Marketing Lessons of Joseph Stalin: Statistics vs Tragedy

Stalin said, “One death is a tragedy, one million a statistic.”

The latest neuro-science research bears this out. Human minds react to statistics, logically, unemotionally and without empathy. The neocortex, the part of the human brain that separates us from other mammals processes speech, is logical, is methodical and is not the part of the brain that ultimately makes decisions.

The limbic brain, the part of the brain that we humans share with other mammals is the part of our brain that processes emotions, like fear or happiness and even empathy.  Appealing to this part of the brain, appealing to emotion is more likely to motivate action than the appealing to logic…. 1 million deaths is a statistic, 1 death is a tragedy.

Decisions are actually made with the most ancient part of the brain; sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain because it is the same part of the brain that we share with alligators.  This part of the brain has no capacity for logic and processes data based on six simple inputs (see The Old Brain is The Decision Maker).

So what does all this scientific mumbo-jumbo mean to you? Well simply put, it means that the latest scientific evidence bears out the thesis of one of histories monsters.  It means that if you are looking to drive action, appeal to the emotional mind and not the logical mind.  It means that statistics don’t evoke a strong emotion and emotions are more likely to incite action.

Testing the theory:

Example #1: 3.2 Million people suffer from debilitating headaches.

Example #2: Imagine that you’re a mother, and 2 or 3 times a week, you suffer from a debilitating headache.  Imagine, not being able to care for your children…. not being able to work…. to function.

Example #1 is a statistic. Example #2 is a tragedy.

When you pitch your product, your company, your idea, do you appeal to the logical brain or the emotional?  All other things being equal, those of you who appeal to the limbic brain are more likely to succeed.