If you think about it, marketers have the same goals as learning and development (L&D) professionals: We are trying to capture the attention of our audiences and move them to take action. We are trying to influence behavior. Often, it seems that marketers have more success than learning professionals. It might help engage and influence learners if L&D professionals learned to think like marketers.

The lizard brain dominates

Marketers recognize that they are in the persuasion business. What does your intuition tell you about the best way to persuade someone? For many people, the first thought is to line up a set of facts and figures that make a logical appeal to the audience. After all, once people have the facts, the choice will be easy and obvious. Right?

Unfortunately, intuition can sometimes lead us off course, and this is one of those times. Marketers understand that other factors are more important than logic when it comes to influencing human behavior.

Humans have two levels of thinking: conscious/logical and subconscious/emotional. Our conscious mind is slow, rational, and deliberative. It is the part of our thinking that we use for analysis, reasoning, and deliberate thought.

In contrast, our subconscious mind is insanely fast, reflexive, and automatic. Besides autonomous systems like breathing, our subconscious brain also handles things like our survival and emotions. This part of the brain, often called the “lizard brain,” has kept living beings alive for millennia. Since the dawn of humankind, it is what we have used to assess and react to threatening situations. This type of thought is dominant and happens without us even being aware of it.

For most people, it is surprising to learn that the subconscious mind controls 95–99 percent of human behavior. This means that our logical mind is not in control of our actions, which explains why logic is not what persuades others.

Most marketers know this—while most people in training and learning development don’t. What are those marketing people doing that we aren’t? They’re talking to the subconscious “lizard brain”—which means they are much better at getting people’s attention and spurring them to think and act in new ways.

Storytelling influences behavior

Another area where marketers excel is in knowing how to tell a story. Storytelling aligns well with the lizard brain response. Research has shown that stories can activate regions of the brain that process sights, sounds, tastes, and movement.

In other words, stories are able to tap the subconscious emotions that influence behavior. Compare a storytelling approach with a 172-slide data dump delivered via PowerPoint. Which one do you think has a better chance of success?

This Subaru ad on YouTube is one of my favorite examples of how powerful a simple story can be.

You can literally feel the difference between the approach Subaru takes and an endless parade of PowerPoint slides loaded with facts and figures, right?

Marketing tools L&D can borrow

Marketers use a variety of tools and techniques to help them tell stories and influence our lizard brains. One with particular relevance to our L&D world is personas. Personas are marketing’s version of an audience analysis. A persona is a fictional representation of the characteristics, needs, motivations, and environment of a key segment of the target audience.

The process of creating each persona can prompt you to ask relevant questions. Answering them with your audience in mind can help you arrive at learning solutions that resonate with your learners—and help tilt to odds of your project's success in the right direction.

Marketers also know the value of having a solid content strategy for getting the right content to the right people at the right time.

With personas and other information serving as a solid foundation, a good content strategy can answer questions such as:

  • What content is already available?
  • How can we re-purpose content for different situations?
  • What are the best delivery channels?
  • When is the best time to deliver each type of content on each channel?

A good content strategy can help L&D teams create truly relevant and useful content for the people in the organization, helping them solve the challenges they face. Plus, this type of holistic approach can make a team more efficient. More effective and more efficient—something everyone can appreciate!

Put marketing strategies to work in L&D

L&D professionals should take a look at tactics that marketers have been successfully using for years to capture attention and move people to take action. Join Bianca Baumann and Mike Taylor for “L&D Strategies from the Marketing Playbook,” a daylong workshop prior to DevLearn 2019 Conference and Expo. The workshop is October 22; DevLearn is October 23–25, in Las Vegas.

You’ll gain a deeper understanding of how to appeal to learners’ lizard brains—and the tools and best practices to build marketing-inspired visuals, videos, and campaigns.