“Spock is Real” Phenomeon

Misconceptions are legendary. Who hasn’t heard (or said), “What we have here is a failure to communicate?” At a recent trade conference, a speaker cited misconceptions that have traditionally plagued the world of marketing. One that struck a loud chord is this: rational thought drives the majority of people’s purchasing behavior.

The speaker called it the “Spock is Real” phenomenon – i.e., we assume that people use analytical, data-driven, left-brain processes whenever they buy something. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Show some emotion

The real player in any purchase decision is our emotions. It’s certainly not a new notion that emotions play a huge role in people’s purchase behavior. But they may have an even larger impact than we assumed.

Our brains drive everything we do.  Yet the process is complex and multi-layered. Our visceral brain, the so-called “lizard” brain, works the fastest – instantly determining the imminent level of threat. It precedes the instinctive “fight or flight” reflex.

The second brain part is the limbic system, which adds positive or negative emotional information to the stimuli from the “lizard” brain. (Still with me? Or have you decided to take flight?)

The limbic brain also works automatically – it’s an unconscious activity that triggers our raw emotions: joy, fear, ambition, greed, love, esteem, etc.

Research confirms that the limbic (emotional) system steers pretty much all our buying behavior. When faced with a product or service opportunity, we instinctively have an emotional reaction. Will it make us happy or proud? Will it protect us from something bad? Does it provide comfort or elevated status?

So, how does the limbic system have to do with marketing or advertising? Simply, the best messages appeal literally to the heart of the matter. They provoke (or evoke) a human feeling. Of course, as marketers we need to do our homework and identify the audience’s emotional needs beforehand.

It also means that marketers need to rely less on appealing to Dr. Spock’s “rational” brain when positioning a product or service – and aim more for the gut feelings, e.g., those more often expressed by Captain Kirk. And let’s not forget, Captain Kirk is the one who sits in the driver seat of the Enterprise. (And Kirk is real, right?)

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