Covert Marketing Methods the Brain Can’t Resist

I listened to the My First Million podcast: The 7 Human Hijacks – Covert Marketing Methods the Brain Can’t Resist recently and found it to be a great reminder of some simple techniques that influence consumer behavior. We provide a brief summary of these seven marketing methods below with some ideas for action you can take today. These techniques overlap with persuasion methods in the Robert Cialdini book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Use this post as a suggestion on how to market your product or service, or to help your brain resist being manipulated.

Make it About the Customer

Good advertising will make the customer associate the product or service with feeling good. Video ads are extra powerful: they will show you driving the new car, opening your fancy new gift, immersed in playing the game with your kids, or enjoying the beer with lots of happy friends. People don’t buy what you do, they buy based on why you do it and the benefits it provides them.

A key in advertising is to sell the benefits to the customer, not the features of the product or service. Here are some examples of the difference:

Feature statementBenefit statement
We’ve provided consulting services for 20 years.You can trust us to guide you on the shortest, simplest path to a result.
There is no charge if you use other bank’s ATMs.You can get cash when you need it for free.
We provide you with a dedicated representative who monitors your account.Your representative will improve your service by getting to know you and your needs.

Ideas for Action:

  • Take a look at your websites and brochures. Are you explaining what you do, or how your customer will be after using your product or service? Convert some of the “we do …” features language to “you will…” benefits language.
  • Ask a customer to explain the benefits they obtain from your product or service. Are you sharing these benefits in your marketing?
  • Ask yourself, “So what?” for each customer benefit. Try to understand the root cause benefits.

Attract a Crowd

Do you know what really attracts a crowd? A crowd!

Consumers tend to want to be part of the “in” crowd and the easiest way to do this is to copy what others are doing. Robert Cialdini calls this, “social proof,” and it is why we think a song with more “views” or “listens” is better than one with less.

Ideas for Action:

  • Schedule the sale of your home or car at a time when you can get multiple buyers viewing the item at the same time. Or if it is an online auction, make sure many people are viewing the page or bidding on your item.
  • Announce your new product or service at a special event. Apple’s Steve Jobs was great at this, and he always included a powerful demonstration.
  • Include a few bonus benefits at your event. For example, free pizza or free drinks at the event!
  • Schedule an announcement for a particular day and time and get a few social media influencers to share your news at the same time. This will create a buzz that is more likely to “go viral.”

Provide a Powerful Demonstration

Another covert marketing method that the brain can’t resist is providing a memorable demonstration. The podcast shared the example of Elisha Otis demonstrating the elevator brake he invented in front of a crowd at the World’s Fair. Here is a video recreation of Elisha Otis’s famous demonstration:

Note that Otis demonstrated a benefit of his new brakes (he trusted them to save his life) rather than explained the boring technical features of how it worked. Other examples of powerful demonstrations include Elon Musk’s unveiling of the Tesla Cybertruck and demonstrating the benefits of a water filter by filtering and then drinking what was once dirty water.

Ideas for Action:

  • What can you do that provides a powerful demonstration of the benefits of your product or service?
  • Can you attract a crowd for your powerful demonstration?

Show Unquestionable Proof

Consumers like to follow a crowd, but they also want to see the proof themselves, or at least have trusted experts in the field provide them with proof. The Otis elevator demonstration is an example of showing unquestionable proof. Elisha was likely going to die if his elevator brakes failed!

Many products or services don’t have an easy way to show unquestionable proof, so they depend on expert testimony. Here is an old cigarette ad with the backing of health experts.

Ideas for Action:

  • Obtain customer testimonials that share the top benefits of your product or service.
  • Create an advisory board for your company made up of top experts in the field who support your work.
  • Is there a study or data you can reference that proves the benefits of your product or service?

Leverage an Existing Daily Behavior

The next covert marketing method the brain can’t resist focuses on developing a new habit. How can you get a customer to modify an existing behavior and begin using your product or service?

A few examples shared in the podcast involve making minor changes to your breakfast routine. My favorite example shares how Florida orange growers in the early twentieth century led an advertising campaign that popularized orange juice served at breakfast. The campaign used some of the methods above while convincing consumers to make orange juice part of a healthy breakfast. Another example is “bulletproof” coffee, a minor change to the coffee you are already drinking.

Ideas for Action:

  • Where or when do your existing customers use your product or service? Can you identify an existing habit (eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, etc.) that you can leverage to create a new habit? For example, get customers to begin to use your productivity app after their regular morning meeting.
  • How can you help customers with creating the habit? For example, if you sell a supplement for them to take at breakfast, can you include a free pill sorter so they can include your supplement with their normal daily medicine?

Sell the Dream

We mentioned selling the customer benefits, not features, earlier. What they are really buying from you is their dream of a better future after using your product or service. They have a problem for you to solve, and you must sell the dream of that solution.

Many of the business owners that Lean East works with dream of a future when they are in control of their business, rather than a slave to the business. Their team is more self-sufficient and capable. Processes are defined and standardized, and KPIs are in place to measure results. Business owners hire us to get them to this result with some coaching and hard work.

Other examples include toothpaste being marketed as giving you a beautiful, attractive smile or exercise equipment or a diet selling the dream of a more fit, attractive body. Your customers ultimately are buying how you improve their life.

Ideas for Action:

  • What end results does your product or service provide to the customer? Where is the proof? Can you share any before or after examples?
  • Examine your current marketing. How can you better articulate the dream result you are selling?

Leave them with a Feeling of Superiority

The final covert marketing method the brain can’t resist involves helping your customer feel superior. This makes me think of political slogans, including the Donald Trump, “Make America Great Again” logo and hats, or Andrew Yang’s MATH version of the logo. People want to be “in” on the joke and part of the crowd, while also rebelling against the status quo.

Another technique is to share information or results with your customers that not everyone knows. Develop and share an argument that customers can make that supports their use of your product.

Ideas for Action:

  • What knowledge can you share with your customers that gives them a feeling of superiority?
  • What does your brand represent? Have you ever completed a branding exercise?
  • Do you have a logo? Does your brand or logo stand for anything? Is your logo worn with pride?
  • Can you make your brand stand out as part of a rebellion?


Are there any of these methods you disagree with or don’t believe work? Let our Lean East audience know by adding a comment below.

What are some other marketing methods that you have found work well? Tell us below.

Didn’t understand a method or want more examples? Please leave comments and questions below.

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