Ignore your evolutionary history at your peril

By Bob Bailly

If you are interested in why people do what they do, why they buy what they buy, or why they behave like they do, then my contributions to IT Business Blogs may be for you.

If you are interested in learning what science has to teach about the best ways to convince, communicate and motivate people, then you should also see benefit in future posts.

Or, if you’re intrigued with why the so-called smartest species on earth, whose rational thought is capable of glorious invention and sophisticated insight, is also prone to individual and group behaviour that is at times mind boggling, my posts will definitely interest you.

This is really all about you and how evolution has contrived you to be who you are, acting and feeling the way you do. It’s also about how to improve your business performance.

Ten years ago I thought knew a fair bit about marketing, I had studied brand management and, because I had spent 23 years in the advertising agency business, I believed I knew a lot about communication theory as I practiced my craft.

Ten years later, I’m not so sure.

Of course, I’ve always known that markets, brands and communication are all about an audience, a customer, a person. And working for some of Canada’s most recognized and successful advertising agencies brought me an incredible opportunity to learn the tricks of the trade – concepts to motivate customers to consider or purchase my clients’ ideas, products and services.

The outstanding advertising and design studios for which I was fortunate to work taught me a lot. For instance, I learned the in and outs of how to manage a brand’s advertising, public relations and visual image.

But I now realize that I really didn’t understand why these strategies and tactics worked.

So what new insights have come to mind to change my point of view?

The first, while not obvious, is not about the brand at all, but more about how we perceive a brand (or anything, for that matter) in our minds. The explosion of knowledge gathered by neuroscientists and psychologists, arising from the use of CAT, PET, and FMRI scanners, showed me that marketers could distill ideas from these findings that could influence their customers to buy. By looking at what happens in our brains, and most specifically the region of the brain that actually makes those decisions, I learned a predictive selling and communication model based on neuroscience that could help any practitioner communicate and sell more effectively.

However, after learning and applying this knowledge myself, I realized that these findings left me wanting.

As a marketing guy with a brand bent, I always felt that making a sale was less important than building a long-term relationship with a customer. The measure I always tried to consider was, “What is the lifetime value of this customer, and what do I need to do to continue to do business with him or her long into the future?” Today’s deal, however attractive, should always be measured against potential future deals. Rather than a “bird in the hand” analogy, I preferred the “will the bird lay eggs” approach.

Brand managers pretty much agree that building a brand is all about building loyalty. Good brand managers are intent about creating positive, consistent experiences for customers. Customers, on the other hand, choose brands that reflect and are consistent with their perceived values. Essentially, it could also be argued that the experiences we choose from the brands we use are reflective of the values we share with other people who use the same brands. In other word, we as users are looking for the same “value experience” as people like us.

It was this second insight that moved me to look beyond neuroscience and delve into the domain of anthropology — from looking at how an individual thinks. to how people work and live within groups; how social interaction evolved along with brain evolution.

While diagnostic equipment used by neuroscientists and psychologists can “see” what areas of our brains are firing when we perform certain tasks, this does not describe why humans have this ability to think and reason. In effect, while we each have a brain, what we do with it is what gives us a mind of our own. Collectively, we like to put our minds together for our collective benefit. A person prefers living in a group because living in a group helps ensure his or her survival. We are animals who like to hang in packs. We live our lives in tribes. And we often define who we are by our role, function and commitment to the tribes we join.

Naked and alone, humans would not have survived very long if we didn’t develop a cooperative approach to living. Cherishing family, living in tribes and developing tribal cultures are all part of a universal adaptation by humans that has allowed us to survive, thrive and conquer the world as we know it.

Yet, if cooperation is essential to our survival then why are we so war-like, competitive and aggressive to outsiders? We’re going to take a look at this as well, because it is as instructive to consider this dark side of our human nature as it is to observe how we behave when we are in harmony. Among other things, you’re going to learn why it’s important to have enemies.

So what has this got to do with running your business?

Make no mistake about it, my contributions to IT Business Blogs will be all about building your business, managing your brand and motivating every stakeholder to your cause. But to do this, you must trust that to achieve your goals, you cannot afford to ignore your evolutionary history. To figure out how to get to where you want to go, you must look first at how you got to here. And it’s not just about you.

And as it turns out, we can thank the monkeys in our midst for the insights we need. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. So with this as a beginning, look forward to some evolutionary science that may at first seem somewhat irrelevant, but I promise that if you follow along, your personal and business life will be forever changed for the better.

This is the first post in a series of contributions to IT Business Blogs by Bob Bailly, a Calgary-based neuro-marketing practitioner, and an associate at Francis Moran & Associates.


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