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Four Unexpected Ways to be More Influential

by Katya Andresen

COO and CSO at Network for Good

According to Gerald Zaltman and a slew of neuroscientists, 95% of human thought, emotion and learning happens without our conscious awareness. Yet we spend a lot of time trying to persuade people by focusing on the 5% rational brain with statistics, rational arguments and feature lists. Neuromarketing experts like Roger Dooley (author of the book Brainfluence) want to change all that. They have studied how to appeal to the massive subconscious mind, and there are some interesting and sometimes bizarre takeaways. Here are my favorite four.

  1. BABY, BABY, BABY: No, not Justin Bieber – real babies. Just 150 milliseconds after seeing an image of a baby, people’s medial orbitofrontal cortex – the part of the brain associated with emotion – becomes abuzz with activity. Pictures of grown-ups don’t prompt the same effect. An experiment in Scotland showed babies also make people more altruistic. Wallets were planted all over Edinburgh with one of four photos: a baby, a puppy, a happy family or an elderly couple – or no photo. Nearly 90% of the baby wallets were turned in, followed by 53% of puppies, 48% of families and 25% for the older couple. Only one in seven of the other wallets without photos were turned in by good Samaritans. Want to get people engaged? Baby, the answer is simple.
  2. GO HIGHER: Studies show a positive effect of height on generosity and cooperation. A University of North Carolina study found people were more helpful at the top rather than bottom of stairs and escalators. This effect can also be replicated with technology. People viewing videos shot from an airplane vs. a car were far more cooperative because they had viewed something from a higher position. You may not be able to locate your product or your cause in a penthouse, but you might want to test high-altitude imagery or perspectives in your electronic outreach.
  3. BE TRIBAL: Psychologist Henri Tajifel’s experiments led to the theory of social identity, which holds that people tend to categorize themselves into groups (Seth Godin would call them tribes) and base their identity in part on those associations. The implications for social networks are interesting. The organic groups that are created online are rife with opportunity for social identity around products and causes. Are you building identification with a group? You should be.
  4. THINK GOLDEN MEAN: Researchers at Carleton University say that visitors decide the attractiveness of a web page in one-twentieth of a second, and that first impression holds up over time and correlates to their ratings of the site. How do you look attractive that fast? Roger Dooley points to the golden mean, which is the width-to-height ratio of 1.618 that recurs in nature, the Parthenon and shells. Brain scans show people’s brains light up in the emotional areas when they see the mean. It may be worth using the proportion online.

Is this manipulation? I think not. Understanding how people think and connecting to their mental frameworks is how you build a relationship (and a customer). Insisting on your own world perspective as a more noble means of communication isn’t less manipulative – but it is less effective. I’d rather connect with someone else’s way of thinking than impose my own opinion. It works better that way.

Photo: Maria Pavlova/E+/Getty Images

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