How can marketers better equip themselves to influence consumers to buy their products or services? And, what do emotions have to do with marketing anyway? media update’s Talisa Jansen van Rensburg spoke to Gilan Gork, presenter at the SingularityU South Africa Summit, and mentalist at The Influence Institute, to find out.

1. At the Singularity Summit, you talked about how people have the ability to influence others without even knowing it. How can marketers use this kind of influence to grab the attention of their target audiences?

Sometimes we’re aware of how we’re influencing others, and other times, we’re not. The same is true when it comes to being influenced.

One of the reasons [why] we’re so automatically influenced is because humans are “predictably irrational,” as psychologist Dan Ariely terms it [in his book titled Predictably Irrational, The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions]. That is, we think we behave and make decisions on a whim; however, our ‘randomness’ or ‘irrationality’ seems to occur the same way again and again. Hence, [we are] being predictably irrational.

This insight captures a very important aspect of persuasion; if a person always behaves irrationally, they are not susceptible to any form of persuasion. To try to persuade them in any particular direction would be like trying to predict a perfectly random number, which is impossible (this is what ‘random’ means).

However, if a person is predictably irrational, this changes everything! This predictability means we can persuade him — maybe not always with 100% success, but certainly more often than not. Predictability is the key.

To take a simple example, imagine someone in a store choosing what toothpaste to buy. He could base his choice on any number of sensible, rational considerations: how effective it is, whether his dentist recommends it, whether he’s had good results with it before … and so on. However, suppose that he chooses toothpaste based on entirely irrational factors, such as whether the package is blue or whether the brand name sounds similar to his dog’s name. What’s more, let’s suppose that he bases his choice on a different irrational factor every time.

In this situation — and assuming I, [the marketer], don’t know anything about this man and his bizarre selection criteria — I lack any way to persuade him to buy my particular brand of toothpaste. If I tried, I would be likely to base my persuasive efforts on one or more of the rational factors listed above — such as handing out promotional leaflets saying that my particular brand comes very highly recommended by the dental profession. This attempt would fail.

Even if I realised that this man always bases his choice on irrational factors, I still can’t win because he uses different selection criteria every time.

Ah … but now, consider the situation where I know he always bases his choices on the packaging and his favourite colour is blue. It’s still irrational in the sense that the packaging has nothing to do with the merits of the toothpaste. However, it is predictably irrational. All I have to do to win the persuasion game is to make sure the packaging is predominantly blue.

You might think this is just a silly hypothetical example — and in one sense it is. But imagine that instead of analysing how one (rather strange) man chooses toothpaste, we study the choices made by millions of people. We may very well find that a high percentage makes predictably irrational choices.

This is the kind of thing that marketing experts study all day and it explains why many brands of toothpaste have a minty flavour. The mint flavour tells you nothing about the merits of the toothpaste and whether it’s doing your teeth any good. It’s quite possible for a substance to taste ‘minty fresh’ and be about as good for your teeth as chewing on pebbles. But consumers tend to like that minty taste, so the manufacturers put it in.

2. You spoke about emotion and how it influences our decisions. What should marketers take into consideration when it comes to consumers’ emotions?

A common misconception about humans is that we are ‘thinking machines that feel’. Actually, we are ‘feeling machines that think’.

If a marketer unlocks the key to influencing a person’s emotions, the emotion will lead to an action or behaviour and the person will make up some logic to justify the action that they’ve taken.

3. How can marketers build new neural-pathways to better communicate with their target audiences?

Neural pathways have been created in our brain based on our learnt experiences. After all, humans are each the sum of our learnt experiences. Unfortunately, this includes all the stereotypes and biases that have formed in our minds too.

When we see someone, we have a stereotype or bias towards, that neural pathway fires … and the more times it fires and is reinforced, the stronger that neural pathway becomes. It is then more likely to fire again in future.

Marketers can build new neural pathways by strategically immersing themselves in diversity. Every person you meet is like a new dataset. The more datasets you have access to, the more you’ll be able to relate to different people, scenarios and more. This will also increase your ability to empathise and understand others more.

All these things will help you make better, more effective marketing decisions.

4. How can marketers avoid procrastination and reach their target goals for each month?

Following my answer above on emotions, procrastination is not a case of having the right process or special ‘productivity’ app. While these things may help, they do not solve the root cause of procrastination: [which is] emotion.

When we experience uncertainty, doubt or fear, our brain literally grasps at control. We end up focusing on distractions — especially those tasks that feel familiar even if they’re not important — because it makes us feel as if we’re regaining some sense of control. The tricky bit is that we’re often unaware that these emotions are even present. Instead, we’re on ‘autopilot’ and slaves to this type of ‘unaware inaction’.

One way that this may impact marketers is when they experience emotions of uncertainty, fear or doubt — say, just before publishing work or launching a campaign. In these cases, it’s easy to become overly perfectionistic. However, this perfectionism is, again, just our brain trying to cope with the emotions.

5. How can marketers steer clear of absolute failure avoidance and start accepting that failure is part of the job from time to time?

‘Absolute failure avoidance’ is often an insidious element in company or team culture. It’s when the leader says, “Go out there, pioneer, experiment, find better ways to do things and shoot for the stars!”

However, when someone does fail, the situation is treated in a way incongruent with the initial encouragement. The bigger your goals, the bigger your potential failures.

The sooner we learn to accept this for ourselves, and others, the sooner we reach our greatest goals. The quickest way to reach success is not through short cuts; it’s through shortening the time between failures.

What are some other ways that you think marketers can rewire their mind for high performance? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

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Now that you have a better understanding of the art of persuasion, be sure to read The psychology behind consumer behaviour to learn more about how to influence your customers.