Yesterday, my good friend Steve Woodruff’s new book, The Point, arrived. The timing couldn’t be any better as I’ve assumed the role of CMO at a ground-breaking retail intelligence platform, and the first task is to organize their marketing communications to explain their complex technology better and to position them appropriately in an industry that’s fast becoming overhyped.
Reticular Activating System
This isn’t a book review, although it will come once I finish reading it. I’m already engrossed in the book in the first chapters… especially as Steve explained the impact of our brain’s Reticular Activating System. RAS is a network of neurons in the brainstem that plays a crucial role in controlling arousal and consciousness. It acts as a filter for the immense amount of sensory data entering our brains, prioritizing what gets noticed and ignored based on what it perceives as important or relevant to us.
The RAS is the gatekeeper of focus. It is the supervisor of our attention span… What we are aware of at any moment is whatever the RAS has elevated to our conscious notice, while it pushes everything else into the background as noise.
The RAS prioritizes certain types of information based on their emotional impact and relevance to the individual. Steve concisely states that these things are new, surprising, interesting, threatening, or specific.
As I started to think about our marketing communications, this stood out, and I had to dig deeper. Here are ten types of information that typically make it through the RAS filter:
- Fear: Information that signals a threat or danger gets immediate attention. This might involve highlighting a problem or risk that a product or service can alleviate in marketing. Politics anyone?
- Excitement and Pleasure: Positive stimuli, such as those that promise enjoyment, rewards, or benefits, often break through the RAS. This is why advertising frequently focuses on the positive outcomes or emotions associated with a product or service.
- Novelty: New or unusual information can stimulate the RAS. This is why innovative products or unique marketing campaigns often stand out in a crowded marketplace.
- Personal Relevance: Information directly related to an individual’s interests, needs, or problems is more likely to be noticed. This is the basis for personalized marketing and targeted advertising.
- Urgency: Content that conveys a sense of urgency or importance, such as limited-time offers or important updates, can capture attention as the RAS prioritizes what seems immediately relevant.
- Emotional Connection: Information that triggers an emotional response, whether it’s happiness, sadness, anger, or empathy, tends to be more engaging and memorable.
- Contrast and Surprise: Anything that contrasts sharply with the surrounding context or defies expectations can grab attention. This could be a surprising fact, an unexpected visual in an ad, or a unique selling proposition.
- Social Proof and Validation: Information that includes social proof, like testimonials or popularity indicators, can be more effective. The RAS pays attention to what others find important or useful.
- Storytelling: Stories, especially those that evoke a strong narrative or emotional journey, are powerful in capturing and maintaining attention.
- Problem-Solving: Information that offers solutions to problems, especially top-of-mind for the audience, will likely be noticed and remembered.
In sales and marketing, understanding these triggers can help in designing communication and advertising strategies that more effectively engage the target audience, making them more receptive to the message being conveyed. Here are the strategies that can be deployed:
- Attention-Grabbing: Since the RAS helps filter information based on relevance, speakers and advertisers need to craft messages perceived as important or interesting by their audience. This could mean focusing on pain points, desires, or interests that are top-of-mind for the audience.
- Personalization: Tailoring the message to resonate with specific audience segments is crucial. Personalized communication can penetrate the RAS filter more effectively, as people are more likely to pay attention to something that feels directly relevant to them.
- Repetition and Consistency: Repeated exposure to a message can train the RAS to recognize it as important. Consistent branding and messaging across different platforms help create a familiar and, therefore, more noticeable presence.
- Storytelling and Emotional Connection: Engaging stories or emotional triggers can effectively capture attention as the RAS prioritizes emotional content. This is true in both B2C and B2B contexts, as even business decisions are influenced by emotional factors.
- Clear and Concise Messaging: Overloading with too much information can lead to the audience tuning out. Clear, concise, and focused messaging is more likely to be processed and remembered.
- Visual and Sensory Stimuli: Using strong visual or other sensory stimuli can help capture attention, as the RAS responds strongly to novel or striking sensory inputs.
Understanding how the RAS works can aid in creating more effective communication strategies in sales, marketing, and advertising. It’s about crafting messages that break through the clutter, resonate personally, and are memorable enough to influence decision-making processes.
This also overlaps with the evolution of artificial intelligence…
The Future: RAS and AI
AI promises that we’ll be able to propel our evolution forward with artificial intelligence. The reality of AI is that it’s not artificial at all. We are uncovering the secrets of how our brains work and rapidly advancing similar techniques in AI. Of course, the advantage of AI, as opposed to humanity, is that AI has virtually infinite growth opportunities, whereas we do not (until we are plugged in).
I watch journalists and pundits mock an AI system for an incorrect response or a hallucination… even though the system was trained for months. Compare that to a human being who requires decades of training and still gets it wrong. These systems are upon us, and as we help them to organize, enhance, and filter the information we provide them, they will advance civilization beyond our wildest dreams (and likely a few nightmares).
Critical to leveraging AI (or even AGI) won’t be the platform itself; it will be the enrichment and filtering of the data we provide them to provide the best information. This analysis by Chamath Palihapitiya on the rapid development of AI platforms is brilliant:
In other words, the most in-demand businesses won’t be the industry giants; they will be the companies that build the most effective RAS to organize, enhance, and filter the processed information!
One key advantage of AI in marketing is personalization at scale. Personalization is one of the data types that makes it through our buyers’ RAS filters. However, it will be critical that the data to train what offer is made, how it’s communicated, and when it’s communicated will have to be incredibly accurate… otherwise, it will fail.
Reducing the background noise fed to AI and enhancing the relevant information will be critical for effectively leveraging AI in sales, marketing, and advertising.