As a small business owner, you are pulled in many directions. Marketing can start to feel like a necessary evil driven by concerns of what it will do to the budget.

At its core, marketing is about attracting leads who are primed to convert into paying customers. When done correctly, it is tracked and absolutely worth the investment. And it can be fun and quirky--I once cut a car in half for a promotion about auto loan refinancing (more about that later).

The good news is, we can use the neuroscience to be better marketers. 

Subconscious Rules

First, I need to tell you an important thing about the human brain: Up to 95 percent of decisions are made by the subconscious. It is driven by rewards and visual cues and it gets bored really quickly. When building campaigns, people tend to cram in as much as possible because they are trying to answer every question and address any possible point of interest. The result is often a piece with too much going on, so it gets ignored altogether. 

In The Buying Brain, author Dr. A.K. Pradeep informs us that the subconscious is busy filtering through 11 million bits of information per second to determine what makes it up the chain to the slower, conscious brain (which can only handle about 40 bits). If your marketing is going to take a lot of time to process it is at risk of being ignored.

Too Much

In general, it is fair to say that the biggest problem with most marketing is it has too much going on. Too many concepts, too many words--it's all overwhelming.

Thankfully, this 2018 study out of Princeton found that people need much less information than you would think to make a decision (and too much can be counterproductive). 

As I said, the human brain gets overwhelmed incredibly quickly. When that happens, it will make bad decisions. For example, this 1999 study from the Journal of Consumer Research had participants remember either a two or seven digit number while completing a series of tasks (one of which was to choose their snack for after the study was complete).

Those few extra digits had a negative impact on decisions. Those remembering the two digit number were much more likely to choose the healthy fruit salad, while those given the seven digit number were more likely to choose chocolate cake.

Why? When the logical conscious brain is bogged down with miscellaneous junk the subconscious takes over. This means, even if your potential customers know they want to buy from you and that it is in their best interest to do so, they are more likely to make a bad decision and do nothing than take the action to buy if there is too much in your marketing message or sales pitch. 

The risk you run by putting too much on one message is the subconscious saying "nope" and moving on. Or if they had any interest, being filed into the dreaded "to do" pile which sits gathering dust. In marketing messaging, less is always more. 

Cutting The Car

Campaigns that go in a different direction--say, my example of cutting a car in half and creating displays you can interact with in a mall--can cut through the clutter. If you search online for "auto loan refinancing promotion" you will find countless examples of ads with endless points including the rate, extra bonuses, why the financial institution is great, every possible way to contact them, and more.

Now, consider your already busy subconscious filter--are ads like these going to capture its attention? 

Probably not. 

Which is why my example of cutting a car worked. The association for the brain was that it is easier to cut your payment than to cut your car and its goal was to get past the filter and be memorable. 

Getting through the filter is the first and most critical step to marketing that converts, and its biggest hindrance is having too much going on. 

How To Do This Yourself

Don't start with an existing promotion and see what you can remove (that will trigger loss aversion and end up clunky). Instead, start with a blank slate and only add what really, really needs to be there. When you think you have it to the bare minimum, go back for another culling--how can you cut those 10 words down to five?

The best part is, case studies are all around you. Consider the thousands of marketing messages hitting your brain every day. Which ones do you ignore? Which can you not help but click on? How do those compare with what you are creating in your business? The answers may surprise you. 

Published on: Jun 26, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.