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Brain bytes: three things you need to know about the brain

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The brain controls behaviour; behaviour guides the marketer.

The squishy organ in our heads is truly fantastic. Scratching the surface of what the human brain can do (without us even having to think) is simply amazing. However, there are some common misconceptions about the brain that marketers need to address ...

Our brains aren't dominated by one side

You would find it difficult to find someone that hasn't come across the question "Are you left or right brained?". Worryingly enough, this is something that teachers believe.

Actually, the two hemispheres of the brain have developed to work together. There are two visible hemispheres, the left side is more associated with things like language for example, but this doesn’t make someone more logical or creative. Telling children that they are a right or a left brain is an old wives’ tale.

When designing your product or service you should avoid designing it for a specific type of person. Design it based on their behaviour.

You don't want access to 100% of your brain

With films like Limitless and Lucy, you'd may believe the tagline; "The average person only use ten percent of their brain capacity. Imagine what we could do with 100%". But you'd be wrong.

Modern brain scans show activity coursing through the entire organ. Even when we're resting. So, even when you think you are not doing a lot, your brain is. Take a moment to think about what your brain does for you. When you get up out of a chair, what muscles are you using? How do they all work together at the same time?

It is likely that this myth has evolved, as there is always more potential to use the brain more. We could learn a new language, a new instrument but we don't. Our brains tend to shortcut difficult decisions by substituting them for easier ones, this is a 'cognitive miser'.

"A bat and ball together cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does ball cost?"

Retailers often take advantage of this laziness. Recent research shows that we are aware of the fact that not allocating enough brainpower over buying decisions. This may harm consumer sentiment and trust. A digital product or service is now expected to be intuitive and easy to use, it's no longer a 'nice to have'. In order for our customers to trust us, we have to make buying decisions as easy and clear as possible.

Our decisions aren't based on cold hard logic

People who drink alcohol and smoke tobacco know that they are actively poisoning themselves. But they still do it. We know that we should exercise regularly, but don't. We also know that we should be investing or saving our money, but, again, we don't.

We use our brain to make many decisions, but we don’t always choose what is best for us. Why is this?

We don't have one brain, we have three. The forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain. The hindbrain takes care of all the things we don't need (or want) to think about. The unconscious actions like pupil dilation, muscle contractions, food digestion etc. The forebrain is where all the logic happens, when you overthink something, or try to apply logic. The midbrain looks after all our emotions and whether you like it or not, this is where the majority of your decision making happens.

It doesn't stop there. The midbrain also deals out the rewards. It releases dopamine, which makes us feel good. Our midbrain is making decisions, then rewarding itself for them. The midbrain also makes the bad decisions, as it felt good in the moment, such as eating those extra Yorkshire puddings or drinking that extra pint.

They aren't logical decisions. Advertisers take advantage of our emotional decisions. The most notable are companies like Nike and Apple. When was the last time you saw them listing out technical features? Their campaigns aim for that emotional centre. Telling their would-be customer how their product will make them awesome.

We're in a fast, ever-evolving digital world, of which the brain cannot keep up with. This means we have to think differently about problem-solving, product and service design. By putting people's behaviour first, you will unlock your products or services unmet potential.

Matt Jackson, behavioural design lead, Big Radical

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