Here are four words. Four-word sentences are great. Can it give goosebumps? Let’s keep repeating them. Several together become boring. Sounds like stuck record. Eyes demand some variety. So do the ears. Hark! When the writer varies the length between short and long sentences, each word then turns into a lighted match that the readers begin to see the fireworks, an explosion of radiant colors. Best writer treats each reader as a fuse.


Within a matter of weeks Marshall McLuhan published Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, the book acquired the understanding of Holy Scripture and made its author the foremost oracle of the age.  Here’s Marshall’s famous talk “The Medium is the Message” with Australian Broadcasting Company aired in Monday Conference on 27 June 1977.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3: 

How do you look at the world? The world is just the same; it does not change. Do you see it from down here, like a frog, as Spengler said, or up above, like an Eagle. Branding is the management of perceptions in the consumer ecosystem. Not consulting firms, marketing degrees, b-schools, books, or branding gurus. Religion has taught me the greatest lessons in branding.


Rationality does not cut any ice with the lizard brain.  You appeal to it at a deeper level, and when you do, the keys to brand success are found.

We have only just scratched the surface of our potential – like icebergs at least 98% of our emotional and intellectual awareness occurs ‘under the surface’ in the murky depths of the subconscious mind1

It would be disingenuous to dismiss this when approaching the all-encompassing practice of Marketing Research; after all, an iceberg wouldn’t even reach the surface without this sturdy base below. 

So why do market researchers only focus on that 2% rather than engaging with those core beliefs that keep that smaller percentage visible?

Here’s a lesson from my graduate school days: A friend of mine, fresh from his native country and in the US less than a week stumbled upon a way to earn a quick buck. He registered himself to take part in a focus group for consumers who loved to eat Mac and Cheese straight from the box. 

In his native country, breakfasts are as freshly cooked as they are varied – they didn’t even sell Mac and Cheese; however for his insights into this largely unknown delicacy he received a cool $100.  He even showed me the T-Shirts and CDs he brought with his Mac and Cheese money. 

My friend displayed the basic human characteristics that we all take for granted; those impulses that lie above the surface.  We as a species, driven by a collective consciousness that elevates intelligence as a desirable quality, even in the lack of that quality, will strive to appear intelligent.  

Such social performances can come in myriad forms - artful omissions, the provision of incomplete or misleading information, outright deception, faking, lying, carefully chosen words, persistence, bullshitting, and so on.  

This deceptive behavior does not have any power; it is only when someone believes in the manipulation that its power manifests itself.  In an interview, Vasudevi Reddy of University of Portsmouth claims:

“Fake crying is one of the earliest forms of deception to emerge, and infants use it to get attention even though nothing was wrong.” 2

In this case, it’s a question of dignity: the infant knows the parameters in which it will be most successful. Now, think about adults; Do any of these responses sound familiar? 

“Honey, you look perfect in that dress!”  

“Oh, your e-mail must have ended up in my spam folder; that’s why I didn’t respond!” 

 “Your updates never show up on my Facebook newsfeed.”  

Both women and men consciously fabricate these face-saving stories.  In one out of ten interactions, married couples lie to each other, and such made up incidents skyrocket to 80% in the context of spending. 3 

Stepping back from spending for a moment;  I recently eavesdropped in on a conversation on my daily train ride to work.  A forty-something, suit-wearing professional was boasting to her companion about how she had hoodwinked a focus group that called for participants who were paid subscribers to Skype.  Just hours before she was due to take part in the market research study, she googled everything she need to know about the survey and lied through her teeth all her way to $300 in participation money.

My question here is:  What’s the use in spending tons of money in carrying out elaborate market research sessions - asking the neocortex or the rational mind, questions about irrational behaviour? 

The logical side of our brain is only going to lie or act as if it were intelligent.  Truth is often the first casualty of any conflict, and there is no greater conflict than that between the consumer’s beliefs and their buying behavior.  Don’t believe me?  Keep reading:

The irrational buying behavior of the average consumer was put on display during recent consumer research for an 11powerN client.  Several New Yorkers were asked why they drove a SUV on the streets of Manhattan.  Oddly enough, the number one response was:  ‘What if I chose to go off the road?’  Keep in mind this is Manhattan.  Manhattan.  You remember: the financial and cultural nexus of the US?  Manhattan the island?  Off-road?  The more I probed, the weirder their responses got; “Oh it’s because I go off-roading at weekends.”  

As amusing as those responses are even if consumers were downright truthful; how do they put their irrational buying behavior or the emotions they have for a product, service, or experience into words? 

Today’s marketers recognize a very distinct “ebb and flow” of an emotional wave influencing the consumer’s choices; this recognition, however, does not extend to the identification of an emotional connection that can bridge the gap” and afford any sort of measurement of an association of that magnitude.  Given the existence of this reality and its attendant limitation, one must ask:  Is the expenditure of funds in extending this elaborate market research helping or hindering the marketer in understanding this emotional connection?  To what end should the marketer seek to find in asking the rational mind questions about irrational behavior? 

If presented with rational thought and behavior, the neocortex will have no choice but to lie – that is, to “act out” as if it were intelligent.

Fish where fishes are.  Answers to subconsciously driven motives need to be sourced at the subconscious level.  Market researchers have a duty to extract the subconscious agents that make decisions, preferences, feelings, and beliefs by probing into the subconscious or ‘the lizard brain’ as I’d like to call it.  

The lizard brain is not mutually exclusive; it pervades every dimension of our lives. It doesn’t shut down when we go to bed or go on vacation.  Every second, it is dictating how one should act, judge, think and feel. 

Theologians, philosophers, and scientists have been studying the unconscious to know why we do what we do for several centuries.  Half a century ago, Ernest Dichter, the founder of motivational research, helped launch in-depth consumer interviews to explore non-rational motivations in consumers when marketers still believed in the homo economicus. 

In the last decade or two, there have been a host of tools developed by social psychologists, cultural anthropologists, neuroscientists, sociologists, and economists that have given marketers a peeping hole into this lizard brain or reptilian complex.

Lizard harbors vast riches in still largely unmapped areas immersed in deep emotions, traditions, values, and culture.  Marketers who see the advantage in wandering into this dimly-lit treasure trove will be richly rewarded with the keys to brand success. 


  1. LeDoux, Joseph (1998). “The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life,” New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
  2. Gray, Richard (2007). “Babies not as Innocent as they Pretend,” The Telegraph, (retrieved on 8/5/2012)
  3. Villareal, Phil (2010).  “Survey:  80 Percent of Married Couples Lie about Spending,”  The Consumerist, (retrieved on 8/5/2012)

Noteworthy Keynote Presentations

ONE OF THE least pleasant aspects of a professional’s job is the need to put things in a presentation format and present it.  Almost everyone finds it a chore and wishes he were better at it.  And many people are told specifically that they need to improve if they want to progress.  Look no further.  For a person who seeks to learn, I’ve put down seven important points below:

(1)  Use Pyramid Structure:

How do we remember telephone numbers?  We group them.  773-399-0773.  Any grouping of ideas is easier to comprehend if it arrives presorted into its pyramid.  This suggests that every slide should be deliberately structured to form a pyramid of ideas.  

(2)  Need for Logic:

It is not enough simply to group ideas or bullets in a logical way in a slide without also stating to yourself what the logic of the relationship is.  This means that instead of remembering bullets, you remember bullet categories into which bullets fall.  As a presenter, you are thinking one level of abstraction higher, because thought-transfer is at a higher level.

(3)  Order Top Down:

Controlling the sequence in which you present your ideas is the single most important act necessary to presenting.  The clearest sequence is always to give the summarizing idea before you give the individual ideas being summarized.  And, the individual ideas better be well-thought to answer in advance any questions audience may have.  In other words, first the conclusion - like a newspaper headline - then the beef.

(4)  Create an Image to Recite Story:

Tell a story.  If you can’t tell, at least please do not orally state what is on the slide.  Audience can read on their own.

“Near the end of March 1845 I borrowed an axe and went down to the woods by Walden Pond, nearest to where I intended to build my house, and began to cut down some tall, arrowy white pines, still in their youth, for was a pleasant hillside where I worked, covered with pine woods, through which I looked out on the pond, and a small open field in the woods where the pines and hickories were springing up.  The ice in the pond was not yet dissolved, though there were some open spaces, and it was all dark colored and saturated with water.”   - Henry David Thoreau                             

As you took Thoreau’s words, did you not build up a sort of mental picture in your mind, to which you added details as you took in successive phrases and sentences?  Malcolm Galdwell (“The Tipping Point,” “Blink”) is a persuasive orator.  In fact his presentation at SXSW 2005 is rated on par with Steven Jobs’ Mac introduction of 1984 or Gore’s emotive presentation of global warming.  People love Malcolm because he is a story teller.  He doesn’t lecture; he paints a picture.  With simple colors.  He does more with less.

(5)  The Power of Pause:

Even if you memorize your speech, force yourself to pause.  Never utter hmms and aahs.  Just pause.  It’s profound.  Even if you don’t lose your breath, please pause.  Even an ordinary address seems elegant with the power of pause.

(6)  Fail to Plan is Plan to Fail:

Mark Twain once said, “It takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”  It makes sense to practice your presentation with a tape recorder and in front of a mirror.

(7)  Body Talks more than the Tongue:

Use your limbs as you modulate your tone.  Be passionate.  Stretch your limbs.  Ooze energy.  Get audience motivated.  Walk around.  Involve the audience.  Leave handouts.