The Secret “Buy Button” in Your Customer’s Brain, with Neuromarketer Patrick Renvoisé

What if science could prove that marketers are doing EVERYTHING wrong? 

Patrick Renvoisé is a brain scientist who has co-authored two books claiming that is exactly the case. At SalesBrain, the consultancy where he is Chief Persuasion Officer, Patrick has helped over 100,000 CEOs identify and target the secret Buy Button inside their customer’s brain. 

The co-author of “Neuromarketing” and “The Persuasion Code,” Patrick shares his simple, proven scientific methodology to create desire and entice people to buy your product. Using sophisticated physiological measurements, measuring brainwaves and tracking eye movements, Patrick’s team discovered that what people say does not reflect what they truly want. 

Patrick has identified that decision-making is governed not by the rational neocortex (known as System Two), but by the ancient primal brain, or System One. The primal brain only recognizes six stimuli—which Patrick tells you how to trigger using four specific steps.

If you’re a product marketer and want to start leveraging brain science to sell MUCH more, you don’t want to miss this episode.

Episode transcript:

Laurier: Hey, product marketers, if you’re interested in how our brains decide to buy, you’ll find this episode fascinating.

What if your customer’s brain had a secret Buy Button embedded in it? According to today’s guest, it does!

Patrick Renvoisé started his career selling supercomputers. Closing multimillion-dollar deals sparked his interest in how decision-makers’ brains arrived at “yes.” That led him to become co-founder and chief persuasion officer of SalesBrain. SalesBrain is a pioneering agency in neuromarketing, where over the course of 20 years Patrick has trained over a hundred thousand executives worldwide to unlock the power of science in selling, marketing, and persuading.

Patrick co-authored two books on the subject, “Neuromarketing,” and “The Persuasion Code,”   that have been translated into 12 languages. Patrick believes that everything a marketer needs to know about persuasion is connected to reaching a specific part of the brain called the “primal brain.”

I started our discussion by asking him why that is.

Patrick: Well, if you think about it, for the longest period of time, marketers have been trying to have a rational approach to marketing , In marketing, what you try to do is influence your audience so that if they buy toothpaste, they will buy your toothpaste, not somebody else’s. And for the longest period of time, marketing has been somewhat of an empirical science.

But what we can say is that with the latest discoveries that we’ve made in understanding how people use their brain to make buying decisions, we came to realize that persuasion activity is really driven by one specific area of the brain called the “primal brain.” So it’s a little bit like if marketing was now entering a new era really anchored in silence, no longer a long list of tips and recommendations.

And the fact that the primal brain is driving that precision process is no longer an interpretation. We have enough scientific evidence today to say that with 99.99% probability, and this has been proven by people that have received the Nobel prize in economy, and mainly two researchers. The first one is Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman was professor of psychology in Princeton, and he wrote a book a few years ago called “Thinking Fast and Slow.” And in his book, Kahneman demonstrated that our fast brain, which he called System One, which we call the “primal brain,” is really the driver in the persuasion process. And amazingly enough his research has later been proven by another researcher by the name of Richard Thaler.

Thaler was actually a student of Kahneman. And Thaler wrote a book called “Nudge,” and he also got the Nobel Prize. Kahneman got the Nobel Prize in 2002. Thaler got the Nobel Prize in 2017. And they both referred to two systems in the brain: System One, which we prefer to call the primal brain, and System Two, which is the rational brain.

So again, today there is overwhelming evidence that proves the role of the primal brain in decision making and in influence.

Laurier: In addition to all that evidence, at SalesBrain you use some very sophisticated techniques to identify the responses of human beings, to marketing by measuring physiological responses. Talk about those and how they helped discover what you call that “buy button” in the customer’s brain.

Patrick: Yes, so if you think about it, the way marketing was working is by asking people, “what do you want? ” and then based on their answers, marketers were building the product and later they were building a strategy to sell that product. That’s traditional marketing, but we know now that traditional marketing does not work, it’s not very effective.

Why? Because it’s based on the self-recorded responses of the consumer. If you ask people, “what do you want?” in reality, they don’t know what they want. So about 20 years ago, we started to see a new branch of marketing called neuromarketing. And in neuromarketing, what you do is you ask people what you want, but you don’t trust their answers.

Instead, you will measure directly on their bodies, various physiological changes. So there are different measurements that we make on people, for example, we use EEGs. So we measure their brainwaves because these brainwaves give us an indication of the brain activity that is happening. We use eye tracking. So, we can measure very precisely where the eyes are being driven.

We measure how they dilate their pupils. Why? Because pupil dilation is a sign of how people get excited about something. We measure their heart rate, their breathing rate, we measure how electricity flows between their fingers. Why? Because the resistance of your skin to electrical current depends on your emotional state. So all of these physiological measurements give us a window into the unconscious responses of the consumer and these responses give us a much more accurate indication of what people might be really interested in.

Laurier: As Steve jobs and Henry Ford said, we don’t know what we want until we’re told or shown it, right?

Patrick: That’s right. You know, neuromarketing is a very, very recent science and only started about 20 years ago. At the beginning, the hardware and the software were very complicated to do that.  You could do by traveling to a university lab, and it was really not commercialized very broadly.

But today all this hardware and software fits into two little suitcases. So we no longer own a lab. We actually have a traveling lab to do all these measurements.

Laurier: You found that the primal brain reacts to only six stimuli, right? What are those?

Patrick: That’s right. I mean, if you think about it, the primal brain is an ancient brain. It’s approximately a hundred times older than the neocortex. So our neocortex is about 5 million years old and our primal brain is 500 million years old. We call it the primal brain; some people, mis-call it, the reptilian brain, but it’s a brain that we have in common with reptiles.

Because if you think about it, even a reptile has to make a lot of decisions and reptiles don’t have much of a neocortex. So the only brain that they can use to make decision is that primal brain. Because that brain is very primal, it cannot be triggered or stimulated by very complicated stimulus.

Those stimulus have to be very down to earth. And we were able to identify that there are only six of them.

Laurier: Is it true that the primal brain doesn’t respond to language, or is there a language processing capability to the primal brain?

Patrick: Yes. So if you think about language is something that happened only very recently in evolution. Now we started to use written language only about eight to ten thousand years ago. That’s the first inscriptions on the pyramids in Egypt. Spoken language is a little older; the experts don’t really agree on how old spoken language is, because of course we don’t have any recording of it.

You know, YouTube didn’t exist back then, but they kind of agree that it’s anywhere from 70,000 years to a hundred thousand years. And if you think about it, by the way, that’s a good way of explaining. Why is it that spoken language influences more than written language?

You have more chances to influence people if they hear you talk as opposed to if they read from you. And why is that? Well, it’s because spoken language has been around for at least seven times longer than written language. So trying to influence people with written information is Mission: Impossible. Trying to influence them with spoken information is a little bit more effective, but still not that effective.

And why is that? It’s because your primal brain is 500 million years old. So language, either written or spoken, is very recent. When you compare it to the age of the primal brain, in fact, you language is not driven by your primal brain but your language is really driven by your neocortex. And in fact, even the most evolved animals like chimpanzees and orangutans and gorillas, which are very close to us, we share 99.99% of our DNA with them, but even those guys have a hard time to speak.

They speak sign language, but they can’t use verbal language to communicate. So all this to say that by definition, language will not have a chance to impact the primal brain because the language is really driven by our neocortex. So what that means is you’re trying to influence people by using words, it’s going to be very difficult.

So the flip side of that is, if you want to influence people, what can you use? Well, you can use visuals. And down the road, either that visual stimulus or whatever written language or spoken language you want to use, it’s going to have to generate an emotion because if it doesn’t generate any emotion, it will not be treated by the primal brain.

Laurier: So the only way to get through to the primal brain is to break down, to give it language that it can easily turn into images that can be processed really quickly on that simplistic basis. Now, in response to the stimuli you’ve identified, you’ve also mapped out a four-step methodology. What are those four steps to persuasion?

Patrick: The four steps are directly a derivative of the 6 stimuli.  The 6 stimuli are: Personal, Contrastable Tangible, Memorable, Visual, and Emotional. It’s a little bit complicated to understand because they work on different dimensions. So for example, when you’re talking about the fact that the stimulus has to be memorable, memorable has a time dimension to it, because it’s not what you tell your customers right now which is important. It’s what they will remember about you when they will make the decision. So the time aspect is important. The first stimulus is Personal. It means the primal brain is fundamentally selfish. It’s all about me. Me, me, me.

Contrastable means it’s not the value of a stimulus which is important, it’s how much contrast it offers versus a baseline. So let me give you a quick example of Contrastable. A loud noise over a somewhat noisy background will make people react. But the same loud noise over a completely quiet background will create twice the reaction from people. So when you send a stimulus it’s not its absolute value which is important. It’s the relative value of that stimulus.

Tangible, it means, you know, the primal brain being such a primitive brain, it does not understand language because language is not tangible.  For example, if I tried to persuade you by saying my solution is a flexible, integrated, scalable, modular architecture, your primal brain gets overwhelmed, because it’s too complicated; it’s not tangible enough.

Memorable. I talked about it, right? It’s not what you say right now. It’s what will be remembered by the brain of your customer at the moment they will decide.

The next stimulus is Visual. Even with language, you can trigger somewhat of a visual stimulus. So for example, if I tell you I remember seeing the sun rise over the ocean, that’s going to have a visual stimulus to it because now you’re transforming the language into a picture of the sun rising

The last one is Emotional. You know, we have enough scientific evidence to say today that we are emotional machines that think; we are not thinking machines that feel. Again, it’s centered in brain science. And then what we’ve done is then we have translated that into the four steps you’re referring to.

And the four steps are the importance of Diagnosing the Pain. Because people might think they know what they want, but deeper inside the unconscious or primal brain, they have pains and fears, and those pains and fears are really what drives our behavior.

So the first step of Diagnosing the Pain is critical for smart marketers because they need to unveil those driving forces; we call that decision drivers. What are those driving forces that push the consumer to go one way or the other? Then the second step is Differentiate your Claims. So after you have diagnosed the pain, why do you need to differentiate your claims?

Because most likely you have competitors and your competitors are offering solutions, which are awfully similar to yours. So, it is not enough to say, “we are one of the leading providers of…” because that offers no contrast. Because most likely your competitors are saying the same thing.

So you have to be able to say, “we are the only provider of…” And you need to follow that sentence with what we call your claims, and the claims are going to be top three unique reasons why people should choose you as opposed to choosing any of your competitors.

You need to Differentiate Your Claims because the primal brain is personal; it’s all about me, me, me, you need to diagnose their pain. And then the third step is to demonstrate the gain. Because the primal, brain is sensitive to tangible information, things it can see, can prove. Very often people say, “Well, if you buy my solution, it will save you a million dollars next year.”

Well, the problem is they have not proven anything. They have not demonstrated anything. So the primal brain will raise all red flags because it says, “wow, that sounds like a lot of BS.” So you need to make your value proposition much more tangible, much more easily understood. And that’s the step that we call Demonstrate the Gain.

So again, the first three steps of our process are Pain, Claim and Gain, and you need them because the primal brain is Personal, Contrastable and needs Tangible information. So answering the question of what is the pain that your solution provides is the first one. Making your claims unique is what’s going to highlight the contrast in your solution.

So it will trigger their attention, and Demonstrating the Gain is because at the end of the day, your customers will only buy to the degree that they’re convinced that the value they receive is greater than your cost. So value minus cost equals the gain. And the difficulty here is that even if you have a very abstract, valuable proposition, you need to make it down-to-earth so that even a three or four-year-old child would understand it.

The level of intelligence and cognitive power of the primal brain is roughly equivalent to a toddler of anywhere from two to four years of age.  Even if you’re selling a very complicated satellite or telecommunications solution, or very complicated software, you need to make your value proposition a lot easier to understand, and that’s what we call Demonstrate the Gain.

So, answering those three, the first steps: Pain Claim Gain, will dictate what you need to communicate. And the last step of our process becomes a lot more granular. it’s about delivering your message to the primal brain.

So the first three steps define the content. The last step, Deliver to the Primal Brain, is all about communication techniques, which make your message a lot more emotional. It makes the message also a lot more memorable and a lot more understandable. So, it’s about simplification. It’s about streamlining. It’s about creating a story. Again, you cannot build that story until you have decided on what’s the pain? What’s the claim? What’s the gain?

Laurier: Yes. And all the things you just described, there are some phenomenal examples given in the books. And I really recommend that listener take a look at your books and delve into a deeper dive of what can be done and get ideas of what they can do with their products.

Patrick, let’s take a short break and come right back with a question that I’ve been really wanting to ask you.

Welcome back to Product: Knowledge, the podcast about creating and marketing products that improve people’s lives. I’m talking to Patrick Renvoisé, the chief persuasion, officer of SalesBrain, and author of “Neuromarketing” and “The Persuasion Code.”

Patrick, I’m very interested in how your scientific process can help spark a strong desire in product consumers, what at Graphos Product we call “Obsession Branding.” The Holy Grail is when a product comes around, that has customers lining up overnight, willing to pay a premium, where the option doesn’t even exist in the buyer’s mind not to own the product.

Can you suggest what product brands can do to make buyers say, ” I NEED that. ”

Patrick: Yeah, well, this is the million-dollar question. This is the sacred ground of all advertising agencies. They are trying to create this desire, but what we have studied is when you’re talking about a stimulus, you have two kinds of stimulus, because at the end of the day, everything we do is trying to maximize our chances of survival.

So when homo sapiens get stimulated by something, it will respond with only two possible reactions. First reaction is an attraction. So, for example, if I put a shiny apple in front of your eyes, you will be drawn to the shiny apple because you’ll say, “Oh, I want it. I want to eat it.” The second reaction that you can add is the reaction of moving backwards, if in front of your eyes I then put a snake. You will instantly be moved away from the snake. So, marketers are trying to create that notion that their product will create a certain desire and that certain desire will draw the consumer to buy it from them. Now in reality, we found that the fear factor is a much stronger way of driving people’s behavior, but they are the picture of the same coin. It’s just the opposite side. So if you’re trying to sell an apple, you should scare your customers about them starving to death. And then every time they will be reminded that if they don’t eat, they may die, you have a little chance that they will be drawn to buying your apple.

So now imagine you’re Apple, the computer slash telephone company. So of course, Apple is trying to create the desire in your brain that you need the latest iPhone, which costs $1,200. So that’s the desire that they’re trying to create.

So how do you create that desire? Well, you have to go back to, what is the value proposition of Apple? What makes Apple unique in the mind of people? The key pain that Apple is triggering is the fact that people want to treat themselves to something absolutely unique, to a great experience.

They want to stand out of the lot. And the key way to express this is that people buy Apple phones because they are cool. So, I’m 60 years of age now. So, I knew Apple when they were selling only computers. And at the time the value proposition of Apple was “easy to use,” and slowly over time, the value prop of Apple went from “easy to use” to “cool to use.”

So the first thing we would need to do is agree as to what is the key unique functions, or feature in the valuable position of Apple that makes them unique. And again, A lot of people agree today that what makes Apple unique is they’re cool to use. Some people buy Google phones, but the Google phones are not as cool to use as the iPhone.

So once we have agreed on that, then our job is, how do we create the craving of people for that coolness? And that’s what Apple is doing, is they’ve invested millions of dollars in designing a phone which in itself is cool to use.

So before you decide, “okay, I want to create a desire in the brain of your customers,” first you have to decide, what is the number one pain that you will address with your device? And in the case of Apple, the number one pain that they have identified is the fact that people do not want to look like Joe and Mary Smith. They want to be unique. They want to be different, and fundamentally they want to be cool. And that is the positioning of Apple.

Laurier: Well, and that’s triggering on a fear that we all have since, the first day of kindergarten when we go to school and we want to not just be cool, but we don’t want to be left out. Not being one of the cool kids has negative impacts that we fear. There’s that combination of the attraction of the coolness and the fear of being left out, marginalized and, having a miserable life because of it.

Patrick: Yes. Yeah. It’s the fear. it’s a social fear. I mean, think about it, fundamentally we are social animals. Human beings don’t do very well when they live alone. Why? Because you multiply your chances of survival quite a lot if you live in a tribe as opposed to living alone. So being a good social representative of your tribe is important because if you’re nice with other people, they will return the favor. They will be nice with you. So we have that craving for being the cool person that everybody wants to be around. And that’s what Apple is poking into.

Laurier: We’ve all really learned about that through COVID-19 just how much we value our social connections and how hard it is if someone has to be isolated for 14 days, that is a nightmare. And something that so many people have had to live through.

Another thing that you talk about is having focus, you know, you have repetition and rhythm and focus and you recommend marketers focus on promoting three of what you call TOP claims, and you use the letters T  O  P. What are those claims, and why is three so magical and so important for marketers to know?

Patrick: So, if you think about it, most companies first communicate who they are and what they do, but we tell them that’s not the right thing. Although you probably need to communicate the who you are and what you do, that should come in second place. In first place, you really need to communicate the Why. And it’s the why your customer should buy from you.

And that “why,” we like to call that the claims, but let me use an analogy to help you understand what it is. So we recommend to people that they write a book. And the book they should write is titled, “Why Buy from Us?”

Your claims should be the title of the three chapters. If we were going to write a book called, “Why Buy an iPhone?” there would be only one chapter in that book. And  the title of the chapter would be, “Be More Cool,” or “Coolness,” or “Cool.” Right? I can give you another example. I’m going to throw a brand of a car at you, and I will ask you,  why would people buy that brand?

So if I tell you Volvo, what do you think would be the claim?

Laurier: Well, I drove a Volvo for 14 years and everybody I talked to about it would say, “ah, safe car!” I remember my grandfather, the first thing he said when he saw it. So, safety.

Patrick: Exactly. So if we were going to write a book titled, “Why Buy a Volvo?” there would be only one chapter and that chapter would be, “Safety.” Why? Because if you’re trying to sell other functions and features to sell a Volvo, they will not align with the brand.

So the concept of brand and claims is very similar, but we have to be very precise when we talk about what’s the definition of a brand I’ve heard a million definitions, and I’m always using the same one. And to me, a brand is the memory inside the brain of the consumer, which connects the name of the brand, in the example that I gave you, Volvo, with a unique attribute of that brand, which is safety. And in fact, when you do that in front of a thousand people, even people who do own a Volvo will tell you, “Oh yeah, Volvo is safety.” So that’s the definition of a brand. Now people sometimes also call that “brand attributes.” They will say that safety is the brand attribute of Volvo, but I don’t like all these words.

I want to think of the brand as an associative memory inside the brain of the consumer, which connects the name of the brand with benefits of that brand. And we tell people if you want to be effective in your communication, you can only use three claims. You cannot give your customers 27 reasons why they would buy from you. In fact,  Volvo has only one claim.

Apple has only one claim, which is “cool to use.” And by the way, in the history of Apple, they went from “easy to use,” 35 years ago when the only thing they were selling was computers, and then they slowly switched from “easy to use” to “cool to use” over a five to 10 year transition period. So it’s not like you can change your claims every day because. It takes years and years to build that memory in the brain of your customer.

To build a brand takes a long time, so you don’t want to change those brand attributes or what I prefer to call claims.

Laurier: I wanted to inject in there, Apple had a transitionary point in between. They went from “easy to use” to “the brand of rebels,” with Einstein and that type of marketing. And then everybody started using it. And then it couldn’t be the brand for people who are these misfits and they had to switch, to “cool to use” because of that transition; because they became too popular to be the brand of the rebels and outliers.

Patrick: That’s right. So if we look at a more microscopic level, we would see different little changes in direction with the brand of Apple, but again, you know, easy and cool were still the two main attributes that they have. Right. So what we say is you can either use one claim, like Apple or Volvo, but it’s very difficult to build a brand only on  one claim. Most likely you will need a huge advertising budget to do it on one claim. So for most people, it is a lot easier to write their book on their three chapters, in other words on their three claims.

Laurier: Yes. and you use the letters T-O-P to help them to identify those top claims of theirs: what does T-O-P stand for?

Patrick: When you ask, “so what are the top reasons why your customer should buy from you?” usually you get 27 different answers. So we say no, 27 is not going to cut it. We need to limit it to three claims. So how can we eliminate the wrong claims?

So we tell them to use the TOP acronym. TOP means, first of all the claim needs to be Therapeutic. That’s the T: Therapeutic to a pain. If you make a claim for which people have no pain, you’re selling something they don’t need, so that does not work. The “O” is it should be Original to you, or unique. If you’re selling something which is not unique, you’re selling as much for your competitors as you’re selling for yourself. So you need to make your claim as original as possible. You need to create enough contrast between your brand and the brand of others. And in fact, down the road, ideally, you’re trying to create a unique product category, because once you own that category, it will be very hard for your competitors to come up with enough contrast.

You have the first mover advantage. So the claims need to be as original as possible. I know it’s very difficult, especially when you sell a commodity, but you need to create that contrast at all costs. And the P is, it should be Provable. Because you’re not selling snake oil. So if you say, “I’m selling the fastest car,” you’d better be able to prove that you have the fastest car.

So TOP is that acronym. You need to think about is my claim Therapeutic? Is it Original? And is it Provable? If it is not, then you should look for a different claim.

Laurier: I asked again about TOP because I love how that dovetails into diagnosing the pain. Well, then it’s gotta be Therapeutic; differentiating your claims: of course, it’s gotta be Original and then demonstrating the gain. It has to be Provable.  Those things fit so beautifully together and reinforce each other.

I think my old brain likes the way the reinforcement is giving me some repetition without feeling repetitive. I think every marketer and every product person needs to read ” Neuromarketing and “The persuasion Code,” and Patrick, I’m also interested in telling the listener a little bit about SalesBrain.  Who is your ideal client at SalesBrain, and how can those listeners reach out to you?


Patrick: The ideal client for us is a company that has a really good product, and a message that is not that effective to persuade. Anybody who wants to grow their business and who are not looking for tips and tricks, but who are looking for a scientific model of persuasion, because our current claims are scientific growth, rapid growth and proven growth using science. So we’re not gurus. We like science because it’s replicable. It’s understandable. We never ask our customers to trust us. We never say, “trust us, that’s the way you should do it.” No, we them, “well, here is what scientists have demonstrated. So what does that mean for your brand? What does that mean for your marketing efforts?” But in essence, we work with companies of all sizes. We’ve worked with some of the largest companies in the world. We’ve worked with startups, and the model of persuasion is completely agnostic of the markets you’re in. So if you’re selling very simple consumer products or very complicated B to B solutions, if you’re interested in using a scientific model of persuasion, you can read our books, you can listen to our Ted talk or you can contact us.

If I was a listener right now, we’d be very skeptical about what I’ve heard. You know, a lot of people, they may have read the book of Kahneman. So they may have gotten a certain level of understanding of System One System, Two, the primal brain versus the rational brain. But I would really invite people to learn about the primal brain.

And there’s more than one benefit for them.  One of the benefits is they will become more persuasive themselves. But they will also now be able to decode how other people are trying to persuade them. You know, we are still under the control of our primal brain and being aware ourselves, of why we want to buy one product versus another, it is absolutely liberating.

Laurier: That’s it for this episode of Product: Knowledge and my conversation with Patrick Renvoisé, chief persuasion officer of SalesBrain and co-author of “Neuromarketing” and “The Persuasion Code.” You’ll find links to the books and how to reach Patrick at SalesBrain in the show notes. Be sure to visit, where you can find out more about our services, get insights from our blog, listen to all  our episodes or read the transcripts.  Reach out to us on Twitter @GraphosProduct  or email us  through the form on Thanks for listening. I’m Laurier Mandin.