Communicating For Both Sides Of The Brain

Most email marketers have their customers segmented by various categories of behavior and personal characteristics, from age and gender to region and income. However, there is one attribute all people have, which is generally not taken into consideration in the creation of an email -- that is, whether the reader is right-brained or left-brained. Yet this factor is a major determinant in how an email -- or any communication -- is apprehended and processed. Understanding what makes right- and left-brained people different can help you to craft communications that work more powerfully for both types of customers.

A friend once told me a story that beautifully illustrates the right/left brain variance. Every time she asked her husband to bring home 2% milk from the store, he got it wrong. He'd select whole, skim or some other milk, but he never came home with 2%. One day, she exclaimed, "Get the one with the purple top!" And sure enough, hubby bought the right milk that day and has done so ever since.



You would think that any competent adult could read the labels and find the 2% milk, but the man in this story must have had a very dominant right brain. For him, words and numbers simply did not communicate to him when it was crunch time at the 7-Eleven.

In another, well-known example, the battle between Macs and PCs has traded on the proposition that Mac users are colorful, imaginative and artistic (right brain), and PC users are geeky, spreadsheet-loving functionaries (left brain). Traditionally, the Mac has had a more visually oriented interface, which attracts the sort of people who key in on blue, red and purple tops among the sea of white milk bottles in the refrigerator case ... whereas PCs are dominant in the business world, where numbers and data rule. (This is an oversimplification, but it makes the point.)

In a nutshell:


  • Right-brained people comprehend the world through symbols and images, emotion, spatial perception, and imagination. They tend to think holistically and are risk-takers. They get jokes quickly and are blue-sky "possibility" thinkers.


  • Left-brained folks are good with numbers and logic. They can rapidly break down any situation into component parts and make a quantitative analysis. They are whizzes at processing strings of facts, and seek regular patterns and practical solutions.


  • Everyone uses both sides of the brain, but in most, one side or the other is dominant.

    How do you put this information to use in your email program? Email has a very short window of opportunity to grab the attention of the average reader -- maybe no more than two seconds before being either read, skipped, or deleted. This means you have to attract interest and communicate instantly.

    Consider using a combined analytic and imaginative approach to your emails. Here are some suggestions:


  • Include two product shots -- one showing a person successfully using the whole gadget, and one a detail of the components, with a numbered list of specifications or attributes.

  • Use color and design imaginatively in the layout, while keeping the overall appearance orderly and balanced.


  • Find clever ways to depict key messages symbolically as well as in text. A photo of a woman holding a giant-sized dollar bill suggests her money goes further in your store.


  • In a charitable appeal, illustrate the good being done with an emotional photograph, and discuss the wider implications of the work (the ripple effect). Include bullet points demonstrating the fiscal responsibility of the organization, or a breakdown of where each dollar goes.


  • In all-text emails, break up the message into logical sections using descriptive subheads set off by lines of hyphens or asterisks. If the subject matter is interesting and the writing evocative, even a right-brained person will read it all, painting the implied picture on the canvas of their imagination.

    Until we find a way to segment customers by their cognitive differences, it is a wise course to provide your information in a combination of styles to help everyone connect. With skillful writing and art direction, it can be done.

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