Your Fist and the Future of Marketing


Are your marketing dollars worth the interruption? Since the dawn of time, marketing focused on one thing: finding a way—any way—to interrupt whatever you’re doing, and, for a moment in time, have you pay attention to us.  Through a combination of interruptions, reach and frequency, our ideas slowly become your ideas. The brain is an infinitely impressionable object, and through this kind of neural programming, marketing has spread their gospel.

B2B marketers like us had decades to perfect the craft of interrupting people.  From telemarketing calls, to unsolicited emails, or a billboard on the side of the road, we’ve become really good at interrupting people and grabbing their attention, even if just for a moment.

If you live in a rural area in the United States today, you can expect to be exposed to over 2,500 marketing messages every day. Should you live somewhere like Time Square, your poor brain will get spammed by 13,000+ messages from well-meaning marketers. How are you supposed to process all of that? It’s overwhelming.

Brains are the original “smart” devices and they found novel ways to solve the problem of being flooded by your interrupts: Our brains are like a clenched fist.

To demonstrate, clench your right fist, tucking your thumb under your fingers. Take a good look, as your fist now represents the key three aspects of your brain’s function (and the future of your marketing career).

Your wrist depicts the lower orders of the brain, or The Reptilian Brain. It’s the oldest part of the brain which does all the regulatory functions like moderating our body temperature, pumping blood and releasing hormones.

Your thumb represents the Limbic Brain, also known as the Mammalian Brain, which is responsible for how we process and feel emotions.

The highest order of your brain is called the Neocortex (represented in our “handy” model, by your fingers), which is involved in sensory perception, cognition and language. All three layers of the brain are connected with information and commands flowing up and down between the layers.

So here’s the rub. As marketers compete for attention, our brains begin to feel overwhelmed from the hundreds and thousands of interruptions. Neuroscientists  believe that the fight-or-flight mechanism in the Reptilian Brain gets triggered and begins actively filtering out marketing messages. Long story short: all that budget that you’re applying to your new attention-grabbing campaign is going to go to waste. The Reptilian Brain stops your interruptions before they can be processed.

Despite this, marketers continue to spend billions of dollars every year putting shampoo commercials in the middle of irrelevant television shows and wondering why they’re not as effective as they used to be. The tools and techniques built on traditional interruption-based marketing methods are simply getting less and less effective with every passing quarter.

For a moment, think about the marketing programs and activities you are driving, and how many of them are based on trying to grab the attention of your audience? Is it 50%, 70%, 90%? I’m guessing that many of you are coming up with a number closer to 100%.

Yet we continue to invest.

Are your marketing dollars working hard enough if the majority of your investment gets filtered out by our Reptilian Brains?  Over the last few decades, we’ve managed to convince ourselves that poor program marketing performance is good enough. It’s not.

The age of interrupt-based marketing is rapidly coming to an end. In fact, the age of marketing as we know it is coming to a close and will soon be something completely different. We can no longer depend on interuptions to attract customers to our marketing campaigns.  Developing a strategy beyond interruption, reach and frequency is the only way to stay ahead of the game in the new age of marketing.

This article first appeared in

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