Brand Brain: Dancing With The 2-Million Year-Old Man

Photograph: Federico Jordan

Scientists tell us that our modern-day human brain is the result of 20 million years of evolution. It is a jungle of stimulus-response training, the result of hundreds of thousands of millions of billions of inputs and outputs, Beta testing, fight or flee responses, not to mention the building of sounds and symbols necessary for one human being to communicate with another — language and the written word. We have even developed other abstract symbols to help communicate other abstract thoughts. (Math? Go figure.)

The human brain weighs approximately three pounds. We use all of our brain at different times (not the fictional Lucy ten percent). Our brains contain a neural forest that contains a billion neurons. The brain is mostly water (70%) and needs water to think efficiently. Working tirelessly may make you a working-class hero, but sleep is brain candy. Your brain uses sleep as run time to process the day’s events. About 80% of our thoughts are negative. Don’t. (Which perhaps makes an intentionally positive mindset a good counterbalance.)

Our brain is built in three layers, beginning with the so-called reptile brain which consists of the brainstem and cerebellum. Essentially, it is the brain of a fish. The cerebellum is responsible for breathing, heartbeat, balance and for maintaining body temperature. Science estimates that this basic brain is approximately 500 million years old.

About 150 million years ago, the limbic system developed. This apparatus includes the hippocampus, the amygdala and the hypothalamus. This part of our brain evolved with the first mammals and, according to scientists, is core to building human behaviors, emotions, and judgement.

But what makes us truly different from other mammals is our neocortex. When we imagine the word “brain” this is what we see: two cerebral hemispheres — our right and left brains. This juicy cluster of neurons is responsible for human thought, consciousness, imagination, language and conceptual thinking: music, art, writing, philosophy, science, religious thought and the ability to perceive. Explaining the neocortex would be impossible, without the neocortex.

To consider how our brain has evolved over millennia is overwhelming. So too, is the fact that this brilliant transformation continues. We are still learning, building new constructs, technologies and imaginings. The possibilities of the neocortex and imagining what else we might imagine appear infinite. (Imagining the evolution of a fourth layer beyond the neocortex is possible, again, because of the neocortex.)

According to physics Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek, we have approximately a billion thoughts in our lifetime: a stream of consciousness that steadily clarifies the random sequence of events that sums up Life as we know it.

We are born with two fears: the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. Everything else is learned: imprinted by culture, parents, society and experiences. Eat this, don’t eat that. Like this, don’t like that. Dance like this, don’t dance like that. The stories told to us by others, tell us who we are. The stories we tell ourselves, tell us who we might become. The result is a subconscious mind “a million times more powerful than the conscious mind,” according to biologist Bruce Lipton, Ph.D. and author of “The Biology of Belief.” The mind, according to Lipton, who presaged the field of epigenetics while at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, is not all in our heads, but distributed throughout our entire body. It’s a gut feeling.

Human beings have a field of coexistence and you have to know how to present yourself on that field. There are rules of attraction, rules of engagement, just as there are also rules of detraction and disengagement. There are rules of play. There are rewards and penalties and free throws. There are winners and losers. Who are you? Where do you fit in? What team are you on? How do you stay in the game? What game are you actually playing? These are all determined by sets of signals that our brains have preconfigured and predetermined to input, analyze, compare/contrast, sort and figure out. In other words, our brains have been A/B testing for millions of years.

Human beings are hard-wired to connect and congregate in groups. The challenge is how to get people to gather around you. (The phrase “Nobody likes me” is as common in marketing as it is in 5th Grade.) Building communities is complicated, because we are trying to trigger a complex network of associations, drivers and impulse buttons that took over 2 million years to form. Our brains are responding to simultaneous signals, only a small percentage of which are focused on attention-bending marketing techniques, from product packaging and banner ads to TikTok.

In order for humans to make sense of our demands, we must follow a pattern. Some of these signals are pre-articulate and prearranged: when perfectly designed, we build a construct that attracts people who not only like us — they want to join us.

For communities to be believable and sustained, they must ping these million-years-old receptors responsible for instinct and rational thinking. This complexity has been distilled into a pattern that tribes, nations and the world’s most powerful Brands have used for generations.

Primal Branding is built on top of this 2 million years of human brain evolution. So, unlike social media zigs and zags — running after FB and then IG and now Clubhouse, it is sustainable over time. “Primal” actually unifies social, digital and traditional media (sure, media still jostle for funding, but brand stakeholders are now in charge of the melee). Importantly, “Primal” doesn’t cost anything to implement. You pay for content creation and placement, but your “brand” comes for free.

(NOTE: The root code for building authentic, purpose-driven brand communities is a narrative stack that includes a creation story, creed, icons, rituals, sacred words, nonbelievers and leader. These seven elements embody the systematic construct that builds belief — and (consequently) attracts those who share your beliefs.)

Marketing teams today are having a harder and harder time trying to connect with their customers (fans, users, advocates, consumers) in meaningful ways across the breadth of social, digital and traditional media. It’s a shit show. Everyone is under increased pressure to deliver improved results with diminished resources — forcing everyone to be more efficient and scrappy with everything they do. (Others may be curled up in a corner, stroking their reptile brain.)

According to the Ipsos-Forbes Advisor U.S. Consumer Confidence Tracker out this week, consumer confidence is approaching the highest levels in the tracker’s 19-year history. The economy shows signs of rallying.

If you want to be invited to the party, learn to dance.

Nontraditional, people-first brand evolutionary, author of “Primal Branding,” TEDx, YouTube Creator Academy, PRIMAL.LIVE, founder &Thinktopia®

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