the miracle grow.

So that’s how you need to use contrast in your ads because the brain has an automatic filter that will eliminate all the information that is not contrasted enough.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

Patrick Renvoise:

The third stimulus is tangible. And tangible, what does tha