Reader Pat Jennings wrote, “Are you familiar with the book "Neuromarketing" by Renvoise and Morin? It is a great book for learning how to market to the "old brain." I decided to check the book out and, as I often do, got distracted and ended up reading an article in The New Scientist about the recent debacle over Gap’s experience in crowd sourced logo design.
In case you missed the story, Gap recently got burned when it abandoned its traditional logo in favor of one produced by crowd sourcing. Public response to the new logo reminded me of the New Coke fiasco in 1985 when the Coca-Cola Company brought the iconic drink out in a new formula.
The New Scientist article reported research by the neuromarketing firm NeuroFocus explaining the broad rejection by consumers of the new logo. Without weighing on the merits of the research, I was struck by the number of comments posted by readers of the article that dismissively charged NeuroFocus with practicing “pseudo science.”
In a new book I’m writing I describe how the left hemisphere of the brain – the primary site of reasoning – is biased against new information that does not conform to its existing models of reality. It is inclined to either reconform the information to fit with what it currently holds to be true or reflexively reject it out of hand. This rejection is often sarcastically disdained as when a person writes off an empirically derived conclusion with the charge, “It’s pseudoscience.”
Over the past several months we’ve been reminded numerous times that this is the 50th anniversary of the start of Jane Goodall’s epochal research into the world of chimpanzees. When she discovered that chimps made and used tools the left brains of scientists the world over roundly rejected her claim. Goodall’s lack of a university education didn’t help her standing. Yet she had challenged the most fundamental difference claimed by science to separate man and lower animals. Today, of course, tool makers and users are known to exist throughout the animal kingdom.
We are passing through times of unprecedented speed and scale of change that are upending our view of the world across the full spectrum of reality. Once again I'm reminded of the words of the character Valentine in Tom Stoppard's play, Arcadia when reflecting on this fact:
The future is disorder. A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs. It's the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.
Advances in neuroscience over the three decades that I’ve been an avid reader in the subject are astonishing. As I’ve written before, the shift in our views of the human brain and mind is no less epochal than the shift centuries ago from a flat earth to a round earth perspective. Much of what we have believed about how the human mind works has turned out to be as much an illusion as the earth’s flatness is.
Research into the human brain is taking marketing into new dimensions of human behavior that are far beyond the reach of traditional consumer research methods. One of the most intriguing dimensions is the aging brain – a matter of considerable concern to marketers since changes associated with aging begin around the late 30s and early 40s. These changes significantly compromise many traditional ideas in marketing.
In his book The Mature Mind psychiatrist and geriatrician Gene Cohen does a splendid job describing in accessible language changes in brain functioning that take place as we age. He uses few five-dollar terms from brain science to get his points across. Importantly, especially for those of us who have left the early years of midlife far behind, Cohen documents how the aging brain is in some important ways a better brain.
In Serving the Ageless Market (McGraw-Hill, 1990), I proposed that some changes in mental functioning associated with age were improperly regarded as sources of handicaps that older people had to find ways of coping with. Some of these changes were developmental changes that took older minds to higher levels of mental functioning. In The Mature Mind, Dr. Cohen provides new information that supports that idea. In fact, he coined the expression developmental intelligence to stand for that idea.
As the aging population continues explosive growth while virtually no growth is taking place in the under-50 population, marketers and their clients will be best served by challenging the left brain’s antagonism toward new information that challenges existing models of reality.