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Christophe Morin

Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

To Be More Persuasive, Tap Into the 'Primal Brain'

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Conduct your next client presentation over an “emotional cocktail” preceded by a “pain dialogue.” That potent agenda, based on brain science, will boost advisors’ power of persuasion by focusing on investing decisions’ emotional stakes.

So says Christophe Morin, Ph.D., co-founder of neuromarketing agency SalesBrain, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor. He reveals how neuroscience research, measuring brain activity, helps FAs, and others, target the decision-making part of the brain. It is this, the primal brain, that encourages clients to make faster, better investing choices, he maintains.

Morin’s new book, “The Persuasion Code: How Neuromarketing Can Help You Persuade Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime” (Wiley-Sept. 2018), co-written with SalesBrain co-founder Patrick Renvoise, lays out specifics for employing brain-science findings to create messages that impact the primal brain and, at the same time, prepare clients to talk about solutions.

Morin argues: First, sell the primal brain — the brain’s fast system; then address the future with the rational brain — the slow system. Though mostly unconscious, the primal brain — responsible for survival — dominates the persuasion process, he says.

SalesBrain’s neuromarketing persuasion model, based on the primal brain’s dominance in buying decisions, is a step-by-step process to package a primal-brain friendly sales message.

Morin, 58, a 30-year marketing veteran who teaches media neuroscience at Fielding Graduate University, is a frequent corporate speaker who, with Renvoise, has trained more than 200,000 executives globally. Financial clients include PayPal, Prudential, SelectQuote, TransUnion and Wells Fargo.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed the Honolulu-based Morin, speaking by phone from Birmingham, Alabama, where he was holding workshops. In “The Persuasion Code” — sequel to “Neuromarketing: Understanding the ‘Buy Buttons’ in Your Customer’s Brain” (2007) — the authors illustrate the primal brain’s purpose with, for instance, this equation:  If Cookie + Candy = $1.10, “how much is the candy if the cookie costs $1 more than the candy?” Not a dime! If that’s what you thought, blame it on your primal brain’s intuition and speed.

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

THINKADVISOR: How can your process help financial advisors work with clients?

CHRISTOPHE MORIN: The challenge to people who sell — in financial services, for example — is to bring their message down to the level of emotional stakes. In many ways, financial consulting is about eliminating worries, fears, frustration and pain points. That’s a conversation for the primal brain. Therefore, advisors need to focus on everything that’s primal-brain friendly.

The primal brain influences all buying decisions and dominates the persuasive effect, you write. Is that what you’ve based your model on?

In his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” [psychologist and] Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes the tension between the primal brain and the rational brain. We’ve taken another spin on this model and confirmed that persuasion has a scientific path in the brain. The idea is to target the decision-making brain — the primal brain.

But you write that making long-term decisions isn’t the primal brain’s purpose. Yet those types of decisions are the ones advisors need to get clients to make.

The primal brain doesn’t understand the future. First, you want to sell motivation in the primal brain. Then, if you’re successful, you get to the rational brain, where you can talk about the future, because by that time, the selling is pretty much done. The primal brain is always on a mission to accelerate decisions. The rational brain is always on a mission to delay decisions.

You write that because emotion triggers decisions, the message should target emotions.

Advertising great David Ogilvy said that the only way you can [effectively] advertise or sell is by lighting a fire under people’s chairs and then presenting the extinguisher. If you talk about financial services to people who haven’t recognized that they’re at risk — by making bad decisions on their own or not having an advisor who’s qualified — they won’t take interest in what you’re saying.

So first present the pain and then communicate how that problem can be solved?

Exactly. We recommend that people in consultative selling spend time at the beginning of a meeting for a pain dialogue to confirm what the client’s pain points are. Typically, people sell too fast and tend to skip that conversation. But the more people talk openly about their worst nightmares and describe their worries, they’re priming themselves to talk about the “extinguishers.”

Please elaborate on the “emotional cocktail” that should be stirred up.

Typically, people don’t make decisions without one. An emotional cocktail is [composed of] hormones or chemicals that are exchanged between neurons. They help us make decisions and remember them.

How would an advisor create a message that’s primal-brain friendly?

Make sure you’re speaking about the client’s pain — not just about your business. Be sure to [trigger] an emotional cocktail. Use the idea of contrasting: This is your life with a financial advisor; life would be risky without one. Make it tangible. Use analogies, which bridge what you already know to something new. Use familiar situations. Make it memorable. Make it visual. And provide concrete evidence to prove what you say.


You boil down your process to four steps: Diagnose the pain, Differentiate your claim. Demonstrate the gain. Deliver to the primal brain. Please elaborate.

You need to answer the threat or risk that you can place your bet on because that’s a magnet for the primal brain’s attention. You must identify and prove to your customers that you can empathize and competently solve their pain. But don’t give people a laundry list of all the things you can do. The primal brain hates that. It wants a maximum of three compelling reasons.

“Differentiate your claim.” That’s stating what sets you apart from the competition?

Right. For the most part, people are buying you, the financial advisor [the person]. So your claim can be about what’s unique about you as an advisor that would help people trust that you can do a better job with their money than another advisor or themselves on their own.

How do you “demonstrate the gain”?

Take time and effort to produce the evidence [that proves your claim]. If the primal brain can’t grab, recognize and process that evidence, it will remain suspicious.

The primal brain is mostly visual, you write.

We’re visual decision-making machines because vision is by far the most dominant of all the senses. Pictures and videos have a much faster and stronger emotional effect [than words only].

What are your thoughts about PowerPoint presentations? They’re visual.

Often people believe that all they need are slides with bullets. I’m not against PowerPoints. I’m against PowerPointitis! It’s a massive disease. Instead of a PowerPoint, you could instead present the evidence in, say, the form of a video testimonial.

The last step is Deliver. You write: Deliver your message to the primal brain with “a killer presentation, a sticky website, a stunning ad or a compelling video.”

Or it could be in the form of a conversation. Props can be part of the delivery; or you can act out a minidrama, where you become the customer in order to reawaken their pain. This creates instant identification, empathy and trust.

What sorts of props might be employed?

We recommend that people who sell face-to-face use props because objects are concrete and much more primal-brain friendly than words. For example, a financial advisor could use a raw egg to show the fragility of the client’s money and to introduce a [dialogue] about having a nest egg and protection.

You recommend speaking in short, easy-to-understand sentences — and to refrain from using jargon with clients. Why is jargon not productive?

Because it will immediately turn off the primal brain. One thing people are good at is faking paying attention: They don’t want to share that they’re bored to death or that they don’t trust someone. So they’ll act as if everything is cool and at the end, say, “Thank you. Email me whatever information you have” — and then never talk to you again.

How do you arouse attention in the primal brain?

You have to hijack people’s attention. Stories, props, a visual that reminds them of a risk or threat will do it.

You advise against fake smiles because, as you write, “the primal brain of your client will detect that it’s not a real smile and that you are not trustworthy.”

We want people to follow a checklist because it’s proven to work, but we don’t want them to be different from who they are or to change their natural energy — [clients] are pretty good at detecting bulls—. We don’t want to turn [advisors or others who sell] into robots. We want them to unleash their passion because that’s contagious.

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