How to Use Human Brain Function to Improve Your Communications


Apr 5, 2013 | Programming & Outreach

It is said that, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” But did you know that the eyes (and the brain) are also the “gatekeepers” to what information you select and retain? As marketing continues to evolve into a more evidence-based science, more knowledge is being applied to shape best-practices communications strategies and tactics.

As reported in How Your Brain Controls Your Attention, by Marilee B. Sprenger, a recent study on information processing reveals that the reticular activating system (RAS) functions as the portal through which nearly all information enters the brain. As Ms. Sprenger says, “The RAS filters the incoming information and affects what you pay attention to, how excited you are and what is not going to get access to all three pounds of your brain.”

The Brain and Your Communications

For survival’s sake, your RAS responds to your name, anything that threatens your survival, and information that you need immediately. So what does all of this scientific knowledge have to do with senior living providers and their communications with their prospects, customers and other key constituencies? For starters, if your information is not specifically tailored to your audience and pertinent to those key bites of information they are seeking, you are likely wasting your time and money. Therefore, it is critical to have a thorough understanding of what your various audiences are looking for — whether they are senior adults, their adult children, referral sources, or other target audiences — and then translate those information needs into precision crafted communications that get right to the heart of what your customers want to see and hear about.

How to Ensure Your Information Gets Passed “the Gatekeeper”

In a recent article in, author Steve Woodruff discusses the Four Must-Haves for Enlightening Your Customers. As Woodruff says, “Stop thinking about how you can make an immediate pitch for your business. “Start thinking about how you can shine a light into and through your audience’s RAS filters.” To do that, he suggests that you need the following four things to gain attention and earn memory space:

  • A clear message. “I help people solve their business problems” is not a clear message. I have no idea where to place you. Rather, “I take you from A to Z through the entire process of publishing your first book” is a very clear message. I know what you do immediately and I know right away if you’re relevant for me.
  • A memorable story. “I got a business degree in college and kinda worked my way up the corporate ladder” gives me no reason to think of you in any special categories. In contrast, “After trying my hand at technical programming for five years, my co-workers kept urging me to use my design talents to create niche websites, so now I do that full-time.” Now I’m intrigued.
  • A verbal business card. “We’re your family photographer when you need heirlooms, not Facebook Likes.” There are a million photographers and a billion casual photos on Facebook. but you just carved out a very peculiar niche. I’m calling you (or telling my friends to do so) when I want great picture-taking. Plus, I can pass along this description just like a business card — short, sweet, distinct.
  • An analogy. “Our washing machine is pretty much in the mid-range of this category.” Forgettable! “This is the Rolls-Royce of washers — you’ll feel the difference every single morning when you get dressed!” Bingo! The role of metaphor and analogy is to create a bridge to understanding. You can use prior association to make a point immediately.

In our instant gratification society, long-winded descriptions and 30-slide PowerPoint slideshows will not survive the RAS gatekeeper. If you enlighten the customer quickly, you’ll have a chance at that rarest of real estate: mindshare.

Implications for Senior Living Providers

It takes more than selecting the right media to capture the attention and interest of your customers. Unless your content speaks directly and compellingly to the current needs of your prospects, it is likely that the RAS will put up a “stop sign” and your message will be passed over without any interest or consideration. In order for your message to be processed and for it to motivate a desired action, it is essential to understand your customers’ priorities and, in turn, craft precise messages that clearly and effectively address what they’re searching for.

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