Usually associated with extreme political and religious groups, brainwashing has become a term that most business people would prefer to be distanced from, and most would prefer it not to be referred to as a marketing technique. However, when put into context, brainwashing, when used ethically can be not only positive but empowering to the audience to which it is exposed.

Brainwashing is a term used to describe techniques which implant a new belief, concept or idea within a targeted individual. The concept has been tarnished by certain extremist groups, governments, and individuals who choose to – instead of implanting a belief – create a blank slate, or a mental void free of presuppositions, through the use of torture, intimidation or sensory deprivation. However, brainwashing tactics are all too common in today’s world, and a good marketer will use some of the less voracious tactics to engage effectively with an audience. Here are just a few of the many brainwashing precepts which can be used to increase engagement, and effectively adjust perceptions.

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Challenging Existing Beliefs – The Waterfall Marketing Technique

This is especially useful to organisations that are promoting a product which is new to the market, or is revolutionary and its nature.Given credence by Chinese Communists during the Maoist revolution, the waterfall technique involves taking a small belief that the subject has and proving to them it’s wrong. Using the communism example, they would demonstrate how communism had brought prosperity to the people, assisted in economic expansion, and brought peace to cities that were being torn apart by political violence. This wasn’t about making the subject feel that communism was good and capitalism was bad – rather they simply wanted the subject to admit something much smaller – “can you accept that communism isn’t entirely evil?” Once this belief had been altered, and the subject had accepted that there were elements to communism that weren’t disastrous, the subject’s brain became automatically more receptive to other, larger belief based changes.
This technique was further advanced through neurolinguistic programming, which used the questioning technique to enable subjects to internalise belief base change – “Do you find your existing supplier of sanitary products unreliable?” When the subject subconsciously answers this question in the affirmative, again, not a huge behavioural change, but a minor belief adjustment, they are in a far more receptive state for larger statements later in the pitch, or further down the page.
This can be applied to modern marketing also, as copywriters and videographers have discovered the power of asking a small question, and allowing the gates to open for many larger questions as the article, blog post or advertisement goes on. Most critical, however, is that the question must appeal directly to your target persona and they should be able to answer in the affirmative without too much thought – if the conscious mind gets involved, the chances of an automatic response are slim. Remember, don’t ask the questions up front – it’s important that the subject is in a receptive state when you begin larger, more meaningful questions.

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Appealing to Common Sense – The Cleverman Marketing Technique

During the Spanish Civil War, Franco’s fascist forces were challenged by small militia units, usually taken from local towns. They quickly learned that if they remained on the offensive, the war would soon deteriorate into a series of battles of attrition, especially in regional locations. Units were trained to “educate” the local populace, and show them the benefits of a totalitarian government. A critical element of this, was pointing out the shortcomings of what they were fighting for, and implanting new, fascist based beliefs based on Franco’s ethos. Propaganda began to take on an almost sarcastic tone, mocking those who couldn’t see the benefits of fascism, and pointing out the, “irrelevancy,” of every other form of government, targeting especially communism and democracy. Through this, many locals took the “common sense approach,” and sided with the fascists over the freedom fighters who were, “glory seekers,” and “misguided.”
When we are confronted with a decision, it’s often the tone in which it is presented that dictates our action. This marketing technique is based – at it’s core – on pointing out that an action is, “common sense,” to take the action prescribed, rather than entering a form of sales pitch or features and benefits list. Many businesses use this already, funneling a ‘commonsense’ statement into a free trial, or compelling offer which the audience would be crazy not to take up. This is an important point for any organisation that is offering software as a service and is attempting a long winded sales pitch at the expense of a short functionary explanation, followed by a statement of the obvious next move in a tone of authority.

Use Negative Emotions – The Impact Marketing Technique

The Catholic Church is a movement that has sustained over an unthinkable period. With complicated and easily manipulated doctrine, combined with a complex bureaucracy, the church has still managed to remain relevant to millions of its followers through a simple promise – if you don’t worship correctly, you’ll go to hell.
While this is, of course, an oversimplification of the churches belief systems, it forms the fundamental basis of Catholic worship. Through this, many followers have chosen to stay with the church simply because they were for too afraid to leave.
Marketers are often hesitant to use fear as our technique, and this is a mistake. Fear, as a component of the reptilian brain, is triggered automatically and as a result instantaneous response is often gained. This is especially important for those who are selling and easy to purchase product online, or a service that is simple to understand, and required from a regulatory standpoint. By pointing out the implication of not purchasing, creating a sense of potential fear and then – rather than solving the problem – taking it to it’s logical extreme, the marketer can take the prioritisation of purchase from the bottom of a list to the top in a matter of moments.

Importantly, these marketing techniques are to be used ethically – there is no harm in helping someone to doesn’t know they need help, but there’s a big difference between helping and conning. This list is also useful for avoiding potential brainwashing techniques. The fundamental rule in avoiding being manipulated is to resist immediate purchase and allow your logical brain to run its course.

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