My Brain Hurts

Sep 22, 2019

Let’s say that a new telephone company offers you a discounted “bonus plan”, but it’s only applicable in months that end in “er,” and you must order a new phone within the next 24 hours for the offer to be valid. When you try the online link, it doesn’t work. To make matters worse, you get a note that you only have 5 minutes to complete the transaction.

The above does not create “cognitive ease”— a neuroscience term that measures how effectively our brain processes information. The offer is way too complex, and cluncky technology gets in the way of action. For Monty Python fans, it conjures up the sketch where John Cleese cries out, “My brain hurts.”


Are you making your customer’s brain hurt?

Marketers use the concept of cognitive ease to help customers make purchase decisions. Our brains don’t like expending energy while making a purchase. An offer that is overly complicated (or technology that is too slow), makes a customer tune out the message. On the other hand, information that is easy to understand gives a sense of cognitive ease, and more likely to lead to a purchase.  

There are some obvious ways to create such ease, e.g. write simple, direct copy; select easy-to-read fonts; and use visual product descriptions. Of coure, smooth navigation through your website is critical. Regularly test online links to make sure they work, and load quickly (less than 10 seconds).

Some other—not as obvious—ways to increase cognitive ease include:

  1.  Limit options. The average North American is faced with over 70 choices a day. Don’t add to “choice overload". When Procter and Gamble decided to go from 26 to 15 different kinds of Head & Shoulders, sales increased by 10%.

  2. Know your audience and confirm what’s important to them. Information that aligns what they already believe to be true is easier on the brain than something contrary. Selling to healthcare workers? Remind them that your product is for “caring professionals” like them.

  3. Use brand identity to create familiarity. Logos, imagery and messaging that feels familiar creates cognitive ease.

  4. Use testimonials and brand ambassadors that resonate with your customers’ values. Building trust takes away some of the decision pressure—ah, can you just feel the cognitive ease!


Take a look at your offers

The human brain likes easy decisions. If your lead-to-sales conversion rates aren’t as high as you expected, you might want to consider what’s going on in your customer’s brain. Are you making it easy for them to make a decision, or unintentionally creating negative emotions such as confusion, frustration, doubt, or simply—indecision. Don’t make their brains hurt! Help them make decisions and buy with ease.

Cognitive ease as a concept makes sense because we have felt both sides of the spectrum ourselves, we have felt overload in poorly designed offerings, and we have felt delighted with breezy interactions. Marketing works the same way!

Maguire Marketing Group is a B2B and Professional Services marketing agency in Toronto focused on helping businesses grow by getting marketing tasks off their plate. Book a complimentary session and let us help you deliver effective marketing that gets results.