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Massi Casini

The ONE thing ALL customers buy

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When was the last time you had to pitch your business? Was it face-to-face? In an email? Or maybe last weekend you went to a party and someone asked you: “So, what do you do?”

Being able to talk about what you do effectively is one your most powerful weapons, and it comes down to knowing exactly what your customers want form you.

Whatever it is that you do, there is ONE THING that every single customer is buying from you, every single time.

You see, the thing that you actually sell is never the reason why customers choose you instead of your competition. It isn’t even the reason they decided to buy in the first place.

Whether you’re an insurance broker, a personal trainer, a gardener or you sell heavy machinery, all customers are buying the same one thing.

To understand what that is, we need to look at story. Story is the most powerful language we humans know, and at Brand Lighthouse we use story to help our customers communicate clearly and effectively, and ultimately create the results they want.

You’ve probably heard of the character arc. It’s the inner journey of a character over the course of the story. Characters must evolve, grow, learn, or change as the plot unfolds, or the story won’t work. When we first encounter the hero, he or she is a certain kind of person, and gradually they transform into a different kind of person. And by the time the story ends we expect them to be in a higher position than when they started .

This is unavoidable for the hero, but it’s actually true for most characters (in fact, have you ever noticed that the characters that don’t change often end up dying in stories?).

The hero must change, evolve and grow, because that is what we expect from our own lives.

This “arc”, or transformation is what we look for in all the decisions we make, and buying decisions are certainly no exception.

And that is why the one thing that all customers, invariably, are buying from you is a transformation.

All customers buy the same thing: transformation

They find themselves in a less than ideal situation and are hoping that by interacting with you they will be able to improve it.

This is true for everyone: from the woman who goes to a chiropractor to the exec who wants to buy machinery for his company’s plant.

Whatever you do, don’t think for a minute that this doesn’t apply to your business. If you work in health and fitness this is self evident, but say you sell B2B services to big corporations: the manager who is considering placing an order, hiring your company or in any way giving you some of their company’s money, is looking to improve something. Maybe they’re hoping to increase productivity, or improve some process, and on a personal level they might be hoping that this is going to make them look good to their superiors, help them gain a promotion, become more visible, etc.

If you run a nonprofit, that’s even more true: when someone clicks on that Donate Now button, they are very much looking for a transformation (a change in the issue they are donating towards, obviously, but also in the way they feel).

Each customer has a current “before” state and is hoping you’ll help them achieve a positive “after” state.

This is the stuff of good stories, and it’s what moves progress. It’s the reason we have cities, iPhones, motorways, ball-point pens, healthcare, the light bulb and human rights.

A desire for improvement is what makes the world move forward, and what lies behind every purchase.

All we have to do is tap into this desire with our message.

Great power is unlocked when we discover what the “before” and “after” states of our customers are: the power to transform our customers into heroes and our brands into their mentors, in a great powerful story.

So, how do you use this great power?

Articulate the “before” and “after” states when you communicate.

If you articulate a problem that your customers have, and offer a solution, your messaging will be more engaging. But when you also tap into their aspirations and desires, then your messaging will be truly powerful.

Compare these three statements for a financial advisor:

  1. Do you have a problem with your finances? Is money a cause of worry? Hire me.
  2. I’m going to put you on a path to financial freedom. Hire me.
  3. When you’re constantly worrying about money it can seem there’s nothing else to life. What would it mean for you if that worry completely disappeared? Hire me and I’ll show you how you can be the type of person who never worries about money, confident in your progress towards financial freedom.

The first two statements do something right: the first one focuses on a problem (a “before” state), while the second focuses on a positive outcome (an “after” state).

The third one, however, clearly communicates a transformation. You can transform from someone who has financial problems and worries about money into someone who has financial freedom, is confident, and never worries about money.

And did you notice how the call-to-action (Hire me) is placed exactly at the intersection between before and after? It’s almost like we’ve offered our potential customer a switch to activate that transformation. There can be no doubt that Hire me is all you have to do if you want that transformation.

“Hire me” is like the scene in a film where the whole story finds its resolution.

Acknowledge the emotional states of your customer.

Let’s use our financial advisor as an example, and let’s say that you’re considering using his services. Before you approach him, how do you feel?

Maybe you feel worried. You might have a sense of uncertainty, and you might even suspect you’ll never be able to get out of your financial troubles (that’s how I felt a few years ago). Or maybe things are not that bad and you just have some goals. Still, you may feel frustrated or confused by the many options out there, or maybe you don’t even think that you have what it takes to achieve your financial goals.

Now let’s imagine the financial advisor makes good his promise and actually does help you. What does this new you feel like?
You’re not worried any longer, you feel confident, you feel like you’re “one of the few”. You feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.

Whatever you do or sell, you can always dig a little deeper and find out how your customers really feel before and after they’ve done business with you. Obviously I’m assuming that your product or service actually helps someone, in some capacity, but of all the businesses that have come to our workshops I’ve yet to find one where we couldn’t uncover –with some work•– the emotional states of their customers

Offer your customers an identity they can aspire to

Let’s go back to the third statement for our financial advisor. Notice how I didn’t just say “What would it mean to not worry about money?”. Instead, I said “What would it mean to be the type of person who never worries about money?”

As we said, the hero of a story needs to become a better, stronger type of person. The transformation needs to be irreversible if we are to leave the cinema or close a book with a sense of resolution. If the hero’s new reality is precarious we won’t be satisfied by the story. We need to know that the problem has been solved and it isn’t coming back.
Which is why it’s not enough for Frodo to destroy the ring, for Luke to blow up the Death Star or for King George to give a speech. Each of these characters must also overcome their fears and insecurities, and become stronger, more confident people (or hobbits).

In branding we talk about “aspirational identity”, which is a very powerful concept: If you can help your customers not only solve a problem, or reach a positive outcome, but become the kind of person they want to be, then you’re helping them create the ultimate transformation, and they will love you for it!

Two great examples of this concept in action

Example 1

The images you use on your website, especially your header image, are a hugely impactful “touchpoint” for your customers.

Your images should communicate the transformation you offer your customers. In particular you want you images to portray the “after” state your customers will experience.

In this post and this post I explain in some detail how to select header images and what mistakes you should look out for.

Example 2

This weekend you may be going to a barbecue, or to a friend’s house for a party. You meet a few people –some of them could even be potential customers– and someone asks the inevitable “So, what do you do?”

What’s your answer? Do you even have one? If you don’t, then you’re missing an opportunity.

Next time you’re telling someone about your business, try this: instead of just stating the thing that your business does, try and articulate: 1: a problem that you solve, 2: how that problem makes your customers feel, and 3: a positive outcome they’ll experience after interacting with your brand.

“You know how stressful and all-consuming it is to worry about money? We offer a customised plan to get you out of debt quickly and start building your financial stability. So you can live your life stress-free, without ever worrying about money again.”

What? You’re saying that the people you meet at parties don’t have money worries? Ok, how about this one?

“You know how confusing and frustrating it to figure out how to invest your savings? I know! There seem to be a million contradicting offers, doesn’t it? Well, we have a customised plan that is guaranteed to fit your unique situation, so you can sleep better at night knowing that you capital is safe, and actually growing”

What’s the transformation you provide for you clients?

3 ways to make your brand more shareable

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When did you last read a really good book?

I’m talking about miss-your-train-stop good, spend-an-hour-on-the-toilet-to-read good. Got one in mind? What did you do when you finished it? My guess: you told someone about it and recommended it to them. Maybe you even gifted a few copies to people (That’s what I usually do). And guess what: that book probably sold a lot of copies.

As business owners, one of the things we struggle with is getting people to talk about our brand. We can make a lot of noise with our marketing but the reality is that the noise we make is just a whimper in the ocean of messages everyone is bombarded with every day.

But plenty of products or services get talked about –a lot– by the right kind of people, and it’s not just the ones with the biggest marketing budgets. Think of how many times you recommended a bar, a shop, or an app to a friend,. And I don’t mean “recommend” in the web 2.0 sense of the word. I’m talking about the real, person-to-person referrals that happen during most conversations and that move local economies.
Personally I have never left a review on TripAdvisor, but I have sent plenty of people to my favourite restaurants. And so have you.

This is what I call Real World Shareability.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pursue online sharing. Far from it, it can be very effective, but real shareability is way more powerful.
I don’t pay much attention to the brands or products that people share on Facebook, but if my friend Saschia, whom I trust in these matters, tells me that I should try a great new wine bar, you can be sure I am going to check it out.

So how do you build an inherently shareable brand? How do you get your customers to the rooftops, so they can shout about your brand?
There are a lot of things you can do, but here are 3 things that you can start working on today.

Talk to the right people

No brand can be for everyone. Until you’ve identified exactly who you’re talking to –and who you’re never going to talk to– you’ll never have real fans. And you need fans to spread the word. Let’s face it: your brand is not going to go worldwide overnight, but if you find the right tribe it can easily go viral with them.
Start by listing the types of people who will definitely NEVER be your clients. At least now you know who’re you’re NOT talking to, which brings a lot of focus and clarity to your marketing. And then ask yourself who your actual customers are, what they care about, what their dreams and fears are, and what problem your brand solves for them. When you start including your customer’s worldview into your marketing, everything changes.

Focus on the experience

Brand experience, customer experience, user experience… I know, they sound like empty buzzwords and indeed, they are often thrown around randomly. But great power lies within the experience you are able to give your customers, for 2 reasons: 1. A positive experience is one of the best ways I know to create an emotional connection with anyone, and 2. It is completely within your control, even if you’re a one-man company with a very small budget.

Use the formula

This is one of my ultimate brand hacks: One of the most powerful ways to make your brand message more compelling –and shareable– is to present your solution in a “how it works” kind of way. It is a lot easier to understand, and gives your audience an easy script to share. All you need to do is break up what you already do into small bits that people can understand quickly. Sometimes it is enough to present a 1-2-3 process. I will write a lot more about this in the future, because it is hard to convey how powerful this can be if done correctly.

Unless you sell exclusively online, you will have found that word-of-mouth and referrals account for a very big chunk of your revenue. It is true for my own business and it is true for the many businesses I consult with.

It follows, then, that creating a more shareable brand is the ultimate marketing activity for a small business.

Get to work on your brand today!

4 signs that your website is confusing your customers

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There’s one recurring problem that we encounter with the businesses that come to our workshops: the amount of information they include on their marketing material, and how confusing that information often is.

The problem is that when we run a business, we are so close to it that we have a very hard time zooming out and identifying what is important.

Confusing content is one of the biggest obstacles towards a successful brand, and one of the main things I help businesses eliminate. It is very common and can take many forms, but there are some mistakes that you can look out for in your own website, which are likely having a big impact on the effectiveness of your marketing.

Here are a few:

Are you using too much technical language?

Last summer I was in a hardware store near our house looking for a new garden hose. I picked one up that looked rather sturdy, and read the label. It said:
Eagle 150psi Nitrile.
Nitrile Rubber Layflat Large Diameter Hose (LDH)
Below this headache-inducing name, the rest of the box was a big list of technical data and features.
I quickly put it back as if it had Ebola.
Then I picked another, more expensive one. This one said:
NeverKink Heavy Duty.
No kinks. No Tangles. Guaranteed.
I went to the till and paid for it, and I came home to water my lawn. And there were neither kinks, nor tangles!

By the way, on the box they also had a list of technical features, but at that point I was already interested in the product, and the tech stuff served to confirm and justify my decision to buy.
Always think of how your product or service can help your customers. Do they need to know about all the features? They probably do at some point, but until they you have captured your viewers’ attention, a long list of feature is just confusing them.

I came to your website in search of a solution to a problem, and I need you to show me that you can help me first. Also, processing technical language and figures is actually quite energy-intensive for the brain, and using up too much energy is the last thing your brain wants to do.

Do you have grandad syndrome?

You’ve probably seen many websites that give you the “company history” on the homepage. They include sentences like these:

Harry’s great grandfather, started the business when he took over a disused mother-of-pearl button factory in New Hartley, near Seaton Delaval.

My great grandfather started the company in 1932 and every generation has added to the success of the business.

That’s great, but how does that solve my problem? I came to your website because I’m a busy sportswear manufacturer and I need to find a company that will be meet my demand for clip-on buttons, deliver them on time, and work with me to develop exactly what I need.

If you really think that your customers need some background or that it adds personality (and please make it brief), make sure you don’t lead with it. Instead, make it “further reading”. Otherwise you’re just confusing them.

Are you featuring awards and certifications?

I’m sure you’ve all seen websites that have an Awards and Certifications section. Some of them show huge pictures of their ISO9001 certificate, and other “seals of approval”.

Through this certification, we are extremely proud to be recognised as one of the Top 100 dealers nationally.

Good for you. But I still don’t see how you’re going to alleviate my pain as a buyer of clip-on buttons. I’m worried you might not be able to meet my needs, and you’re not really doing anything to reassure me.

Don’t get me wrong: awards and certifications can be a good way to establish trust, but a small one-colour logo in the footer is generally enough. If the award is really important, a little bar just below the fold will work.

Are you talking too much about you personal interests?

This is something I’ve seen plenty of small businesses (especially family businesses) do it. They sometimes include a page or section about things that are obviously very important to the owner but that are not related to how they solve my problem. My favourite is the one about the local sports team that they sponsor, with a blurred photo of some lads in their sports kit. But there is also the big mountain trek that the owner has participated in last year, or worse, their pets.

Sometimes the intention is to make it more personal, and human, and that is fantastic, but the human component should help you make a connection with your audience, not ask them to listen while you go on about yourself.

Now, let’s say that for some reason I am still reading your website, and haven’t already turned to a competitor’s. All the time I’m spending reading about your grandad, or about some award you won last year, it’s time when I could be reading about how you produce the best clip-on buttons, of how you can help me with logistics, and how you can work with me to find the solution that best fits my needs.

I am still reading (I’m obviously not very busy this morning) about the local basketball team you sponsor when I could be calling Steve from Purchases to place an order for 10.000 buttons.

Remember: it is your job is to help me understand why we’re a good fit. If you think that your grandfather is actually important to me, keep it for later, when I know what you do and how it can help me.

If you’ve done a good job of convincing me to consider your product, or if I’ve already purchased, then you can get a little more personal, and tell me about gramps, and how what he did back in ’69 shaped the way you are helping me now.

Until then, it is just clutter.

Is your website confusing your customers?

So many websites are ineffective, and I don’t want yours to be one of them! I have created a guide called the Effective Website Formula, that contains the 6 things you should include in your website. Plus 8 common mistakes to look out for, examples of websites doing it right, and even a website structure that you can rip off.

Get it HERE or simply leave us your name and email below and I’ll send it to you straight away.


How to select the perfect header image (Part 2)

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–This is Part 2 of a 2-part series on How To Select The Perfect Images.–

In part 1 we saw 5 common mistakes people make with their header images.

Hopefully you have been through your website and identified images that were either misleading, purely decorative, negative, crowded or generic (if you haven’t, I recommend you read this post and download the worksheet).

But now that you’ve eliminated the incriminating images, it is time to select one that tells the right story.

What do I mean by telling the right story? Let me tell you something that happened to me.

Yesterday morning I was on a train to work and, as usual, the carriage was packed.

The guy sitting next to me was very large and, because he got on the train before me, he had claim to the armrest. Sitting opposite me was a frowny woman who kept her legs very comfortably extended in front of her, so I had to sit awkwardly, with my feet tucked under my seat.

All the while I was working on my laptop trying to finish a presentation I had to give. Seeing that I have very long legs, and I had a deadline, it was really rather unpleasant.

Then I saw it.

A hanger advert was promoting extra legroom in business class. It featured a single photo of a middle-aged man sitting in a comfy-looking train chair and working on his laptop with a relaxed expression. And his legs were almost fully extended!

The tagline simply read: “Extra legroom”.

I looked from the big man next to me to the old woman opposite me, then I packed my things and headed to the front of the train. I paid the ticket inspector the extra fare and I sat down to work. My legs felt great!

That single image had sold me in an instant.


It told the right story!

Your brand is always telling a story to its audience, in a lot of different ways. When it is actually talking (your website being one of the main ways) the story it tells needs to be right.

Ideally it’s a story about your customers overcoming a problem to get what they want. With the help of your brand!

That photo on the train was telling a story about me getting what I wanted.

In any good story the character goes through a change: either they are cured of their flaws, gain a new perspective or they grow into a new, more complete person. In any case, by the time the story is resolved, they have undergone a big transformation.

Transformation is the one thing that your customers buy, regardless of what you sell. In one way or another you are promising to change something about your customer’s life, even if in a very small way.

The reason we buy anything (the reason we do almost anything) is that our current state or feeling about something is less than ideal and we can improve it.

Your customers are buying the promise of a change. It is true if you’re buying a gym membership but also if you’re buying kitchen equipment (“maybe I’ll become a better cook”), a new camera (“maybe I’ll take better photos”) or a cleaning product (“maybe my house will look cleaner and nicer”)

The result that you promise should always be what your images portray.

And so, this is your rule when selecting images:

Always focus on the transformation.

It’s a very simple rule, but one that can yield amazing results: remember how we said that the average human brain processes an image in 13 milliseconds? Well, that means that in less time than it takes your customers to blink an eye, you have already started telling them a story they want to hear.

For example, if you run a lawn care company, your header image could be of a couple happily enjoying their manicured lawn while their children play safely in the background. Or in the case of our kitchen equipment it could be of some friends around the table enjoying great food, and the host/hostess looking proud.

In a nutshell, you need to think about how someone might feel after your product or service has solved their problem (or simply moved them towards a desired state).

Here are a couple of examples of brands that do it right.


Plated is a meal-kit service. You can select what type of meal you want to cook and they send you a kit with all the ingredients you need, and step-by-step instructions on how to cook it.

Their header image clearly shows how this couple are turned into “experts” (he looks the part) and they are having a great time while using the product.


Turbotax is a webapp by Intuit that helps people file their tax return and easily get refunds. The header image here couldn’t speak more clearly about the customer’s “after” state! She has obviously just used the service and has had a great result, of which she’s very happy!


If you use the transformation rule you really can’t go wrong. You’ll make the right first impression and, most importantly, you will be selling to a real need or desire.

There aren’t many exceptions to the transformation rule, but here are a couple that I thought it’d be worth mentioning.

Your website can use different images if:

You sell design-driven products

If design plays a big part in your products, and is one of its strengths, you may want to showcase the actual product with beautiful, original photography.
Apple is the usual example (you won’t find many photos on their website that don’t feature their products), but here I give you a different one.


Nest make the world’s best thermostat, in my opinion (I live in a cold house near the mountains, so I have opinions on things like thermostats). They could have shown a happy family in a cozy warm house but the products are so beautifully designed (and as such they can become a feature in your house) that it makes sense to showcase them.

The website is about you AND you are a helper


If you, in any way, personally help people reach results either by working with them (think personal trainer, financial advisor, marketing expert, life coach, chiropractor, facilitator, etc.), or through your words (author, public speaker, etc.) then you are a guide for your customer. In other words, transformation is already implicit in what you sell, and you are seen as the vehicle that will take them through their transformation.

In this case the header can feature a picture of you, the guide. Since the relationship is going to be rather personal, and the type of person you are will be a determining factor in your customer’s decision, introducing yourself can be a good idea.

Ramit Seti’s homepage is a good example of a mentor homepage, with the subject looking straight at camera.

A couple of quick tips:

  • off-centre is usually better, especially on the right side (it has to do with the way the eyes move across an image)
  • In general, looking to camera exudes confidence. Looking slightly away is more reassuring. It needs to work with the way you are and feel.

– – –

Selecting images can be very simple. I have given a great time-saving framework for making decisions about your website photos.

Identify a problem your customers have (or a desire), and be clear on how you solve that problem (or help them fulfil that desire). What do your customers feel like when their problem has been removed (or they have achieved what they wanted)?

What is their “after” state?

If you can show this in your images, you can be sure you will be telling the right story.

And it’s a story that your customers can’t wait to listen to!

How to select the perfect header image (Part 1)

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–This is Part 1 of a 2-part series on How To Select The Perfect Images.–

A few weeks ago a new client came through one of our workshops.

As we always do, we opened their website to see how long it would take us to figure out what they do. The website opened with a stunning photograph of a big, majestic oak tree, with beautiful rolling hills in the background stretching all the way to the horizon. It was a lovely photo. Underneath, a headline read: “Nature’s wonders”

I told my client: “Ok, from a very quick glance I would say that you run some kind of resort in a beautiful natural oasis. I don’t see a booking form, though”.
The client looked at me in horror and said: “No! Not even close. We sell sustainable designer furniture.”

If I had scrolled down and started reading the text, then of course I would have read about chairs, tables, and so on, but like most visitors I was only scanning the website, and the header image is what I used to form my first opinion.

Because, here’s the thing:

The human brain takes 13 milliseconds to process an image.

To put that in context it takes about 5 seconds to read and process a headline. This means that before you’ve even registered the presence of words on a website, you’ve already formed an opinion on it.

On top of that users devote about 80% of their attention to the area above the fold (that’s everything that you can see of a website before you have to scroll).

It becomes clear that if you want your website to engage visitors and convert them into buyers, your header image is probably a good place to start.

So, how do you make sure that the very first thing your customers see elicits the right impression?

In this first part, I want to take you through a list of the most common mistakes I see with header images. In part 2 I will give you a formula for selecting the right image every single time.

Your website may be turning customers away if you are making any of these mistakes:

1. Your images are misleading

Think of the example I gave about my furniture client. Obviously their intention was to emphasise the natural quality of their products, and to use Nature to say “sustainability”. But people don’t consume company websites they way they consume a magazine, or even a blog post. You have 13 milliseconds to make an impression. Even if it’s a good one, make sure you’re not making the wrong one!

2. Your images are just decoration

Many companies, and even web designers, select images purely on the visual value they think they will add to the website. This is, at best, a waste of precious digital real estate. I’ve seen plenty of websites that use a textured background (some classics are wood, paper and canvas) just so their headline sits on something pretty. That image serves absolutely no purpose: it does not tell a story, it does not show a product, and it doesn’t move anyone.

3. Your images are negative

Many websites use their images to show the pain or the problem that their customers face, and that they promise to solve. While it is very important to show that you understand your customer’s problem, images are NOT the place to do that.
Remember, 13 milliseconds! In such a short time you will just elicit an emotion, and guess what: if your image portrays a pain it can only be a negative emotion.

4. Your images are too crowded

Regardless of the type of image you selected, or how good they are if your images are too crowded it will lead to a sense of confusion, which is enemy n. 1 in marketing. Your marketing efforts should go towards creating clarity, and a crowded image will ruin that very quickly. 13 milliseconds to be precise!

5. Your images are commonplace

I am talking about generic stock images of people in suits jumping and cheering, attractive tele-support girls smiling at you, businessmen having the best meeting of their lives, and so on.
Please don’t do it. They look stupid and you’re really just inviting visitors to make fun of you.


Bonus mistake: Don’t use sliders.

Sliders, or rotating carousels, show multiple header images in more or less rapid succession. There are 2 main problems with sliders:

1. You know what the brain detects even faster than images? Movement. That’s actually  a very nice feature of our reptilian brain that can save us from a snake lurking in the trees, but when it comes to websites it means that that movement will take our attention away from the message.

2. Sliders are the visual equivalent one of the biggest mistakes you can make in marketing: lack of focus and confusion.
You’re basically telling your viewers that that there is no important message for them to remember and that you’re not that convinced about your product/service/idea yourself.

Are you making any of these mistakes with the images on your website –especially your header image?
If so, your website may not be doing as well as it could, and you could be losing customers.
Go through your website today and start identifying the images that are not working.

When in doubt about an image, ask yourself this question: Is it contributing to tell the right story? If the answer is no, well, you know where the trash can is…


In part 2 we will go through a time-saving framework for selecting/commissioning the right images every time.

3 Ways To Get Your Marketing Message Across

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Funny thing your brain.

In the last few million years of evolution the human brain has refined and tweaked its wiring to near perfection.
It has built enough power to develop language, process staggering amounts of information, and run a pattern recognition machine that is the envy of all the animal kingdom (my own brain has even learned to decipher my accountant’s emails, which –trust me– is no mean feat).

And yet, what does this state-of-the-art, full-spec piece of engineering do pretty much all day?

It counts calories!

Seriously! We descend from a world of scarcity, where a few extra calories could have made the difference between life and death. Imagine finding yourself face-to-face with a lion (or my accountant, for that matter), and you only have a few seconds to fight or flight. I bet you’re wishing you had a little extra porridge this morning…

And before you brush this off as evolutionary nerd-talk, let me bring it closer to your own experience: you are trying to run a business (or hold a job) in a less-than-favourable economic climate, while at the same time trying to be a good parent, a caring spouse, and keep your body in decent shape. You need A LOT of mental energy for that. You can’t afford wasting it.

And yet, every day we are exposed to between 3000 and 5000 commercial messages (!!), which use up a big amount of brain fuel.

So, what does the brain do? As soon as a message is not vital, or simply too confusing, the brain literally shuts it out, in order to conserve energy for more important tasks.
Besides, all these messages come from all kinds of sources, and trying to make sense of them is like multi-tasking, which is always a bad idea: making the brain shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel it needs when we ask it to concentrate on our own message.

We’ve all experienced it. Someone is talking to us about something we’re not particularly interested in (typically it’s my accountant), and on top of that they don’t get to the point and they use confusing language.

To get something out of it, we have to concentrate really hard, and it becomes a real effort. We are burning through fuel too quickly. So we just switch off, and would not be able to repeat what we’ve just been told.

Ok, so what does that have to do with marketing?
Well, this could well be the most important thing you need to know about marketing, ever:

Speak clearly or people won’t engage.

Let me put it another way:

In a complex world, the brain craves clarity. Unless you message is clear, any other marketing effort will be absolutely useless!

These are 3 very basic things you can do to help the brain of your listeners engage with your marketing message, and cut right through the noise and the fog:

Appeal to its sense of survival

This sounds like a tricky one when you sell lawn care or legal services, but it becomes clear when you think about what survival can mean.

I see three main traits to survival:

  • basic,
  • selfish,
  • social.

It is basic because it’s about basic necessities, and because it’s urgent, so anything too complicated, irrelevant or inconsequential gets ignored. As we’ve seen above, the brain always filters out confusing messages.

It is selfish because the brain is concerned with its own survival. A marketing message, in order to be effective, needs to be about the listener. Either it’s about them personally, their problem and their desires, and how you plan to help them, or it needs to be from their perspective.
Make sure you make it obvious that it is about them.

Seemingly in contradiction with the previous point, is social: in order to survive, and to thrive, we need a tribe, and we need to know that the tribe will be there to protect us when danger approaches. And so we need things like social networks (in the original sense of the word), a sense of community, and status.
This means that you can make your message really effective if you talk about how you’re going to help them find a loyal tribe, which could mean, depending on what you do, that you’ll help them be loved/liked by people, be respected by their peers or have the approval of their superiors.
Another aspect is status: This is important in any tribe because it is what will help us secure a mate, scare off enemies and win powerful allies. That’s why we spend thousands on a Rolex when a 30£ Swatch does exactly the same thing.


  • Keep it simple (at least to begin with)
  • Make it about them
  • Talk about how you’re going to help them to: be liked, be respected, gain status.

Speak to the customer’s pain

It’s a common mistake to only focus on the benefits of your product or service, without taking the time to talk about the problem. The reptilian part of the brain (which is the gatekeeper, and is the one we’re focussing on in this post) is more concerned about avoiding pain than it is about gaining pleasure (that’s the job of the mammalian brain, which we’ll talk about another time) so telling someone how great you’ll make them feel may not be very effective if you don’t also grab their attention by establishing a problem.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t explain what you can do for your customers (it also doesn’t mean that you set out to make people feel bad about themselves!). Quite the opposite: everyone has obstacles they are trying to overcome, and you need to know what they are. You can only do this by listening and getting to know them, and you need to show them that you understand their problem.
And then you need to make it very clear how you’re going to alleviate their pain.


  • Establish a problem your customers are facing
  • Describe the problem as vividly as possible
  • Explain how you’re going to remove that problem

Don’t ask your customers to burn up too much mental energy

I said this in the introduction, but it’s so important that I actually added it as a separate point.
Our brain, in spite of accounting for only 2% of our body mass, burns 20% our energy, so it is very concerned with conserving calories.

The best way to make it easy for the brain is, as we said at the beginning, practice clarity in every word of your message.

Whether it’s your website, your keynote speech, your elevator pitch or just an email, make a habit to put yourself in the shoes of a very busy person, who is only scanning your content and is also thinking about a million other things (and, painfully, doesn’t really give a crap about what you have to say, unless she feels there’s something in it for her).

With my clients I always use the analogy of the Lighthouse as a way to mean the single thing we want to achieve with our message, or the single point we want to get across.

At every sentence, keyframe, or slide, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Is this taking me closer to my Lighthouse?
  • Why should they care?

Can you answer the last two questions? Are you clear on how your brand is helping your customer solve a problem?

If you’re answer is not a resounding YES, then please don’t bother with that email campaign, the new website or that cool video you are commissioning, and try to get clear on the points above first. Until you do I promise you that you are literally wasting money and time with your marketing efforts.


Work on building some clarity today! You’ll thank me later.