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Neuromarketing for Tree Care

By Brandon Gallagher Watson


Marketing can play many roles for your tree care company. Marketing can be how you generate leads; it can be how you decide which services to offer and promote; it can be your brand identity like logos or what color your trucks are, it can also include how you price your services, and what your advantages are over competitors. All of these fall into your company’s marketing plan, which often focuses on getting customers to listen. Once they are listening, what are you saying? And is there a way that what you are saying could be tailored to reach your customers’ brains more effectively? This is what the field of neuromarketing is studying; and with just a few simple tips it can be incorporated in your messaging to better sell tree care.

 Neuromarketing — the marriage of neuroscience and marketing — began in the 1990s at Harvard when marketers started asking scientists for a better understanding of how our brains react to different messages, and why some ad campaigns have a lasting, memorable effect while others are quickly forgotten. To better understand why, scientists used MRI technology to peer into participants’ brains. By evaluating what regions of the brain were activated by different stimuli, were able to learn how marketing messages are received, and perceived, by the brain.

A good illustration of the neuromarketing effect comes from one of the more successful ad campaigns of the last 50 years — the Pepsi Challenge. Starting in the 1970s, Pepsi would set up a table at shopping malls and ask passers-by to sample two unmarked soda cups containing Pepsi and its rival, Coke. When the taste test was performed blind, and the tester didn’t know the brand, the results favored Pepsi almost every time. Of course, Pepsi touted that its product was preferred over Coke. However, when the taste tests were administered with the participant knowing the label name, Coke was preferred almost 75 percent of the time. When examined under an MRI, the blind taste test showed a flurry of activity in the ventral putemen, the area of the brain associated with senses such as taste, smell, etc. When the taste tests were administered with the two brands known, the ventral putemen lit up just the same as the blind test, but there was also significant activity in the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortext is the ”thinking” area of the brain, and it shows how successful Coca-Cola’s marketing efforts have been. Our mouths may say that Pepsi tastes sweeter and should be preferred, but our brains are saying Coke makes us happy by associating their product with things such as Santa Claus, polar bears and smiling kids. Our emotional brain is always in a tug of war with our rational brain, and, more often than not, our emotional brain wins. These emotions, as we’ll see, are directed by an even deeper part of our brain that makes instinctual decisions of which we are not even aware.


Examining the brain


Image modeled after P. Renvoise 2007Since none of us are neuroscientists and don’t know our amygdala from our subiculum, it is easier to use simplistic models to talk about the brain. You’ve probably heard about brain models before in terms like ”right brain” and “left brain” in which the right half of the brain is the creative, free thinking side, and the left is the more logical, linear side and so on. For the purposes of better understanding this neuromarketing concept, we’ll use author Patrick Renvoise’s “3 brains” model, which talks about an old, middle and new brain based on their function and the order in which they appeared in evolution.

The ”new brain” is the part of the brain that is fairly unique to humans as this is where rational thinking occurs. We take in data, organize it, and make our justifications as to why we think we decided something. This is the most recent addition to the brain and, in fact, MRI studies show that this portion of the brain does not even fully develop until age 24. Although this is the part of our brains that can make the amazing possible — such as language, science and technology — it is the hardest part of the mind to appeal to from a marketing standpoint, because, for lack of a better term, it thinks too much. We want our message to get to the part of the brain that decides, not thinks.

The ”middle brain” can also be thought of as the emotional brain. It is the part of the brain that developed strongly in mammals and is where we developed our parenting, social, and ”gut” feelings. The emotional portion of the brain cannot be underestimated in its effect on our rational minds. Think about some of your strongest memories, and you’ll quickly see how each one of these memories are likely associated with a strong emotion to that event. As neurology professor Antonio Damasio put it, “We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.”

The ”old brain,” also referred to as the ”reptilian brain,” is, as it sounds, the oldest part of our brain and the structure we commonly share with reptiles. This is the instinct part of our brain where we make the snap decisions such as fight or flight. This part of the brain cannot understand language or make rational choices, but it is that part of our brains directly linked to preserving our survival, and is the epicenter of our decision making. To increase our effectiveness in getting our message across to our clients, we need to learn how to craft our messages in a manner than reaches their “old brain.”


Knowledge you can use


Photo courtesy of Rainbow Treecare Scientific AdvancementsSince nobody in the tree care industry can likely afford to rent time on an MRI machine at $1,000 per hour to study how our clients brains are responding to our messaging, we need to look at what work has already been done and how we can adapt it to our market. Neuromarketers have determined that the old brain responds to just six different kinds of stimuli, and the more of these you incorporate into your message, the more effective that message will be. The six stimuli are self-centered, contrast, tangible input, the beginning and end, visual stimuli, and emotion (see chart below for more details).

You know the phrase, ”A picture is worth a thousand words”? Turns out that is true when trying to get a message across to anyone. The old brain has been shown by scientists to be around 450 million years old, while words, or spoken language in general, have been around ”just” 40,000 years, and the written word has been around a mere 10,000 years. If you have ever tried to sit through a PowerPoint presentation that contained just text you know how impossible it was to remember anything from it. The old brain — the decision making part of our brains — does not respond to words, so words are not the most effective way to get someone to understand.

Think of trying to explain, for example, the damage emerald ash borer (EAB) could do to a client’s tree. You could talk to them for 20 minutes about the insect, the risk to their tree, the treatment you could offer, how many trees have died in Michigan, and so on. This message is aimed toward the client’s new brain, and for some clients this may be effective. Even easier on you, and easier on the client, is to simply show them a photo that has one tree killed by EAB and next to it a tree with a full canopy that you have treated. This message goes immediately to the clients decision maker because the visual contrast and emotional effect of live tree versus dead tree is powerful to the old brain. The photo can be even more powerful if you let them know it was taken near their house — this makes it more tangible and personal because they easily conclude this could happen to their tree. Showing a dead tree on the left and a treated, living tree on the right also increases effectiveness as we tend to read left to right. Since we know we tend to only remember the first and last things we are shown the brain remembers that the trees can be treated and saved. As you can see, this simple photo included all 6 of the stimuli shown to most effectively reach the decision making portions of our clients’ brains. What could have been a 20 minute conversation is now a 2 minute conversation that is more effective and longer lasting than just using words alone.


Photo courtesy of Rainbow Treecare Scientific AdvancementsOur tree care division, Rainbow Treecare revamped its website this past year to incorporate these ideals. Changes included phrasing much of the site to be ”caring for your trees” (self-centered), images of trees under stress next to healthy ones (contrast), customer testimonials (tangible), the tabs across the top read ”common problems” on the left to ”wellness” on the right (beginning and end), scrolling pictures of trees and happy people (visual), and titles like ”Don’t you just love your beautiful trees?“ (emotions). All six of the old brain stimuli were touched upon and proposals that came from website referrals went up almost four times from the previous year.


This article just begins to scratch the surface of how we can better craft our messages to reach our clients’ brains. There are many books and websites dedicated to the subject and, if you are interested, I strongly encourage you to check them out. It is important to remember that we are not out to dupe anyone or scare them into buying our services, but rather that we are interested in how we can make our short time with clients more effective by helping them better understand risks and benefits of their trees in a manner that is simple to “get.” Effective marketing of tree care services will help grow our own businesses, expand our industry, and, in effect, save more of our urban forests, which, for many of us, is the emotion that got us into the trees to begin with.


Brandon Gallagher Watson is director of communications at Rainbow Treecare Scientific Advancements, and is an ISA Certified Arborist (#MN-4086A).






Self centered

The brain responds strongly to ”You” statements as the old brain is concerned with self preservation.

You can do something to save your tree from Dutch elm disease


Elms can die from Dutch elm disease if not treated


Clear contrasts are easy for the old brain to understand and make decisions about.

Healthy/sick, big/little, alive/dead, foliated/defoliated are powerful contrasts that are easily understood

Tangible Input

Real-life data, the more specific and personal the better, registers more effectively with the old brain

Your tree is providing $653 in annual benefits to your home and would cost you $2,179 to remove


Trees are valuable and can be costly to remove.

Beginning and End

Our brains only remember the first and last bits of info, the middle is often forgotten

When talking with clients, put your most important messages at the front and back of the talk to increase retention.

Visual Stimuli

The old brain responds almost instantly to visuals, then later tries to rationalize what it saw.

Showing clients before/after images of your work is much more powerful than telling them about it.


We remember events and messages much clearer when they invoke an emotion.

Before offering a client a work proposal, ask what the tree means to them or memories they have of it. The emotional value of trees influences clients’ willingness to take care of them.



Further Reading

“Neuromarketing: Understanding the ‘Buy Buttons’ in Your Customer’s Brains”
Patrick Renvoise & Christophe Morin. 2007. Thomas Nelson, Inc Publishers.
“Buy-ology: Truth and Lies About What We Buy”
Martin Lindstrom. 2008. Doubleday.
“Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy”
Martin Lindstrom. 2011. Crown Business Publishing.
Website: http://www.salesbrain.com/

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