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The Silver Bullet of Content Marketing: Neuroscience

We’ve all heard it: “death of Powerpoint”, “Powerpoints are boring”, “Ugh – not another slide deck”. Marketers have it tough – creating engaging content is both an art and a science. And in a world where our threshold for engagement has become higher, fighting for that attention has become even more difficult.

At the beginning of September, I had the pleasure of attending Hubspot’s Inbound Conference, and got to take part in cognitive neuroscientist Carmen Simon’s session, “The Neuroscience of Engagement”. Her insights made me completely rethink how I build presentations, and gave me a newfound appreciation for what Bigtincan’s partner, Ceros, offers.

First, let’s talk about something we are all familiar with – boredom.

Times SquareThe human brain is designed to habituate so that we can concentrate on just the important stimuli it receives, not all the stimuli. Think of the noise of a fan, the flashing lights of Times Square, or light office chatter. If your brain focused on every stimulus it received, it would overload. So to avoid overload, it habituates, or blocks out certain stimuli. Overall, it is easiest for our brains to habituate to non-varying stimulus. – for example, a fan makes the same, consistent noise, so it’s easy for our brain to identify it and block it out. However, that instinct puts us in a tough spot when it comes to paying attention to, say, a boring Powerpoint.

But what exactly was it that made that Powerpoint so boring? The answer is likely one of three factors: lack of variety, lack of challenge, or lack of complexity. In short, every slide looked the same. You could predict what the next one would be. It was something you already knew. For that reason, your brain identifies it as a non-varying stimulus, and disengages you from it, leading to multitasking or daydreaming. That can happen in an instant if stimulus isn’t changing – research shows that something needs to catch the brain’s attention every 2-3 seconds to prevent boredom.

So, how do you combat the instinct of the brain to habituate? Here are some sure-fire tricks to encourage the brain to engage with your content:

  1. Variety– Varying the stimulus doesn’t have to be some kind of crazy animation, or flashy design. Something as simple as slight movement, design elements that build upon one another, or even the pattern of text presented can do the trick. The stimulus has to be just different enough that the brain can’t ignore it. This trick can help turn the most bland of topics into a presentation that your brain biologically wants to pay attention to. Also note, this means the “make everything a graphic” mentality may not be the best tactic – if 6 slides in a row are graphics, your brain will likely disengage from them as much as it would from 6 slides of text. Change it up in a thoughtful, purposeful way.
  2. Challenge– Think about the times your brain is most engaged – maybe it’s trying to remember the name of that song you’re listening to, or spelling something in a spelling bee. Neither is a particularly hard task in the grand scheme of things, but they do take effort on the part of the brain. Adding in questions to your content is an easy hack for improving engagement – our brains are “forced” to answer. Now, you may be thinking “But there’s nothing worse than asking a question for audience participation and having no one answer”. However, even if no one responds verbally, their brain instinctually responds internally, and remains engaged.
  3. Complexity– Humans don’t like to participate in something that’s “too easy”. Human brains enjoy complexity. So when you’re building presentations, don’t make it too easy. Carmen said it simply – give your audience the joy of “getting it”.

Interactive Content to the Rescue

The principles of variety, challenge, and complexity can make a huge difference in engagement when building presentations. However, most of us are stuck in the industry standard of slide decks. But fear not – we now have a new, more powerful way to engage: interactive content.

Bigtincan is partnered with Ceros, a provider of interactive content creation software. Think of Ceros content as a blend of Powerpoint, Adobe InDesign, and a movie.  Here are some of the amazing things users have built in Ceros.

Platforms like Ceros make it incredibly simple to add in complexity, challenge, and variety into presentations, in both subtle and bold ways. Take a look at the linked examples, and note how much more engaged your brain is in these examples than a typical Powerpoint. That’s the power of interactive content and neuroscience at work. When it comes down to it, creating engaging content doesn’t take a graphic design guru – just a bit of knowledge into how our brains operate.

The Ceros tagline says it all: Don’t Create Content – Create Experiences.