How to message to lazy brains (that is, to humans)!

Your brain is lazy.

Wait—don’t click away! That’s not an insult; it’s just a fact. My brain is lazy (especially before coffee), your brain is lazy, and the brains of your consumers are lazy. That’s not just me saying that, either. That’s the assertion of Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman… so if you’re going to be mad at anyone, be mad at him.  Beyond being an excellent hook for this article (if I say so myself), this fact has wide-reaching implications for how we communicate with our audiences; how we create effective messages. (And how we research customers).

Not only is your brain lazy, but you are also cursed!  A bit more on that in a sec.

Sometimes, your copy and marketing will have to pick up the slack for this lazy brain.  It doesn’t like to work.  Our brain does not analyze all the choices.  And it is certainly not rational.  We have to connect the dots between features and benefits for our audience. Even though the connection between a feature and a benefit might seem obvious – you are relying on a lazy brain to make that connection.

Make that connection for them.

Check out our newsletter titled “How To Create Effective Messages” for more on connecting the dots between features and benefits.

Here’s an example.  Which do you think is more motivating?

“Earn 1.26 APR up to $25,000 balances”


“We will give you up to $315 for purchases up to $25,000 that you can use however you’d like.”

The first is standard financial industry language and focuses on the feature.  The second makes the connection for the reader as to why they should care.

I’m frequently met with pushback. “But the benefit is obvious,” they’ll remind me. Usually, I agree with them… but it doesn’t matter.  In addition to a lazy brain, we are cursed.

Surprise! You’re cursed.

I know, I know. I’m probably on thin ice right now. I began this piece by acknowledging the psychological laziness of your brain, and now I’m once again the bearer of bad news. As a marketer, you’re cursed.

In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath outline a phenomenon known as “the curse of knowledge.” Its lore goes something like this.

As a marketer, advertiser, or entrepreneur, you know everything there is to know about the product you’re promoting. You’re keenly aware of its benefits, why it’s incredible, and what value it could bring to consumers. You’re already fully convinced of the quality you deliver; that’s why you do what you do.

Unfortunately, this wealth of knowledge can often create a blind spot as we create our messaging. We lose perspective of how much your audience would understand about our products, services, or industries. The result? We’re not telling the consumers nearly enough of the information they need to know. We are assuming too much.

So what does all of this mean for creating messages

This means we need to understand how your audience might view a message.  It may be harder than you think to put ourselves into the shoes of our audience.  Here are a few rules to consider when creating messages:

  • Don’t assume your audience understands your message. Unfortunately, we have tested too many messages that our client thought were clear, but the audience did not understand.
  • Make sure you connect the dots between your feature and benefit. Even if you think it’s clear, help your clients’ lazy brains connect the dots for them.

Here’s another example.  Notice how the second option connects the dots between features and benefits and does so in a way that adds more clarity and meaning. (Hopefully, this makes up for the earlier roasts.)

“We are fee-based advisers.”


“We don’t make money unless you make money—that means we’re always working hard for you!”

Alright, now give your lazy brain a break.

When Spanish Isn’t Spanish

Parker Pen’s slogan claimed: ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.’ However, when introduced to the Spanish market, the slogan said, ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.’  Just in case, I’d rather use a pencil!

Have you ever noticed how vastly dialects differ here in America? Not only do different parts of the country have different manners of speaking (“Howdy, y’all!” as opposed to “Wassup!”), but each corner of the nation can even have its own terminology. In really rural places, you might ask, Is that even English?

Guess what?

Other countries are the same way!

The US, Canada, and Britain all speak English, but if you asked someone in the US, “Do you have a tire in your boot?” people might wonder what you mean.

Deivy is a friend of mine from the Dominican Republic who greets close friends with “Que lo que.” Our True North Hispanic lead, Alejandra, on the other hand, is from Mexico and is not familiar with this colloquialism.

And then there’s Yarima, our Operations Manager. If Alejandra said “¡Qué padre!” Yarima might tilt her head to the side, brow wrinkled, pondering what Alejandra could mean.

They’ve all told me it’s essential to be careful what you say – and what you print – because some Latin American phrases (that we’ll not print here!) can have multiple meanings depending on the country or origin.

What Are We Getting At?

Latin American countries with a native Spanish-speaking tongue are just like their northern counterparts – they also have their own slang and dialects. Some pockets in certain countries even have words that aren’t spoken elsewhere.

If you’re not entirely familiar with Spanish or the various countries’ dialects, Hispanic marketing is challenging – it’s something you have to nail at the very beginning, or you risk alienating the same people you’re trying to reach.

Gauge the quality of your materials by reaching out to Spanish speakers from different regions before you click Send.

Here’s another example of not understanding the language:

When Coors introduced it’s cool ‘Turn It Loose’ campaign to the Spanish market, the translated version of the slogan sounded like ‘Suffer from diarrhea.’  I think I’ll pass on that beer; thanks!

Not all Spanish is the same.

Hopefully, you haven’t found out the hard way that Google Translate returns literal “translations” between languages, not always accounting for the transposition of adjectives and nouns – much less for the distinction between Dominican and Mexican Spanish. Of course, this makes marketing to Spanish speakers difficult. This is also why good Hispanic marketers are worth their weight in gold.

Unfortunately, some marketers learned the importance of proper translation the hard way:

  • The La Puta was a Mazda model in the 1970s. However, it means “whore” in Spanish. The advertisement said that “Laputa is designed to deliver maximum utility in a minimum space while providing a smooth, comfortable ride” and “a lightweight, impact-absorbing body.” No wonder why it cracks a smile in the streets!
  • American Airlines decided to use its successful campaign Fly in leather” in Mexico. It was translated to “Vuela en cueros,” which invites passengers to fly naked. No comment here!

One more?

  • Why would the American Dairy Association translate its slogan ‘Got milk’ to “Are you lactating?” in Spanish?

Here’s why this means something to you:

  • Are you planning to put Spanish on your product labels?
  • Do you want to create Spanish versions of other marketing materials?
  • Do you want to conduct Spanish Speaking market research studies?

Well, by now, you know you can’t just use Google Translate to change your materials to Spanish. Qualtrics, the questionnaire programming software, even has a feature to change English materials to Spanish — but if you go down that path, make sure you’re not alone.

At True North, all of our Spanish speaking market research surveys must meet the approval of our native speakers from different countries. Do you have this kind of backup on your marketing team? They proof materials to ensure the language makes sense for all Spanish-speaking audiences. And if they’re stumped? We call Deivy.

How to create effective messages

As consumers, being selfish can pay off. It’s practically the point! As we browse products and try to decide on a purchase, we’re constantly asking the question, “What’s in it for me?”

As marketers and advertisers, answering that question can pay off. With every piece of promotional copy you put out, communicating the benefits has to be your top priority.

We have tested thousands of messages.  Those that leave off the benefit will always score low.  And more often than not, messages stop at the feature and never get to the benefit.

“Show me why I should care.”

Advertising and marketing copy needs to explicitly state the reason why a customer should care about their product. Let’s face it: social media has our attention spans diminishing. No one wants to search through the weeds of wordy copy to know why they should trust your solution to their problem.

With so many options to choose from, and with B2B audiences understaffed and not enough time to do their own job much less read your copy, we need to be upfront and clear about why they should care.  And that means going beyond discussing features.

It’s simple: Show them the benefit.

“But wait: I’ve been showing benefits!”

You may be feeling a bit taken aback right now. After all, as advertisers and marketing professionals, it feels like our entire workdays revolve around communicating benefits to consumers.

This is where a critical distinction needs to be made. Many companies that feel like they are effectively conveying benefits to their audience may only be relaying features.

Fortunately, switching your mindset to benefits doesn’t have to be too complicated. And, because this is such a common mistake in advertising, you could even beat a Fortune 500 company to the punch.

Product features vs. product benefits

Alright, it’s time to distinguish between features and benefits clearly. I hesitated to put these definitions in this article thinking it might be too basic.  But I see this so often, it is worth a quick refresher.

feature is a fact about your product, often relating to its design or unique capabilities.

benefit is an impact that features have on the consumer. For example, these could include saved time, improved quality of life, or ease of performing a task.

Let’s look at an example. Since this post is about getting our benefits and features ironed out, we’ll talk about… an iron.

Suppose your company is selling an iron that includes an LED temperature display. In that case, that’s a neat feature that you’ll want to highlight. But don’t make the misstep of stopping there!

Consider what this feature will mean for the consumers that use it. A bright temperature display will make it clear when the iron is ready to use or when it’s gotten too hot.

Putting it all together: finding the meaning

When you’ve identified the feature and its benefit, one more variable will take you to a successful message.

Jim Edwards wrote an excellent book called Copywriting Secretsand I’m going to spill one of those secrets for you now. He posits that the formula for successful marketing is as follows:

Feature + Benefit + Meaning = Successful Message

That means we’re just one step away from having a successful pitch for our iron. We need the meaning. In other words, why should the consumer care?

To find this, take your thinking one step further. Why, exactly, would it be valuable to know the temperature of your iron?

The LED display of our iron allows you to easily identify the temperature of the device, eliminating the need to wait around testing it and ensuring that fine fabrics don’t get singed.

Hopefully, this helps get rid of any wrinkles in your communication strategy!

And if you need help developing and testing messages, we’d like to help.  To schedule a call with one of our professionals, click here.