Win The Brain Game

December 30, 2009


As a journeyman consumer packaged goods marketer, I wanted to know more about the brains of my customers. Later, as a B-to-B technology marketer, I sometimes wondered if my buyers had brains. Why would they buy from IBM because “nobody ever got fired for buying from IBM”? Why buy technology out of fear versus the rational business benefits of products and services offered by Big Blue?

I knew about the way the brain worked from Al Ries and Jack Trout’s book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. Ries would lead off lectures on positioning asking, “Who was the first man on the moon?” “Neil Armstrong,” we would respond in unison. But who was the second and who was in the command module of Apollo 11? None of us could recall Michael Collins’ or Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin’s names.

We knew the yin and yang of the left (logical) brain and right (creative) brain. Then I read Frogs Into Princes, a book by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. It described neuro-linguistic programming and shed some light on communication and behavior. I scoured Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, a classic text on behavior and business success. I even read Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain by Antonio R. Damasio, which explained brain function and offered amazing stories of brain injury survivors.

I was bewildered in my search for a functional understanding of how a marketer could apply knowledge of the brain to practical marketing communications problems until I met Patrick Renvoise, president of San Francisco-based SalesBrain, a sales and communications boutique consultancy that helps organizations like Alcatel, Arevea, Axa, GE, HP and Silicon Valley Bank improve their messaging and sales effectiveness.

“Most communication is targeted to the neocortex or the new brain,” Renvoise says. “We develop logical sales messages that are aimed at the neocortex, but they have absolutely no impact on the old brain. The old reptilian brain doesn’t understand words. [For it] you’ve got to find a way to illustrate. You have to create images and tell stories that generate emotions. These will have more impact and influence [on the combined brain] than purely logical appeals,” Renvoise says.

Now I’m not saying Revoise is the only neural marketer out there, but I like his understanding of neural science and his practical bent for helping marketing and sales executives. He’s familiar with all the primary texts on neural science, but more importantly, he’s built a concrete model and methodology that marketers and sales leaders can follow to apply the raw ideas of brain science to the practical business of communicating, marketing, selling and making profits.

Says Steve Tonissen, CMO of Lisle, Ill.-based predictive analytics software provider, SmartSignal: “Patrick has synthesized the neural science work and provided a practical method to implement these concepts in our business.

“The idea that you establish the customer’s pain, differentiate your claims, measurably prove the gain the buyer receives and then deliver it to the “old” brain--[that] works for us. What makes them exceptional is they help us identify a way to really stand out.”

Renvoise grew up in Paris and studied computer science at the National Institute of Applied Science where he received his master’s degree in 1983. After completing his military service, he led sales for a French electronics start-up.

In 1988 he was recruited by Silicon Graphics to open its sales office in Toulouse, where he gained experience selling to clients like Airbus, the European Space Agency and Renault. His boss, Bob Bishop, then president of Silicon Graphics International and later the CEO of Silicon Graphics, recruited Renvoise to work at headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

“[From] 1989 to 1995 we were the Google of our day,” Renvoise says. “Remember Jurassic Park, the movie? All of the images were created on Silicon Graphics’ machines. The landing gear of the Space Shuttle was designed and simulated on Silicon Graphics’ machines. The same for the wings of Boeing jets and top-of–the-line BMWs.”

Renvoise managed international sales and marketing at headquarters and supported the international sales organization. In 1996, Renvoise got bit by the entrepreneurial bug.

He worked with three start-ups from 1996 to 2001, including Accom Inc., a maker of real-time virtual television studios that went public in 1996; Live Picture, a maker of picture-editing software that was headed by former Apple CEO John Scully; and Linuxcare, a provider of customer support services for Linux users that was backed by Kleiner Perkins.

“All three of the ventures had great technology,” Renvoise says, but that wasn’t enough. They had to have marketing and sales execution that moved buyers. It was there that the ventures came up short. “If you can’t explain the product and move the buyer in a few words and images, it’s not going to succeed,” he says.

Learning this lesson, Renvoise co-authored Neuromaketing: Understanding the “Buy Buttons” in Your Customer’s Brain. He founded SalesBrain almost by accident.

Renvoise had been very interested in the science of the brain and had studied all the popular sales methodologies. “ Each [sales] method gave me incremental advantage, [but] they weren’t comprehensive and they didn’t take into account the brain’s function. They were teaching the art of selling without scientific justification.”

“The people reading our book started asking if we would consult with them. Companies like Stratex (now Harris Stratex), a microwave radio provider came to us and asked if we could translate our ideas into programs. The rest is history,” Renvoise adds.

Renvoise’s advice to young marketers and sales executives is to start by working with the brain. “Truly put yourself in the head of your customer. You can no longer ignore the huge research that has been done on the brain.”
“If I knew as a young marketer what I know today, I would be retired,” Renvoise quips.

Michael Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago, and can be reached at or



 ©2009 Marion Consulting Partners