The Brain Game
December 30, 2009
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
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
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
“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
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.
Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago,
and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com