The brain’s system 1 and system 2 in marketing.

What are system 1 and system 2? They are terms that have been around for quite a while in the realm of psychology but they were brought to public attention in the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman’s book was published in 2001 and won a National Academies of Sciences award for communication. In his best selling work, Kahneman describes how the mind uses two distinct systems in making decisions. This dual process is at the heart of effective B2B marketing.

To put it cheekily, system 1 and system 2 are the Doctor Oz and Mister Spock of the mind, respectively.

Doctor Oz, or, system 1, appeals to our brain’s desire for instant gratification, our doubts and fears, and easy solutions. His show is perpetually promoting diet secrets, super foods that will make you live longer, and miracle cures. He identifies a basic want, fear or need and satisfies that with a product or service regardless of truth, effectiveness, or scientific proof.

Mister Spock, or, system 2, appeals to our rational mind, our analytical nature, our ability to engage in complicated pro and con analysis. System 2, or, Spock brain, is hopefully in charge when you are buying a house, evaluating a career change, or deciding when to become a parent. System 2 is the opposite of system 1, although there is most definitely a Venn diagram overlap between the two systems when it comes to persuasion and marketing.

It is logical to have compelling data when selling.

Here are some examples of system 1 thinking in marketing. Let’s start with a billboard. When you are hurtling down the highway at 65 miles an hour and you glance at a billboard while listening to the radio and keeping an eye on the vehicles speeding around you, your brain does not have the luxury of time or attention to engage in anything other than system 1 thinking. Whatever that billboard is selling has got to be done fast and with short and punchy copy and images to create desire. If I were to anthropomorphize our billboard it might say “hello, here’s a picture of a delicious, hot and juicy hamburger that would taste so good right now, and it’s available for just $4.99 at the very next exit”. Delicious food, available immediately and at a price almost everyone can afford. It is calling our inner Homer Simpsons and our inner Homers reply “Mmmmmm. Hamburger.”

Snapchat’s main features of sending fleeting pictures of yourself with rainbow lasers coming out of your eyes and a horse’s body transposed over your own is most certainly system 1 in nature. There’s absolutely nothing to think about or consider. It’s pure, unadulterated fun and a quick dopamine hit. The fact that you can also use Snapchat to read content from the Washington Post, the New York Times and National Geographic is a great example of using system 1 playful content to get to system 2 serious content, and it’s the system 2 content that makes Snap money and keeps visitors in the app for longer.

And examples of system 2? One of my favorite examples of brilliant system 2 marketing is the famous VW ad from the 1960s picturing a plain black VW Beetle against a white background with the tagline “Lemon.”. It immediately gets the brain thinking on a somewhat complicated level. I can almost hear Spock’s voice; “But Captain, to have a car company call its own product a lemon, is…illogical.” If you’re unfamiliar with this advertisement, the critical part is that in a few paragraphs of copy in a small and plain font (creating the impression this is serious) the advertisement goes on to explain that this particular VW Beetle had a blemish on a piece of interior trim, and thus, it was deemed not good enough to be sold. Quality, attention to detail, fastidiousness. That’s system 2 appeal.

Don Draper wishes he had thought of this.

Effective B2B marketing is a careful combination of system 1 and system 2. In marketing it always helps to have a customer profile to help frame the discussion, so, to illustrate more clearly I’m going to ask you to put yourself in the mind frame of a marketing manager at a mid sized company who has been tasked by her boss with selecting a vendor for email marketing and marketing automation. A lot is riding on this choice for our marketing manager. Making the right choice will make her look good in the eyes of management and bring potential profits for her employer. Making the wrong choice could damage her career prospects and anger management and her co-workers.

Our fictional marketing manager will be best influenced by a system 1 and system 2 combination punch. The system 1 punch should be on the homepage and all major landing pages. It should appeal to her aspirations, needs and fears. Imagine our marketer does some Googling and finds LeadRocket, an email and automation software vendor. She clicks. The first thing she sees is a homepage headline: “We are LeadRocket. We provide easy to use, rock stable platforms to send email newsletters, DRIP and nurture campaigns and we do it at a price a company of any size can afford. Let us help you rocket to success.”

Let’s break this down in terms of system 1 thinking. “We are LeadRocket.” It’s an introduction. It’s humanizing. It’s calming. All good business relationships begin with an introduction. The words “us” and “we” in our headline reinforce the message that there are helpful people at hand, and our manager will not be dealing with a monolithic mega corporation who will ignore her. The “We provide…” sentence tells our manager exactly what the services are and what to expect: ease of use, stability, capability. Our marketing manager was worried she’d pick something that would be too complicated for Matt in PR to use. She was worried she’d pick something that crashed all the time. She was worried she’d pick something that didn’t have the features she was told were necessary. She was worried only the expensive platforms would provide what she needed. The headline allayed her fears and told her she found the (potentially) right tool in under 5 seconds. The “Let us help you…” sentence also takes aim at system 1 thinking. It says “fear not, we’re here to help you, you’re not alone in this” and “you will achieve success quickly”.

So, now that our marketing manager has had her system 1 engaged we deploy the system 2 part of the combination. Just below that headline are links to the all important details: a PDF file comparing the features of LeadRocket vs. other more commonly known providers in the space, a Forrester report on top rated email providers listing LeadRocket among the best, a video demonstrating how you can create a DRIP campaign in under 4 minutes. All of this content is unemotional, factual and system 2 friendly and it supports what you claimed in the system 1 appealing headline.

Assume our marketing manager was intrigued enough to fill out a lead generation form for LeadRocket’s sales team to follow up on. A dual system approach is still an effective way for LeadRocket’s marketing to proceed through the sales cycle that may require months of time and multiple touches. LeadRocket can put our manager into a nurture email campaign that employs system 1 appealing subject lines like “This marketer got 3X growth in sales. So can you.” and then in the body of the email follows up with system 2 content such as case studies with facts and data of client success, technical specifications on speed and ease of implementation, and so on. If, in our lead generation form, our marketing manager has entered her company’s industry or vertical LeadRocket would also be wise to make sure that system 2 content is personalized. For example, the case studies should be for companies in the same industry and of the same size, thus, making that system 2 appeal more relevant to our prospect.

In summary, B2B marketing is not just about technology, it’s also about psychology. Given the high price point of most B2B products and services it’s critical to make sure that you not only got your prospect’s attention with system 1 content buy you follow up with a steady stream of system 2 content that provides proof that your given product or service is the right choice. As Mister Spock would say; live long and prosper.

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