Learn how your customers think
Why? Because information overload means it’s much harder to get people to notice you—even if you have something they need.
Nothing succeeds without attention. Movies don’t hit blockbuster status, relationships don’t thrive, and leads don’t get generated.
We’re all vying for space and time in the attention economy. Or as Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, put it: “[Netflix’s] biggest competitors are YouTube, Facebook, and sleep.”
And guess what: you’re competing with Netflix too. How the heck do you do that?
Grab H.E.R. attention maps
Full disclosure: I’m a cognitive psychologist. And since every customer journey starts with them noticing you, I’m going to outline how attention works.
Attention is the brain’s way of deciding what’s important. It’s like a series of micro-decisions that unfold from moment to moment. And those decisions are guided by something called “priority maps.”
These priority maps are drawn up through the conversations of three influencers in your brain—Habit, Executive, and Reward—the H.E.R. systems.
Let me introduce you to each of them.
Habit system: the searchlight for stimuli
Imagine walking through a busy city street or shopping mall. Where are your eyes drawn?
Things like flashing lights, human faces, and text. And people jumping in front of you at conference vendor booths.
These are the natural attractors of attention—they’re built into our priority maps and stored as Habits in the parietal lobe in the back of your brain. And they’re always on the lookout for interesting things around you.
This is why emergency vehicles have flashing lights, and why people’s faces adorn effective ads. It’s also why animated GIFs work well on social media, and why pop-ups pollute your browsing experience—you can’t resist them.
Executive system: the project manager
You can also program your own priority maps. Sitting there behind your forehead is the frontal lobe, home to the Executive system. It’s the lobe that makes humans special—the reason we can imagine unseen realities and design long-term plans to bring those dreams to life.
The Executive lets us overwrite pre-programmed habits and focus our attention on goals.
So when I need to buy a present for my wife’s birthday, or finish a project at work, my Executive is constantly asking “Is what I’m doing now relevant to my goals?” “Is this a good use of my time?”
The Executive also helps us filter out noise—like clickbait banner ads: “Click here to get 100k new followers who really care about you overnight!” Bullshit. People don’t even see these ploys anymore. Thanks Executive system.
Reward system: where feelings are born
The third mapmaker is the Reward system, part of the limbic system buried in the middle of your brain. It’s the maker of emotions, the dripper of dopamine, the mother of motivation.
The Reward system builds priority maps that lead to pleasure and avoid pain.
In his newest book Pre-Suasion, Robert Cialdini outlines the frontline commanders of attention: the sexual, the threatening, and the different.
Then once you’ve grabbed attention? Use the self-relevant, the unfinished, and the mysterious to hold on to it. This is the fuel of the Reward system.
Design with the mapmakers in mind
Now what does all this mean for lead generation?
Every time someone encounters your brand, H.E.R. systems are playing tug-of-war for their attention. Here’s what they’re going back and forth about:
- What automatically grabs my gaze and pulls me in? [Habit]
- Is this relevant to me and my goals? [Executive]
- How does it make me feel? Do I like what I see? [Reward]
These questions shape the priority maps that keep a person locked on your message, or bouncing out to the next distraction.
But learning how your customers think is only half of the equation. Here comes the really important part—knowing what they value.