A Discussion with Brain Expert Dr. John J Medina

At first glance, interviewing a developmental molecular biologist might seem unusual for the Compete blog. After all, what does the discipline have to do with marketing? It turns out to be very significant. The 12 brain Rules that Dr. John Medina identifies in his book are directly relevant for marketers. As Garr Reynolds put simply in my interview with him: ""¦.his ideas will change the way we all work and learn."

Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things. What can marketers do to make campaigns more interesting to consumers?

The brain cycles through six questions whenever it confronts an input, whether it is running away from saber toothed tigers in the savannah or looking at product placement on a website: Can I eat it? Will it eat me? Can I mate with it? Will it mate with me? Have I seen it before? Have I never seen it before? Any marketing campaign that hooks the brain will have done so because it will have snagged the organ on one of those questions.

Rule #5: Repeat to remember. Should we take this rule literally?

Repeat to remember. Remember to repeat. You should take that rule literally. The brain can only hold seven pieces of declarative information for about 30 seconds. If the information is not repeated in that time frame, the brain will dump it.

Given the 12 Brain Rules, what advice do you have for marketers?

Three pieces of advice:

  1. The brain is not interested in learning. And it is not interested in buying. It is interested in surviving.
  2. It fleshes out this pre-occupation by creating and responding to two internal motivations, both strikingly Darwinian. The brain is interested in anything that will provide it a benefit. And it will do whatever it can to avoid pain.
  3. Both motivations are related to a single goal: passing our genes onto the next generation. That sounds like it all comes down to sex, but it really comes down to endurance — in terms of millions of years. We barely survived our womb in the Serengeti, but we did so because of the overwhelming dictatorship of these twin interior forces.


Who should I interview next for the Compete blog?

I would interview John Ratey. He’s terrific.

About Dr. John J Medina

John J Medina is a developmental molecular biologist focused on the genes involved in human brain development and the genetics of psychiatric disorders. He has spent most of his professional life as a private research consultant, working primarily in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries on research related to mental health. Medina holds joint affiliate faculty appointments at the University of Washington School of Medicine, in its Department of Bioengineering, and at Seattle Pacific University, where he is the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research.