In Inbound Marketing, Marketing Strategy

Using Neuroscience to Improve your Content Marketing

I recently had the pleasure of sitting in a presentation by Dr. Carmen Simon, the co-founder of Memzy. Carmen is an experienced cognitive scientist, published author, and frequent keynote speaker. Her presentation was chock-full of information and I’ve pulled together an abridged version to help us all in our daily content marketing decisions.

Attention + Memory + Decision = Action

rexi method

Image source: Dr. Carmen Simon, Memzy

Marketing (content marketing, inbound marketing, digital marketing, whatever you prefer) can be boiled down to a few simple goals:

  1. Get people’s attention
  2. Educate them about your service or product
  3. Help them remember you
  4. Convince them to decide on you
  5. Buy/act

Unfortunately, our brains gets in the way. In a buzzing, beeping, flashing, and pop-up world – competing for attention is almost impossible. But, if you take the time to understand the beast we’ve created, then we can make a plan for navigating the battlefield.

ha·bit·u·a·tion, noun


the diminishing of a physiological or emotional response to a frequently repeated stimulus.

Humans are animals. Every day we go out into the world and fight incessant distractions and threats to our focus. And, our brain rewards us for adapting quickly with a little boost of happy hormones (dopamine) to make sure we don’t give up. This cycle is repeated hundreds, even thousands of times a day as bright lights, sounds, moving objects and more flash in front of our eyes.

Like little mice earning our cheese in a behavioral study, our brains reward us for solving problems and surviving these “threats.” But, the more we take on, the more we think we can handle. We habituate, and create a new normal. When something is normal, it doesn’t grab out attention. And there it is: as our brain adapts to a stimulus, the threshold for our attention gets higher and higher. 


Habituation is determined by two things: How new does it feel and how stimulating is it? As Dr. Simon asked, “What’s something you used to think of as a treat that you now find mundane?” A couple examples:

  1. How long after switching your phone over to an LTE or 4G hookup did you start feeling frustrated by a 3G connection? When you’re streaming Netflix, how angry do you get when the buffering screen pops up? Well, way back in the day, those slow connections used to be exciting! They were all we had.
  2. Did you know: The average length of a single shot in a movie in the 1940s was ten seconds. (A shot being how long before the angle changes) Today, the average length is less than four seconds. It takes more movement to keep our attention.

How do you compete?

So marketers have created a world that is making it harder for us to do marketing? Probably. What do we do about it?

  1. Know what your audience’s “normal” is. With precise, in-depth research into your personas day-to-day life, you’ll get a better understanding of what they’ve habituated to. Once you know, you’ll be better able to grab their attention by changing the stimulus.
  2. Consider adding an element of anticipation and uncertainty, other factors that affect our attention. What can you do to build a discovery process? Think: “What lies beyond the secret door?”

Glitter is great…until it’s all over everything.

When glitter is in front of you, it always feels like a good idea. Right? It’s shiny, sparkly, grabs your attention. And then disaster strikes. It’s in your hair, in your carpet, on all of your clothes…and in other unmentionable places.

The battle to get people’s attention can feel impossible. While all of the above research can make you want to throw glitter on everything, I urge you to proceed with caution. A) Glitter is a mess. B) It’s not for everyone.

As always, check every decision against what aligns with your target audience. Based on Dr. Simon’s research, you should specifically be focused on what they define as “normal.” Glitter may not be necessary. You may only need to switch from using facts to telling a story, or teXt to graphics, monologue to a dialogue.

All in all, it’s a marketer’s world and we’re just living in it – may the odds be ever in your favor! Good luck out there.

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