Marketing Lessons from the Ebola Crisis

I’ll get to Ebola in a minute. In my last post I described the neural functions that determine whether information will be filtered out by the brain stem (aka ‘crocodile brain’), or will be considered important enough to be passed on to the neocortex for consideration. Dr. Robert Ornstein’s research has determined that there are seven characteristics that increase the chances of message delivery.

They are:

  1. Concrete
  2. Contrast
  3. Emotional
  4. Firsts and Lasts
  5. Personal
  6. Simple
  7. Visual

This post discusses the first characteristic – concrete.


Abstract ideas are those that we can’t experience with our senses. Concrete ones are those that we have experienced. For example, we’ve all seen, touched, smelled and tasted a banana, so bananas are concrete concepts.

hazmat suitAbstract ideas are difficult for people to get their heads around. The crocodile brain ignores them. Here in the U.S., the recent Ebola outbreak was abstract as long as it was confined to Africa. Hospital personnel here had an idea of what the virus was, and how it was transmitted, but they’d never seen someone afflicted with it. They had instruction manuals, but they never had to don the HazMat suits and perform the protocols. The first few encounters here with Ebola patients were a bit precarious. Mistakes were made. Who knew that the most dangerous step in the process was taking off the HazMat suit? Now caregivers have access to concrete, practical experience and the number of mistakes has dropped precipitously.

In selling complex B2B products and services, it’s often necessary to communicate abstract information. If you need to include some abstract concepts to make your points, keep them high-level and use simple visuals, like diagrams or flowcharts, to make the ideas more concrete.

Metaphors and stories can simplify complex information and make it concrete. Search for metaphors and stories that take abstract aspects of your product or service and make them concrete. What are the two or three most important abstract concepts that you must communicate clearly to your prospects? Brainstorm with your sales and marketing colleagues to articulate a concrete metaphor for each. Ask your top producing salesperson if she has a story that she uses to illustrate those abstract concepts. (I’ll bet she does.)

In my next post I’ll cover how to use contrast to get your sales messages past the crocodile brain gatekeeper.


About the Author:

Managing Consultant at acSellerant. Seasoned business marketer currently focused on positioning, sales messaging, content marketing and visual storytelling.

One Comment
  1. Years ago a sharp presenter said that people the day after a presentation can remember about 20% of what is said, 40% of what is visualized and about 80% of what is experienced. That has always stuck with me and might be the concrete principle’s pyramid. Good article, Bob!

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