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8 Brain-Branding Website Techniques

Masterfully written by: J. Bader

According to eMarketer August 2008 video ad spending will increase a thousand percent over the next five years. This means Web video is on the way to becoming the must-have Web presentation tool. Some may see video as merely the next trendy marketing tactic that you should have because everyone else has it, but that would be a misreading of the trend. Discounting the importance of video presentation as just a fad misses the underlying human motivational impact of engaging an audience's neural network, a far more important network than the social media network that seems to occupy Web-marketers time, and consume large portions of marketing budgets.

The real reason Web video will dominate website presentations over the coming years is that it is the most effective presentation technique that engages the brain and embeds information as memory; it is the most complete Web presentation method available for establishing positioning: the brand ownership of an audience's consciousness.

Over the years we have come across numerous psychological and cognitive concepts that support the significance of using multi-sensory inputs as a way to engage interest, embed information, and enhance memory retention - the true measure of an effective, meaningful marketing campaign.

1. The McGurk Effect

Harry McGurk and John MacDonald first described the McGurk Effect in their paper published in "Nature", entitled 'Hearing lips and seeing voices.'

As described in Wikipedia: "The McGurk effect is a perceptual phenomenon which demonstrates an interaction between hearing and vision in speech perception. It suggests that speech perception is multimodal, that is, it involves information from more than one sensory modality."

What this means is that multiple senses stimulated together work in tandem to delivery a message to the brain and encode it an audience's memory. The significance to Web marketing professionals is clear: the combination of audio and video working together with a professional onscreen presenter is the most effective way to deliver a marketing message that engages an audience and embeds information in their collective memory.

2. The 10-Minute Attention Span Rule

John Medina, Developmental Molecular Biologist and Director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning at Seattle Pacific University has written a book called "Brain Rules" and has a website called It is not only an interesting and insightful look at how the brain works, it is also a great example of how to use video to promote a marketing initiative.

Medina's Rule #4 states: "We don't pay attention to boring things." That seems pretty obvious, but have you seen some of the corporate videos that are being produced. Just because someone knows how to shoot a competent video doesn't mean they know how to develop a dynamic, memorable marketing presentation. According to Medina what people pay attention to is emotional content. In fact a brain-imaging study done by Benedetto De Martino, University College London Institute of Neurology, confirmed that decision-making depends on emotion, not rationality, despite what some would like to believe. So if your video presentation doesn't elicit an emotional response, it is not going to register in the brain as important enough to remember, nor is it going to influence decision-making.

There is a misconception as to how long people can remain engaged in a presentation. There is no reason why Web presentations should follow TV commercial time constraints; the whole 15-, 30-second spot is based on a 'cost + interruption + repetition' model; one that doesn't hold any meaning on a website visited on purpose by an interested audience. According to Medina, a presentation that engages an audience on an emotional level can hold an audience's attention for about ten minutes. To keep an audience's interest beyond that, you have to stimulate them again with another emotional hit.

This is why our preferred video presentation structure consists of six two-minute videos for a total of about twelve minutes (6-2-12 Technique), a structure that allows us to re-stimulate the audience every two minutes, retaining their interest and attention so they won't get bored.

3. Chunking

No, Chunking is not a Chinese restaurant, it's a term coined by George A. Miller in his 1956 paper 'The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information." Chunking refers to the fact that we process and remember information better when we group it into manageable units or chunks, hence the notion of seven as the optimal number of things we can retain in memory. A misinterpretation of this effect has led to an epidemic of boring bulleted-point presentations that have become the plague of business meetings, conferences, and website presentations.

When we read, we are actually chunking: we do not process a word as individual letters but as a group of letters that are recognizable as an image that relates to its sound and meaning. In other words, by grouping a set of letters into a unified structure called a word with an associated sound and meaning, we can easily retain it as a useful method of preserving and communicating information. It is important to understand that the viewer's ability to retain your message depends on the skillful use of words, the quality of performance, and the artful use of timbre, tone and cadence. These conceptual, visual, and auditory elements combine to form a memory chunk in an emotional context.

4. Uni-Tasking

Today we hear a lot about multi-tasking. Job descriptions are full of things like, "must be able to multi-task," and we are all so proud of our ability to surf the Web, write an email, and talk on the phone, all at the same time. The reality is we are not doing any of these tasks justice. Multi-tasking is in fact a fallacy.
John Medina, the author of "Brain Rules" points to the area of the brain called Brodmann area 10 that is believed to be responsible for ordering tasks in some kind of orderly, hierarchical sequence. It's a bit like how a computer works: the speed of the calculations is so fast that it appears that many things are happening at once, but in fact the computer is just processing things one at a time but at a very high speed, giving the illusion of multi-tasking. People unlike computers aren't quite so efficient, and the result of so-called multi-tasking is just poor overall performance.

The point is a properly crafted and performed Web video engages the audience and focus's attention on the presentation. The job of a website presentation is not to be quick so visitors can move-on to your competition's website, but rather to stop the viewer in his or her tracks, get them to put down the cell phone, coffee, and Game Boy, and focus on your message. If your home page does not hold your audience's attention for the time it takes to deliver your core marketing-message, then it is not doing its job.

In Search of Oz

"The Wizard of Oz" may only be a children's story but its message has universal appeal and time-tested meaning. The story is really an allegory for life, both personal and business.

In today's turbulent economic climate, businesses often feel lost (think Dorothy), desperately searching for The Answer from The Man (think Wizard), but lack the courage (think cowardly Lion), brains (think Scarecrow) and heart (think Tin Man) to what it takes to succeed.

As much as we want to believe business is all about rational, bottom-line decision-making, the truth is, it is not. The more we understand how the brain works, the more we know decisions are emotionally based.

5. Cognitive Itch

James J. Kellaris, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Cincinnati College of Business Administration is an expert in studying why certain songs get stuck in peoples' heads. Its a phenomenon we have all experienced, and one he refers to as Cognitive Itch, the mental equivalent of an itch you can't get rid of no matter how much you scratch.

Kellaris has identified three main criteria for producing music that generates the Cognitive Itch response: simplicity, incongruity, and repetition. These same principles can be applied to the development of an effective Web video campaign that creates a Cognitive Itch response to your product, service or brand. In creating Web video campaigns for clients, we use these same memory-inducing criteria. Simplicity: (focused content, one video, one major point); Incongruity: (an offbeat approach or host-presenter that demands attention); and Repetition: (the repetition of signature verbal and visual taglines, and mnemonic sound logos that re-enforce the message and the brand).

6. SlipStreaming

Max Sutherland is an Australian marketing consultant, Adjunct Professor at Bond University, and author of "Advertising & the Mind of the Consumer." Sutherland's notion of SlipStreaming as a marketing tactic comes from the racing world. Auto and bike racers often conserve energy and propel momentum by tucking behind the race leader, thereby reducing wind resistance so at an opportune time they can accelerate past their competition.
SlipStreaming in the marketing world is similar. You associate your marketing message with an already well-known visual, auditory, or conceptual element that provides instant recognition and familiarity but with your own twist. The familiarity aspect equates to the racer sitting behind the leader conserving resources, while the twist provides the marketing momentum to push past the competition.

We use the technique quite often when we present our video marketing concepts. To convey the point that search engine optimization doesn't deal with delivering an effective marketing message to audiences once they arrive at your website, we emulated the iconic MAC versus PC advertisements by pitting a Multimedia Guy against an SEO Guy; people instantly understood the format and quickly caught on to the message. In another presentation for the SonicPersonality concept we used the familiar movie trailer format in a series of different genre styles as a metaphor for presenting the ultimate mission statement or elevator pitch. You are surrounded by familiar and iconic images, symbols, and personalities; all you have to do, is recognize what works and how to implement it. Being clever, entertaining, and persuasive is about talent, not deep pockets.

7. The Paradox of Choice & Information Anxiety

Barry Schwartz, is a psychologist and Professor at Swarthmore College who has written a book called "The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less." His premise is quite simple: the more choices you have offered to you, the less likely you are to make a decision. This is a problem that is rampant on websites in every market sector.
Whether it's an entrepreneur trying to get his or her money's worth by cramming every last bit of information into a presentation; an ecommerce site cataloging every know product ever invented; or a multinational that demands every competing sales, marketing, and stock market objective be included, the result is the same: confusion and paralysis.

Schwartz's work points to four basic consequences that result from blitzing an audience with too much information: decision-making paralysis, buyer dissatisfaction, lost opportunity regret, and expectation escalation.
Back in 1989, Richard Saul Wurman, an architect, graphic designer, and cartographer wrote a book called "Information Anxiety" in which he pointed out the same basic premise: "Information Anxiety is produced by the ever-widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand." The more we know the more we understand how little we know and that is not good for business, yet most businesses both big and small conform to the notion that more features, more benefits, and more text on their websites will somehow bring in more business; the fact is the opposite is true.

8. The Gestalt of It All

We've all heard the expression, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; this in essence summarizes the meaning of Gestalt theory. Gestalt, a German word that literally means 'shape' or 'figure,' is a psychological theory that posits the brain organizes sensory input into recognizable patterns in order to make sense of it, and understand its meaning and implications. This is one reason why the Slipstream marketing method mentioned earlier works so well.

In some sense the idea of Gestalt ties all the previously mentioned concepts together. How our brains interpret what we see, hear, and feel, drives who we are, what we think, and how we act. In marketing terms, your website is the ideal platform for generating the kind of pattern recognition that some would call knowledge, what others might call understanding. But whatever you call it, the skillful presentation of information that uses all available sensory expression is what forms buyer preference, the major ingredient that gets your audience to buy what you sell rather than your competitors.

Human Motivational Optimization

What people experience makes them who they are. Who they are determines whether or not they're going to buy what you sell. And who they are is the result of their accumulated experiences. The concepts discussed above, afford businesses the opportunity to develop the kind of website that actually influences behavior and brand preference.

If your website doesn't use the motivational tools available to present a memorable experience that forms opinion and preference then it will probably never provide you with the results you want or expect.