Today’s guest began her journey at blue chip companies, where she found that the success of marketing initiatives was remarkably hit or miss. She felt strongly that branding should be more than just pretty pictures and clever ad campaigns.

That’s when she founded the first woman-owned brand consultancy, with a mission of increasing top-line revenue for her clients by applying her knowledge about instincts to help companies understand the roots of bias.

A Yale and Harvard Business School graduate, book author, and TEDx speaker, she’s here to share perspectives on driving business growth pre- and post-COVID.

Please welcome Leslie Zane.

Episode highlights:

  • 00.00.23 Life of Leslie Zane
  • 00.18.02 Growing a Company
  • 00.20.32 Marketing
  • 00.22.32 Memory Elicitation

Learn more about this guest:

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Podcast Episode Transcripts:

Disclaimer: Transcripts were generated automatically and may contain inaccuracies and errors.


Leslie Zane. Good to connect with you. Thanks for jumping on learning from others. Nice to see you and hear you. Sorry. Yes, my beautiful voice. Thank you. So Leslie, Zane, as we, we chatted before we hit the go button. Um, I like to ask our guests two questions and question number one is what do you do? And what are we going to learn about?

Uh, so I own a brand strategy firm called triggers. Uh, it was actually the first, uh, brand strategy firm, um, founded by a woman, uh, 25 years ago. Uh, and we drive transformative growth by changing brand purchase behavior at the instinctual level changing, we do brand decisions. Say that. Changing brand decisions, brand purchase behavior, any, any of those, uh, at the instinctual level.

Meaning not unconscious decision instinctive choice. Yes. Okay. I got some, I got some questions coming for you on that, but not entailed question number two, which is what are you not so good at lastly? Uh, I am not good at saying no. Um, my husband has told me that he is going to put on my gravestone if I die before him, which I’m sure he’s helping.

No good deed goes unpunished. I have a, I have a tendency to jump in and help out and then sometimes it doesn’t, it doesn’t go so well because I tend to get overly involved. Do you that that’s actually a topic I’m super passionate about. Do you, so it sounds like you’re aware. Of the pain you’re inflicting on yourself by not saying no, but you just still can’t say no, I think so.

I, when somebody comes to me with a problem and I, and I do very much think it’s a consultant’s mindset. We’re fixers. You know, we like to fix things. We like to make it better. And probably the better way to go is just to equip the person who’s telling me about their challenge with the tools to fix it themselves.

But yeah. Do you do this in not only in business or are you a people pleaser in the personal world too? A hundred percent. That’s really more what my husband is talking about. Oh, man. All right. We could have a whole conversation on that one. So I’m gonna, I’m going to stop there. All right. So let’s get into you talking about, um, and decisions at the instinctual level.

So this is a fascinating topic and, um, especially in like the digital marketing space where it seems like so much of us are just getting so sick of ads and we’re getting banner blindness, and we’re just overwhelmed by flashing sales pitches everywhere. So how do you. Break through that. And w why don’t we just dig in more what you do and how you do it?

Yeah. So, um, what we focus on is really how people make instinctive decisions, uh, what you described just now, which is shouting sales messages and billboards, and flashing this and flashing that those tend to actually push people right. Um, and the reason that they push people away is that the consumer sees them coming.

Um, it feels like they are being sold to, and our conscious mind is very aware when that happens and we kind of tighten up and we get rigid and we push, we push those kinds of sales efforts away. Um, but that is very much, you know, uh, a lot of what you see in, in digital advertising, digital marketing, even social media.

Yeah. And you kind of made an interesting comment that we S you know, we see those sales coming, so it’s, and maybe you can elaborate on what I’m about to say, but it’s not that people are against buying stuff. It’s actually, you know, retail therapy is a real thing, but they just don’t want to be sold to, they want to buy, but they don’t want to be salted.

That’s exactly right. It has to be a match between what the consumer instinctively feels and what the brand is projecting. And when you have a match between those two things, it feels very natural and it doesn’t feel like they’re being sold to at all. Um, you know, one of the ways that I can help explain this to people is by explaining the difference between the conscious mind and the subconscious.

So our conscious mind is located in our neocortex, which is the newer part of the brain. And that process is information very slowly, 40 bits per second. Whereas our subconscious, which is located in our reptilian complex, the, the older part of the brain. Um, it processes information at 40 million bits per second, very, very rapidly.

In fact, so rapidly that we’re not at all aware of it. It just happens automatically. And so what’s happening today in a lot of marketing is that marketers are trying to persuade the conscious mind to do something. We try to incentivize it. We give people coupons and discounts and buy one, get one free.

And we, we shout all kinds of super little claims at them. And none of that really works very well. Um, which is why, you know, growth is so hard to come by and why companies have so much difficulty, um, gaining. Whereas, if you go to the subconscious mind, um, ideas, just kind of seep in there, um, in a much more, um, natural way.

Uh, they piggyback on existing ideas in the brain, um, and it turns out that the subconscious brain is much more malleable. And if you focus your messaging there, uh, then you can make inroads gain, share, grow revenue much faster and much more, much more easily. Um, but that’s a new idea to a lot of people and it, it it’s, it’s, uh, it’s tough to get people to make this switch because most marketing is still done toward the, the subconscious to the conscious mind.

Yeah. You talking about reptilian brain and neurological cortex. Does that mean you were a rocket scientist before this? I wish I had been, no. I kind of learnt on the job. Um, I’ve had my company for 25 years and early on we, we had the triggers process. That’s the name of our process. It’s also in the name of our company and it was working really, really well.

And companies would say to us, how did you do this? How did you get, you know, growth to double? How did you turn around the business? We hired, you know, 17 different consulting firms before you, and, and none of them did it. Um, and we realized that we had this process that was working. And I actually went to a whole bunch of different scientists, anthropologists, neuroscientists, uh, behavioral economists, um, and psychologists and I got to got them all in a room and I didn’t let them out for three days.

Um, and we, we pieced together sort of the scientific, underlying principles of why our process worked. Um, so we were, we were practicing a lot of what has come out just very recently in brain science. We were actually practitioners of that early on before the brain science came out, since it was kind of what you were doing was kind of working, but it sounds like.

To find the processes or, um, you know, make things, make the approach more definitive until later until like you said, you said you locked block some scientists into a room for three days. So before you had a literal outline of what were you doing, what were you doing? So the, we had the process right away, you know, from the beginning we were diagnosing, uh, What brands looked like in the subconscious of the customer and the customer could be anybody from a B2B buyer, a business buyer to a consumer, uh, even a healthcare professional doctors.

So we were doing that from the beginning. Um, analyzing what those subconscious drivers and barriers were. Um, and then figuring out the triggers to, to change them. So we had the process, actually, what we didn’t have was science as to why it worked. So it was the why’s that we were missing and that’s what the scientists, uh, helped us fill in.

Uh, and now we actually have, um, both we have the process and we know why it works and we can, we can explain it to companies and empower them so that everything that they do, um, is, is done using this same lens, which is going to enable them to, um, make growth happen faster and with less resources. And now I can help you or your audience do the same thing.

Yeah. So I, I have kind of a off topic question a little bit, um, with the domain triggers.com. I liked the domain and I’m a bit of a domainer. Um, how long ago did you score that? Uh, I only bought that about four years ago. Um, but I knew to the person who had it, um, I had, I had been in touch with him. He had tried to sell it to me for a ridiculous price, um, many years earlier.

And I had said no. And then, um, you know, more recently, about four years ago, he, um, He, he approached me again and we came to, we came to a more reasonable agreements, a semi ridiculous price. All right. So, you know, you’ve kind of given us the rundown of what you do and kind of touched on how you can help the listeners better understand that.

So where does this whole process begin? So it starts with understanding. How we actually make decisions. That’s the first step and how brands grow. And so let me try to explain that. Now, when you go, let’s say to the supermarket in your mask, um,

and you let’s say go to the orange juice department, uh, the orange juice section. Um, most likely if you are like most consumers, you just reach for the brand that you know, and that is your quote go-to over and over again. You’re not really aware of why you pick that one, why you pick that brand, you just kind of reach and it’s a very autonomic automatic, um, response.

Um, you just reach you’re on autopilot over and over and over again. That moment of reaching, which by the way, it’s so fascinating to hear people talk about it. Cause when you ask them well, did you see any other brands on the shelf? You’re like, no, I can’t. I couldn’t tell you if I tried, it’s almost like there’s like a little spotlight.

On the brand that they choose over and over again, and they just don’t see anything else. This is why it’s so difficult for new products to, to break through. Um, so they buy that, that product and they don’t know why, but I can tell you why that is because they have a subconscious shortcut that may. Uh, enables us to make very rapid decisions.

If we had to sit here and plod through all the myriad of decisions that we have to make in a day, we would go crazy. Um, there’s just too many different, the things that we have to decide. And so the lion’s share of what we decide in an average day is on automatic through these subconscious court shortcuts, these shortcuts, then in turn, have.

Uh, a network of associations underneath them that caused you to make one decision or not. Um, and I talk about this in, uh, an article and knowledge at Wharton that I co-authored with professor Michael Platt, a neuroscience professor at Wharton. Um, and we call this the brand connect to home. So the brand connectome is a hidden network of associations, positive and negative associations that have gotten glued to the brand.

Over time. So let’s say you reached for Tropicana. Um, there is a Tropicana brand connectome in your subconscious made up of all of the, in your case, probably mostly positive associations that you associate with with that brand. It could be anything from, you know, your mom used it in, in her kitchen. You imagine.

Um, uh, oranges growing on trees, the moment of plucking, you know, that, that juicy orange, you know, from, from, from a branch, um, and, and so on. So there are all these positive associations and because they built up over time that Tropicana brand connect. Yeah. Pretty large. It’s pretty robust. It’s filled with branches and those branches holds all these associations.

And so, because it’s both large, uh, large connectome and it’s also mostly positive. That brand is your go-to. So there’s really two things that makes brands grow, adding lots of positive associations to the brand connectome and. Having it branch out and cover more territory in your brain. So it, these are not wispy things floating around in our brain.

There’s actual protein synthesis that binds different associations to the brain. And as you add more, that tree grows out. We call it brain branching, more and more branches form. The more physical territory your brand owns in the subconscious, the more it becomes your go-to brand, because it has more salience in your mind.

So you have to reach for it. You are forced to reach for it. I always say you don’t make your brand decisions, your brand connect home. How long of a process is this? Cause it sounds like it’s obviously not just a thing you turn on. Right? Right. You need to start by understanding what is inside your brand connect home.

Um, and you can do that by if you’re a B2B company you could interview. You could interview prospective clients, obviously those that are aware of you, but are not using you. Um, and in the consumer world, what we do is we, um, conduct all kinds of, um, memory elicitation techniques. I’ll talk about that in a moment, um, in order to understand the brand of the co of our client.

And also the brand of the, the competitive users. Um, so we’ll look at the brand, the competitive brand. Connectome, we’ll look at our brand, our client’s brand connectome and we’ll troubleshoot what those differences are. And most importantly, we’ll look at our client’s brand, connect them in the mind of competitive users who are not, who have not chosen to use this brand.

And when you compare and contrast the brand connectome of a current user versus a non-user, you can immediately see why, what the reasons are. What are the barriers, what are the negative associations that are holding your brand back? Or it might be that your brand connect is just so sparse. That it, it doesn’t have any presence in, in their mind.

And we find both of those things to be usually the case. Um, when, when a brand, when our client’s brand is not growing as well as it should be, it’s usually an issue of competitive users have a. Uh, sparse brand connect home, uh, in their minds. And it’s also overloaded with some negative associations weighed down by negative associations that the brand really needs to prone.

And the good news about all of this is that because we have neuroplasticity in our brains are constantly changing and these associations and these, this wiring is constantly changing. You’re not stuck with any situation that you have. Um, you can absolutely change it. You just need to start creating new associations.

Does that make sense? Yeah. Yeah. Does, does this, is this mostly applicable to retail products? Service-based brands, all of the above. All of the above. We have done it for consumer products. We’ve done it for, um, service businesses. Uh, we’ve done it for financial services, healthcare, pharmaceutical, drugs, medical equipment.

Um, it really, this is how the brain works. So, um, it’s universal. This is how people make decisions. Uh, we’re using a process that we developed that actually, um, Sort of cracks the code on how do you, how do you grow brands? And the fact is you cannot grow a brand in the marketplace until it first grows in the subconscious of yours.

Your your prospective customers. And it’s all about the prospective customers, not the customers. You have companies make a lot of mistakes by overemphasizing their current customers get me wrong. You love your current customers and you want to take very good care of them. But if you’re talking about how do I get my company to grow?

Really every extra dollar that you have should be put into focusing on the people you don’t have. That’s how you’re going to really increase, um, the scale of your company faster through penetration. I, I, I assume that you’re familiar with the, the century of self. No. What is that? Oh my goodness. It’s going to be your new favorite thing.

It’s um, about how, um, I can’t remember the gentleman’s name right now, but it’s, um, you’ve probably familiar with the guy, but it’s about a hundred years ago how the whole transformation to commercialization happened. And before that, um, For the most part, we weren’t necessarily a culture that was feeding on retail.

And so it’s, it’s um, about the gentlemen that basically made commercialization sexy and, and that’s how it just converted the, the economy to just largely be based on the sexiness of commerce. Cool. So what did you, what did you learn from that? Um, well, you know, maybe in a marketing as well, uh, there wasn’t like any aha moments, but it was interesting kind of like how you explained the rollout of your company, how you, you already knew what was working, but it was interesting to get the facts behind why.

So that was kind of my interpretation of it, as well as you know, yeah. I get this, I understand there’s things that work, uh, at a psychological and subconscious level, but it’s interesting. To see how that evolved and what birth, that process and how commercialization was, what was born into the economy?

Yeah, no, I think that’s probably true of a lot of things, um, that we figure something out. Um, and then we, we realized. Oh, this makes so much sense. Of course, this has to be the way it is. And that’s what a lot of people have told us about our process. Um, once they see it, they can’t unsee it, um, because it’s actually explaining, you know, how, how things work, but now they have.

To, to do it and they have a way to do it more consistently. Um, because obviously marketers have success, but it’s tends to be very hit or miss that’s actually why I created my company because I was inside brand management in top blue chip marketing organizations. And I found that. So much of what we did did not build business.

And I said, you know, this just doesn’t make sense. Marketing has gotta be more than just, you know, pretty pictures and a bunch of logos. If it doesn’t build sales, what’s the point of doing it. Uh, and so I, I created my company in 1995 with the express intent of creating a process that would work. Every single time.

And I think because I had been inside brand management, I saw what went wrong. Um, and so I created the process to address those gaps. Uh, and I also had a very strong instinct by the way. Um, back then when I was inside the companies that there was something more going on, um, beneath the surface that most research wasn’t capturing most marketing campaigns, we’re in, we’re in.

We’re encapturing. And there was an interesting epiphany moment that I had early in my career around that. Have you seen the skateboarding guy drink in the cranberry juice? Oh, yeah. Yeah, definitely. Do you, do you have any comments on that? I mean, you’re not a viral magician, but based on what you do, do you have any opinion or comments on just the value that ocean spray got out of that or anything that that’s contributed to them?

I mean, I think the value was, was tremendous. Um, But I think it it’s, there’s something I conic about that moment. Um, there’s something that’s very freeing and active that everybody can, um, identify with. And then, you know, the fact that ocean spray is there at that moment, um, is, is, you know, the two things kind of collide.

Um, and then you have. Uh, viral success. Yeah. The, from, from what I’ve picked up, ocean spray reached out and now kind of like sponsors the guy because they see the value. And so they’re, they’re rolling with it. So it was kind of interesting. Um, you had mentioned memory let, to station elicitation, listening.

Am I saying that, right? Um, well, let’s, let’s touch on that memory of a station techniques. Memory elicitation is about delving deep into people’s layers of memory, going all the way back to their first usage of, of a brand. Um, and it’s actually quite remarkable how far back, uh, people’s memories of brands go.

Um, they do often go back all the way to childhood. Very often tremendous richness to be uncovered, um, by doing that, but really what, what is a brand? A brand is, uh, an accumulation of memories from the first time you heard about it till today. That is all a brand. Is these memories get glued to the brand.

So if I want to understand what the health of my brand is, it’s not sufficient to use brand trackers that track particular attributes or brand equity studies. That, you know, just tell you some of the surface metrics that a study like that can capture. If you really want to know what’s going on in your brand, you have to delve deep into the mind of users and non-users, um, and capture all of those memories that have accumulated over time.

And the fascinating thing about these memories is that many of them, uh, are not about the brand per se. They’re about associations with them. So as an example, um, apple has people’s grandmothers in their apple brand. Connectome and yeah. Why would that be? The reason is a lot of people have taught their grandparents to FaceTime with them.

And that was before COVID, by the way, it’s only, uh, increased in accelerated, um, since COVID, um, but that’s a great example of something that has nothing to do with what the brand advertised and everything to do with the association that the brain created about the brand. And that’s why it’s insufficient to look at brand trackers and equity studies, because you will never, ever uncover those kinds of memories, um, in, in that kind of study.

So that’s why we use memory elicitation to delve deep into the layers going way back, um, from now all the way to the past, to the first usage. Uh, and that is what makes up the brand. Connectome all those positive and sometimes negative associations and memories. And you need to understand all of them, the negative associations, tell you what is holding back your brands grow.

And then do you try to positively convert those negative emotions or do you just avoid them? Uh, you, you convert them, but you don’t convert them by telling people, no, I don’t have this negative thing because all that does is accentuate that negative. What you do is you replace a negative with a positive.

Okay. Now you talking about apple, they’re obviously huge brand and you’ve worked with other big brands. Not not saying you’d necessarily have to have all budgets that the clients you work with sounds like the clients, but what about kind of the little guys? Is there anything small business owners can take action on?

Well, I think that for small business owners who are resource constrained, um, it’s more important. For them then than anyone, um, because they need every advantage they can get. Um, actually my knowledge of Wharton at Arctic, uh, my, my knowledge of Wharton article, um, talks about a small company company that started out, nobody had heard of it and kind of came out of nowhere.

Now it’s famous and then it’s been sold. Uh, but, um, Uh, dollar shave club is a great example of a company that, uh, was a major disruptor and was able to take tremendous share from the big guys, the big razor brands like Gillette and Schick, and they did it pretty much overnight. And the recipe they used, which I’m not sure they realize they were using, um, was that they added a lot of positive associations to their brand very quickly in a video that was posted on YouTube.

Um, and they added a lot of negative associations to the competition and they did that at the same time. So they talked about the fact that the, the dollar shave club razor is really all you need. It’s the kind of razor your grandfather used and he was fine. Um, it’s high quality, it’s low cost. It’s practical.

The, uh, environment that the, uh, that the viral that the video is filmed in, um, is, looks like a garage or a warehouse. So obviously, um, they’re not overcharging you for the raisers, uh, because every penny is just going into the rays are not into fancy offices. Uh, and then they, and so those are all the positive associations about their brand.

Um, and then they simultaneously say, you know, who really knows. Uh, a razor with a flashlight and an air conditioner and a hammer and a toolkit on it. And they, you know, imply that Gillette and Schick and those other razors are over-engineered and that contract. Uh, between the two different, you know, brands, uh, was very, very stark and immediate and, and it was also done with a tremendous sense of humor, um, by the CEO of dollar shave club and the video went viral overnight and they were out of stock and the, you know, the rest is history.

They’re, they’re an interesting evolution. Um, you know, I’ve done, uh, Minor audits. One of their team members reached out to me on LinkedIn. I did some SEO audits for them, and so I always kind of keep a pulse on them. Um, I don’t do anything with them ongoing, but it’s interesting because as you touched on, it was amazing how they exploded and how quickly, but now I’m almost, uh, Starting to be curious if they’re a victim of their own success, because it’s funny you bring them up because I saw them.

I saw them in Walmart last night and, and now it’s almost like they’re evolving into what and they were acquired, I think by Unilever. Um, so it’s interesting to see where they’re going now because they are almost the mega brand that they originally preached against that they found success. So. That’s that’s such a great point.

You know, I think that a lot of brands that started out as these boutique, um, offerings, these disruptors, um, that people connected with because they were small and because they had a founder, uh, because they had a face to the brand and they were not corporate. Um, when they do get purchased, they have to be extremely careful, um, to maintain the value.

Of the original company, uh, otherwise you’re right. They could be a victim of their, their own success. That there’s definitely a way to do it, um, to hold on to the, to the values and keep the image, um, very similar. Um, but you, but you definitely bring up a good point. They have to be very clear. Now maybe one of the last things we can touch on is you, you briefly mentioned COVID and we’re obviously still in it at the time of recording this.

So how has, how have things changed if any, and how brands should approach this content? So right now, I think consumers, depending on where they are in the country are in different stages of the pandemic. Um, some people are still, you know, holed up inside and not going out and making plans and, and socializing and other people are doing more of that.

Some people are being safe, some people are being less safe. So there’s a little bit of that, but I think the way I think about this is that, um, COVID has brought about the most significant behavioral change in modern history. Uh, and we’re all going through it together. Um, so there is no way that the behaviors, uh, that we, the new behaviors that we are adopting, which includes.

You know, everything from cooking more at home, um, you know, less going to restaurants, uh, more staycations, um, all of those, maybe doing more, uh, Self fixing, you know, self repair, um, uh, projects. I think a lot of those behaviors have to stick, um, because they, they are already becoming ingrained. Um, and because we’re both our attitudes as well as our behavior is changing at the same time.

Um, so. I, I think that that is that’s a risk. Um, that’s a major risk for companies and in terms of what companies can do to, um, to boost their business during this time, if you think about, uh, connect homes, uh, just like there are brand connectomes, there’s also a COVID connection. And it turns out that that COVID connectome has two very large clusters it’s it’s like a tree, um, that ha that branches off into two different two trunks and those trunks, uh, one is very perseverance oriented.

Um, and that is the, the, the desire to kind of go out and do things. And the other is preservation oriented and that’s the one that’s driven by our survival instinct. Um, and that’s the one that’s very risk averse and safety oriented, and, you know, wants to stay home and pull up a cup, pull the covers over.

All right. Those two clusters are fighting against each other for dominance. And right now the preservation cluster is larger and more dominant in our brains than the perseverance cluster. In order to have an economic recovery, the. The perseverance cluster has to be larger and dominant as it is in times of growth.

Um, so what companies actually need to do is they need to both make people feel safe. And protected, um, by overdoing it, uh, on the safety side, doing everything in their power, um, to keep people safe, particularly if they have a retail, um, business or even any kind of service business, uh, and they need to, to tell people what they’re doing to keep them safe.

Uh, so you keep the preservation side of the COVID. Connectome happy. So. And you encourage people and inspire them to move forward, um, and, and go ahead and make plans and conduct business and, um, and make progress. Uh, cause both of them, these are, are very important for, for humans, entity. Um, we need to continue to make progress and we need to keep safe and healthy.

Um, so if you can cue both sides of the connectome, then the companies that do that successfully. Are going to be the ones that gain share during this period. Yeah, that makes sense. Well, Leslie, Zane, it’s been interesting talking about, um, you know, I’ve always been a fan of this whole subconscious approach and, uh, and building brand awareness and connecting.

Uh, I don’t know if it’s, uh, which I appreciate more that intentional approach or just the intentional avoidance of puking sells on. Everybody thinks that’s a great topic that I think has a lot of value. And especially now, like you said, in the COVID era, so I want to leave you the last few moments to tell our listeners how they can find out more.

Uh, sure. Um, so they can look me up on Lesliezane.com or triggers.com or link with me on LinkedIn, under Leslie Pico, Zane. Um, and I look forward to meeting new people. So it would be my pleasure to connect with, uh, anyone in your audience. Yeah, I appreciate it. We’ll put those links in the show notes.

Leslie Zane, everybody. Thanks for jumping on learning from others. Thank you so much for having me.

What did you think of this podcast?

Today’s guest began her journey at blue chip companies, where she found that the success of marketing initiatives was remarkably hit or miss. She felt strongly that branding should be more than just pretty pictures and clever ad campaigns.

That’s when she founded the first woman-owned brand consultancy, with a mission of increasing top-line revenue for her clients by applying her knowledge about instincts to help companies understand the roots of bias.

A Yale and Harvard Business School graduate, book author, and TEDx speaker, she’s here to share perspectives on driving business growth pre- and post-COVID.

Please welcome Leslie Zane.

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