Ask the Board – May 26, 2020 | DAVE DOLEJSI


“How has psychology and understanding the human brain helped to inform your content approaches?”

We learned early on that, if we were to create content for an often soundless medium that audiences were usually only glancing at, we needed some insight into how to cheat the human system. Think of it – we know we are bombarded with stimuli from the minute we open our eyes to the minute we close them. It is estimated that the average consumer is exposed to more than 5,000 advertising messages daily. This is in addition to all of the regular getting-through-your-day stimuli – “Don’t step off the curb yet, that truck is going through a red light – oh hey the light is still red – OMG they are all red – something must be wrong – it’s warm out – I hear that tune everywhere – do I smell chicken?” And of course, there’s all of the fun stimuli associated with our jobs. There is an awful lot of information competing for our attention.

On a subconscious level, we know this is happening. However, it wasn’t until I had the good fortune of attending a lecture by a McGill University psychology professor many years ago that I fully came to see how we process information. The good professor (and I apologize for not remembering his name) basically explained that our subconscious spends a great deal of time de-selecting information. While we can process 10,000,000 bits of visual information in our subconscious, our conscious brain can only process about 50 bits of information per second. So, there is a lot of compression or de-selection going on. Our subconscious makes an almost instant determination as to what we should focus on – even for a split second – and what we should ignore.

How does it do this? We look for clues. We automatically select anything that is of common relevance to us. Think how you can sometimes pick out your name when in a crowded and loud environment. For example, if you look at your feet and you are standing on grass, your brain files away “grass,” but it will not focus on every blade – just grass.

If you are producing content for an audience that all share the same basic function of de-selection, you need a sound approach. This basically meant we had to focus on two key areas: 1) the habitual and 2) the biological.

With the habitual, we need to think about how people move through an environment, why they are there, where they came from, and what activities they are performing while in proximity to our content. There are 100 questions to consider when drilling down on this, but for the most part, it starts with an honest assessment of the demographics involved. 

The other consideration is the biological. We know how the brain functions, so how can we build content that will act as strong enough clues to enable it to be selected for processing and possible engagement?

I’m not going to go into the best practices we use when constructing our content that address this, but suffice it to say we have developed a number of them that work to greatly enhance the possibility of selection and engagement.

If you or anyone in your organization would like to drill down further on how great and effective content gets built, I would be thrilled to speak with you any time virtually or in person at #DSE2020 in September. Have an incredible week!

About Author

Associate Vice President – Content Strategy
St. Joseph Communications

Content Council

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