Peak Performance and Creativity at the Intersection of Data, AI and Neuroscience—Part 2
At KERN, we’ve made it a habit to continually share ideas and learn from each other about the current state of marketing and advertising. Over the years, we’ve been influenced by the pioneers of our industry and current thought leaders. We frequently reference the author Simon Sinek. In 2009, he wrote the famous book, Start with Why, and formulated the concept of “the Golden Circle.” In our previous blog post, we presented an overview of peak creative performance at the intersection of data, artificial intelligence and neuroscience. In this post, we’ll dig a bit deeper, using Sinek’s Golden Circle as a framework for these intersections.
The Golden Circle
Simon Sinek’s concept of the Golden Circle, as presented in his book Start with Why, is a powerful framework for understanding the essence of successful leadership and effective communication. The Golden Circle consists of three concentric circles: the What, the How and the Why.
The outer circle is the What, which represents the products or services a company offers. Most organizations are clear about what they do, but this alone is not enough to inspire loyalty or passion.
The middle circle is the How, which represents the processes, strategies and factors that set an organization apart. While the How provides some level of insight, it still falls short of driving true motivation and devotion.
The innermost circle is the Why, the core of Sinek’s philosophy. It delves into the purpose, cause and belief that drives an individual or an organization. By understanding and effectively communicating their Why, leaders can inspire others, create strong connections and attract those who share their values.
Sinek argues that great leaders and organizations start with the Why and work outwards. By leading with purpose and belief, they can create a deep and lasting impact on both their internal culture and their external audience, fostering loyalty, engagement and success.
Using the Golden Circle model, here are its analogues at KERN—
- The Why? Neuromarketing, Core Human Truths and Values
- The How? Automated marketing, AI, Machine Learning and Marketing Technology
- The What? Data + Analytics
The Why that Sinek mentions is at the core and radiates outwards. That’s why we start at neuromarketing. It addresses basic human truths and the psychology of marketing. The psychology involves relationships, affinity, influence and persuasion. Neuromarketing succinctly addresses two critical things—The Brand and The Brain.
As mentioned in our previous blog posts, there are two parts of the brain—the primal and the rational.
The primal brain or “lizard brain” is instinctual and has built-in mechanisms for survival. The optic nerve is connected to our primal brain, and visualization is the most important communication tool we have as marketers. Visual information can trigger the primal brain in a mere 14 nanoseconds.
Conversely, the rational brain is what we use for thinking and filtering information. We’re exposed to over 10,000 messages a day. If our brains tried to process all this, we’d be in sensory overload. So, our rational brains have evolved to have an on/off switch that lets us decide what to pay attention to and what to ignore.
If you don’t grab the attention of the primal brain first, the rational brain won’t pay attention to the message. Because of the primal brain’s survival mechanisms, we’re designed to pay attention only to things that will help us survive.
So, let’s apply these concepts to marketing. Regardless of channel or media—e.g., social, TV, film, text—our brains are on the off switch. The brain’s default state is designed to not pay attention. Most of the time we don’t care, because, we can’t take it all in.
There are 6 stimuli that incite the primal brain to attention. (You can read in detail about those stimuli in our previous blog posts).
Here’s an example of a simple tactic that activates the primal brain—simply using the word “you.” This strategy, called “Working with you,” is a simplified version of what communication experts call “self-referencing.” Researchers show that people spend 60% of conversations talking about themselves, and this jumps to 80% on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The reason is simple: Talking about themselves makes people feel good, as demonstrated by Harvard University’s Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab .
Here’s how you can rewrite statements to focus on “you” to trigger the primal brain—
- “The new process is 40% faster than the current one,” versus “You will save 40% on your time, thanks to the new process.”
- “We are the leading provider of…” versus “You can minimize your risk by choosing the leading provider of…”
Let’s look at some familiar slogans:
- “Obey your thirst”—Sprite
- “I want you”—Uncle Sam
- “Because you’re worth it”—L’Oréal
Relevancy matters. We live in a you-centric world where “it’s all about me.” When you use the word “you,” you create instant rapport—the audience is at the center of your story! 
That aspect of the Why sits at the intersection of what neuromarketing is about. It’s at the core of our Golden Circle framework because everything else radiates outward from those basic human truths. You must awaken the primal brain to allow your value proposition to be noticed, come alive and be processed.
Here are some questions to ask—
- Why am I buying this?
- Why should I pay attention?
- Why am I motivated to do this?
Did the person who bought the BMW buy it rationally for its functionality? No. They bought it because it’s the “Ultimate Driving Machine.” Let’s not kid ourselves.
The What—Data + Analytics
The What is the data and analytics that help us reach insights that ultimately drive creative.
As part of the Omnicom Precision Marketing Group (OPMG), KERN is able to utilize a proprietary tool called OMNI to access data points on over 250 million households, and 100,000 data attributes are updated daily. It’s important to understand the fundamental truths behind all of this data. How do we derive insights from the immense treasure trove of data to properly inform a creative team’s distilled, targeted brief?
Data analytics tools play a crucial role in revealing strategic consumer insights. These tools enable us to more deeply understand consumer behavior, preferences and needs.
Through data analytics, we can identify customer segments, their purchasing patterns and their responses to marketing campaigns. By analyzing demographic data, browsing habits and social media interactions, we gain valuable insights into consumer motivations and decision-making processes.
These insights inform our briefs and strategic decisions, including product development, pricing strategies and targeted marketing campaigns. Data analytics tools enable us to optimize processes, improve customer satisfaction and gain a competitive edge by aligning strategy with consumer demand. Ultimately, data empowers us to make informed decisions and drive growth by better serving our target audience.
Traditionally, direct marketing has had rough estimates with which to profile consumers. Fast-forward to 2023—we now have the ability to target each click or tap with precision, to build quick models of shopping and web behaviors.
With OMNI, we’re able to drill down into specific segments to look at any audience’s “DNA.” We recently did a search on a luxury car company and found some interesting insights that can inform a creative execution. This luxury car’s owners liked membership in clubs, charity work, low-fat cooking, and going out to dance.
Based on this data, we called this group “belongers,” a cohort that values being part of something bigger than themselves.
Here are some questions to ask—
- What is the real insight from this data?
- What is this data telling me?
- What is this persona telling me?
- What are your customers’ motivators?
Our What (data) therefore, ultimately informs our core Why (neuroscience). Let’s go back to the creative brief. If our strategic communication doesn’t address the value of belonging, community and connection, to this specific target audience, we’re missing the mark on their deeply rooted Why. We’re missing the mark on acknowledging and validating their basic human truth.
The How—AI, Automation, Atoms
AI, machine learning and marketing-tech has gotten a lot of buzz lately. For us, they’re simply tools that can automate our processes at scale, efficiently. It’s where KERN is going, and it’s where the industry will inevitably go as the technology and industry evolve. As we move from one-to-many to one-to-one, McKinsey reports that revenue goes up by 5% –15%, and cost reductions go down by 10% –30%.
At KERN, we use Atomic Design as a methodology for building flexible, modular creative output. Brad Frost, who wrote the book on this approach says, “Atomic design is a methodology composed of five distinct stages working together to create interface design systems in a more deliberate and hierarchical manner.” In other words, it’s thinking about design in terms of building blocks—specifically, chemical building blocks like atoms and molecules. You use these blocks to move through five stages of creation, from the most discrete atom to a holistic page.
Let’s use building with LEGO, with each LEGO block to illustrate Atomic Design in action. Each block (atom) is designed to support each other. If you pull out even one block, the bigger object you’re building changes shape. So you go back and reorder more blocks. Which usually helps you build better.
This is the essence of Atomic Design. Building piece by piece. Seeing what does or doesn’t work, then rebuilding to make everything stronger. It’s a way of moving between the parts and the whole, that makes sense to everyone. Atomic Design is powerful. It forces our designers, writers and creatives to think about every discrete element as they design a system, and how to scale these elements across a whole experience. It’s a logical act of building.
Let’s bring neuromarketing back into the mix. Neuromarketing concepts are applied during the creative process. The right neural inputs are selected as creative is being actively formulated for optimized output. A deep understanding of audience motivators, segments and behaviors is critical.
Ultimately, the How of all this drives costs down, and enables the increased assembly of creative at scale.
Here are some questions to ask—
- How are we smoothing out inefficiencies in our current system?
- How can we make our processes quicker and smarter?
- How can we use automation tools to scale processes and operations?
Neuromarketing at the core of Peak Performance and Creativity
After working in marketing for over 45 years, it feels like a dream to see the capabilities that we’d projected back then, implemented and in action today. Neuromarketing provides a solid core, a firm Why that radiates out to the How of automation and the What of data, within the Golden Circle framework. Despite all the exponential advances in technology, those tools by themselves are incapable of arriving at human truths. Neuroscience keeps “human” at the very core and takes psychological and behavioral metrics into account as the ultimate motivators of purchase, loyalty and action.
Deriving insights from data, distilling these insights into emotionally charged creative informed by the knowledge of neuromarketing and consumer behavior, then using automation to deploy it at scale, is the goal. The capabilities to make optimized, peak creativity happen are here. We’re at an inflection point in our industry. Huge changes are being made that we’ve never seen before. It’s the world we live in right now, and that’s why it excites us.
Morin, C. (2016). The Persuasion Code (p. 229-231). Wiley.
Sinek, S. (2009). Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Penguin Publishing Group.