The Art of Brain Cell Domination

Posted January 5th, 2007 by Mike Cherim

In your head, right now, is a brain cell for each and every product and service in the entire world. Just one measly brain cell for each, but in a business’s marketing struggle, it’s a vitally important one. It’s the brain cell marketers want to capture, to trap, to win and own, to totally dominate. It’s a signature of their marketing success — or your marketing success if you’re in business for yourself and have your own product or service to purvey. To win over a consumer’s brain cell is to win in that market, or at least victory is imminent. This is next to the ultimate goal; the ultimate goal will be identified later in this article.

Illumination of Meaning

Let’s take a look at some examples of brain cell domination followed by a short quiz. Let’s discover a few of the thousands of brain cells you’ve given away in your life. To do this I will offer a product or service and you must immediately respond without giving it an iota of consideration. Case-in-point, as it concerns an answer I’d give:

Name a soft-drink or soda:
My immediate response is Coke.

The Coca-Cola corporation has captured my soda brain cell with their “Coke” product. In other words they’ve won me over. And this happens to be my favorite soda in terms of flavor. But that doesn’t always mean a “favorite” will be the brain cell winner. I could’ve responded with Mountain Dew, for example. Not because Mountain Dew is a favorite, but because, using this example, Mountain Dew commercials are prominent in my subliminal mind. Typically, though, the favored product or service will be the brain cell winner, but not always. It often boils down to who does the better job marketing. A real world example of this can be found in my next example question.

Name a movie rental company:
My immediate response is Blockbuster.

I don’t use Blockbuster to rent movies; I don’t have one nearby, but it has still won me over in the marketing game and this is very important — it’s what causes a consumer to turn left or right at a product intersection. I actually rent movies from a franchise called Movie Scene. Movie Scene, though, doesn’t market effectively and they don’t have my movie-rental brain cell or knee-jerk reaction if you will. My business goes to them for the simple fact that they are nearby. (If Blockbuster was nearby they’d surely win the battle for my business.) Movie Scene don’t have my loyalty; they’re not in my mind. In fact, beginning this week, I started up an account with NetFlix to try them out (they’re less expensive and more convenient). If NetFlix does a good job, combined with their effective television and print marketing efforts, it is very likely that in six month’s time, if asked again, I will respond with their name instead of Blockbuster. And when it comes to the more in-depth refinement of renting movies online, NetFlix has already won me over. Ironically, Blockbuster offers online rentals, but they failed to market this to me effectively. In fact, I learned about them at NetFlix while taking a consumer survey. NetFlix wanted to know if I was familiar with Blockbuster’s online service. Apparently NetFlix wants to make sure that they are marketing more effectively than their rival. NetFlix is fighting hard for my online movie rental brain cell and they’re winning the game.

Winning a consumer’s brain cell in a particular category is a sign of effective marketing. It doesn’t always indicate what you use or like, but it’s a victory all the same. And often, eventually, the victor will become your service or product purveyor in that category because effective marketing is, well, effective. Sometimes it must be further refined as I indicated above by adding online to the movie rental category, but it’s a hard-fast rule all the same.

The Brain Cell Domination Quiz

Now, let’s do this quiz thing — using a half-dozen technology-related examples in this case. Remember, to accurately gauge the winner of your brain cells you mustn’t hesitate to answer. You must respond with the first thing your harddrive of a mind retrieves during this “search.” And speaking of search, let’s begin with that.

Name an online search tool:
And your immediate response is…?
Name some e-commerce software:
And your immediate response is…?
Name a blogging platform:
And your immediate response is…?
Name software manufacturer:
And your immediate response is…?
Name an operating system:
And your immediate response is…?
Name a web standards guru:
And your immediate response is…?

What you responded with is not necessarily what you use or like best, but it is what is most prominent in your mind. It’s who or what you’ve given a single dedicated brain cell to. And it is likely that if it’s not what you use, you probably will at some point because at some point you will reach that decision intersection and will make a quick turn left or right without giving it much conscious thought. You will probably succumb to the victor.

The Ultimate Goal

Become a part of one’s vocabulary. One of the questions in my little quiz asked you to “Name an online search tool” and my response to this would be Google. Google has won-over and dominated my “online search tool” brain cell. They own real estate in my mind and I suspect they have in yours as well. But Google has gone above and beyond brain cell domination. Google has achieved the ultimate goal: Google is now an accepted verb. Do we search for things on the web or do we now “Google” them? In my mind, we do the latter. I Google something on the web almost daily. Thus, not only has Google taken over that aspect of my subliminal mind, they have taken over my conscious mind by establishing themselves in my vocabulary. For them, this is hitting pay dirt. If you accomplish this, as a marketer of a product or service, you are the ultimate victor; a God in that realm.

Another example: Band-aid. This is a brand name for an adhesive medical bandage for small cuts and scrapes. In the United States, most people don’t ask for an adhesive medical bandage, they ask for a bandaid (in lowercase on purpose). The Band-Aid brand adhesive medical bandage is now a common noun, in addition to being a proper noun. Even if you’re asking for a Cure-Ad brand adhesive medical bandage it is very likely you’ll still say “gimme a bandaid.” This is the power of successful marketing to the nth degree.

Now Apply It Yourself

Apply this thinking when marketing your product or service. Think broadly, but also refine your product, service, or specialty. Doing so will make achieving this goal easier by limiting the choices one can make. Stand out from the crowd in some way, shape, or form. Be unique. And be sure to choose a [brand] name that works. As you dominate more brain cells you’ll be able to expand upon this success over time by applying your success to broader categories.

Referring to the quiz examples, let’s say you responded with “WordPress” to the “Name a blogging platform” question (I did). Blogware is their specialty. The next step for WordPress is to capture a more general “online software” brain cell. Once that is achieved, the next step would be to capture the even more general “software” brain cell. Using this example, if WordPress can somehow pull that off, they will rule the world much in the way Microsoft does. This is no easy feat. Microsoft did it because they were first and did it fast and on a grand scale. They dominated Apple because early on they encouraged and made it easy for software developers to make programs for their Windows operating system (OS). Apple played a more closed game. Due to this wide variety of available software for Windows, more consumers and businesses jumped on board. Windows became very widespread — even if they didn’t have the best product on the market. They played the marketing game right and dominated the “OS” brain cell. They also took it a step further by becoming part of the consumer’s vocabulary, albeit quite naturally: Have you resized or opened a new window recently?

Okay, enough of this, you either get the point or you don’t. Think about what you’re doing when marketing. Make it easy and logical to become the obvious choice, or better, a part of one’s vocabulary. Go out there and win over some brain cells for yourself.

Note: I’ve run a successful company going sixteen years now. I decided it was time for a Better Business category to offer some of what I’ve learned in that time. I hope you get something out of it.

10 Responses to: “The Art of Brain Cell Domination”

  1. JackP responds:
    Posted: January 5th, 2007 at 5:11 am

    Since you ask: Google, Agresso (a financials package), Wordpress, Microsoft and Nielsen.

    The one thing companies need to be wary of (which is why Google get very upset if anyone refers to ‘googling’ as a search engine search) is that if a trademarked name becomes used generically without being defended then its trademarked status can be lost. I’m fairly certain this actually happened in the early days of camera development, although I can’t remember the exact circumstances. It’s also (I believe) happened to things like “thermos”.

    Obviously if “google” was to lose it’s trademarked status, I can’t imagine the company behind it would be best pleased, which is why they insist that you don’t “google something” you “do a Google search for it”. I think they’ll keep their trademark status - but asking people not to use google as a verb is a battle I don’t think they’ll win.

  2. Adam responds:
    Posted: January 5th, 2007 at 11:13 am

    So you know . . . you were my web standards guru ;-)

  3. Rich Pedley responds:
    Posted: January 6th, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    Being in the UK I don’t know whether or not the same happened over your end but many years ago there was a company called Hoover. They are probably still about today. That name became synonymous with vacuum cleaning your carpet i.e. hoovering. Back in their heyday they were almost certainly the number one seller of vacuum cleaners, but these days there are many to choose from, but people still hoover their carpets (even if they use a Dyson!).

    Just because the name sticks in the mind doesn’t mean that people will always use ‘them’, they might use an alternative.

    and also to answer those quickies:
    Google, Trading Eye, Wordpress, Microsoft, WinXP, Me!!! :grin:

  4. Georg responds:
    Posted: January 6th, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    I don’t know… maybe language and culture play a role here. I ended up with a quick “Google” on the first one, but a lot of hesitation and no clear responses further down. Was a bit surprising, actually.
    The reason for this result may also be that I have over the years consciously built up “a filter” against such associations - finding them limiting. I think this “filter” kicked in too soon for that quiz to work :-)

    ‘The Ultimate Goal’ (as you describe it) is something good marketing people have always been striving for. Plenty of success-stories through human history, as all natural languages consist largely of words and phrases that started this way.

    Quite efficient, for a while, when one can pull it off. May also cause confusion and communication-problems though.

  5. The Idea Thunderdome 2.0 » Some Propers due responds:
    Posted: January 13th, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    […] I have to give props to Beast Blog for coming up with a stylized, customizable, validatable contact page for WordPress. If you are a user of WordPress I would highly recommend it. Here is the link to the download and instructions. […]

  6. Darwin Hall responds:
    Posted: January 21st, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    Very nice article on brain cells. As far as I can tell you are the authority on the subject. Question.
    And the winners are:

    1. Google
    2. Pay Pal
    3. Wordpress
    4. Microsoft
    5. Windows
    6. Danny Sullivan

    Also, I’d like to thank you for the great wordpress contact form. It worked like a dream!

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