What Will You Tolerate?

In a 2016 post, I used pizza to illustrate the difference between selling ideas and selling outcomes. I’ll give you the short review here. You walk into a pizza parlor, and the surprisingly upbeat attendant takes your order: a large pepperoni pizza. The young person in front of you exclaims with glee: “We have a high-impact idea on how to make this pizza, and we’re going to do some research just to be sure, but all we can guarantee is that we’ll try our best, and with purpose. It may come out looking cheesy and yummy, but it also may come out of the oven as a charred ball of carbon. Either way, that will be $75,” a vibrant, open hand extends in your direction.

$75 for an attempt at pizza? If they screw it up, it’s somehow my fault and I still have to pay?

This is selling an idea. They come up with an idea of how to roll dough, slather sauce, what should go on the top, whether they should actually bake it in the cardboard box…

You would never tolerate this at a pizzeria because when you buy pizza, you are buying an outcome. If the expected outcome is outside the bounds of tolerance (overcooked, or a bit too raw), then you make them deliver to your expectations or you don’t pay. Yet you tolerate the unexpected and the disappointing with your marketing teams, whether in-house or outhouse.

Let’s be fair — you have had no choice, it was just the way for the last century. Paying agencies to take their best shot was all we had…until now. I would like to invite you to stop buying ideas and insist on guaranteed outcomes from your marketing partners. We now have a brand new input and that changes everything.

SELLING IDEAS: Fixed Process, Variable Outcome

“We need to understand our customer.”

We do focus groups and surveys and ask consumers what and why.

  • “They use it in the shower.”
  • “They have unusually high dog ownership.”
  • “They buy in combination with something else.”
  • “They click here, then there, x-time on site, y-time on page, then conversion.”

Will this help you get consumer decision, the one true objective of marketing? Maybe. If you’re on a lucky streak. Those of you controlling the budget, ask your marketers if they are feeling lucky. Are you feeling lucky?

The logic is that if your consumers like dogs, then you put a dog in the ad and well, voila, they will like it even more. We want an ad that resonates, after all. But the problem with this logic is that decision happens in a different part of the brain. It is not a conscious process. This is why the dreaded “say-do gap” exists in consumer research. Consumers report confabulated answers to you that do not reflect their true motivations, and you’re left with inaccurate data. Aye carumba.

People don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say.”
– David Ogilvy


Here is an example. Meet Pat. Pat likes to buy luxury goods. Pat sits down to a focus group interview and fills in a survey. The interviewer asks Pat why Pat buys luxury goods. Pat predictably articulates in Pat’s patented vocal fry, “I really like the quality.”

Let’s say we have a way to measure Pat’s non-conscious motivations and other cognitive traits (hint: we do), and what we see is: “Pat consumes luxury products to cover Pat’s self-esteem issues.”

[Note: no judgments. Esteem is a valid measure of cognition and the human condition.]

There are now two possible ads that can be made:

Ad 1 “Quality”

Ad 2 “Esteem”


Unfortunately, Ad 1 will get made because it’s “in the research.” But Ad 2 is cognitively resonant. Ad 2 would have been seen and acted upon. This is a very simplistic example, but this happens in the ad world every day. Charred pizza, $75, thank you. 

Once the data from Pat’s focus group is “interpreted” and massaged into a brief for the creative team, well the cannon muzzle is now several degrees off target, and you know what that represents miles away when the projectile hits. Every creative has a process, and they follow this process to generate ideas by intuition. Those of you who have been in the business as long as I have know that it is not uncommon to hear from creatives: “Brief? Research? I don’t need it.” Of course you don’t, by all means, show us how connected you are to the 5th Dimension. You can see how many opportunities there are for opinions, committees, and other forms of human irrationality and intervention to derail the “idea” upon which the client is risking their money. 

Sometimes legacy advertising swings at the piñata, gets lucky and hits it, but revenue across campaigns tells the ultimate tale. There must be a better way, a scientific and repeatable way, one that we can employ time and time again and is effective every time. 


Decision is the one true objective. It will get you anywhere you need to go in free market capitalism. Triggering decision, then, is your only objective as marketers. If you disagree with this and are thinking about purpose, or “art” then the film industry awaits you, go make some art. Customer creation via communication (aka advertising) is the engine that propels capitalism, and if you think otherwise, try operating as a company with purpose but no revenue, or as an employee with convictions but no salary. Our raison d’être is getting people to buy our wares by way of triggering consumer decision. That’s it, those are the meat and potatoes. Everything else is sprinkly spice and garnish. Nice if you have it…

Triggering decision requires that we know our consumer, but not in the FGI/survey legacy research way we have been practicing for a century.  Those talk to the wrong part of the brain. We need to access their psych traits by analyzing data sets and assessing behavior sponsored by the non-conscious brain. Here is how it works: 


If you are selling golf shoes, then all we need are people interested in golf. We don’t have to get 3rd-party-data-granular and generate exact 1-to-1 audiences of “golfers who put their left sock on first, except on alternate Thursdays, own a cat, and hug trees.” Just golf. That’s enough. Once we have the golf segment, then we can analyze their 1st party data, purchase behavior, social posts, or anything else they are doing. This moves us to:


The golfer segment is run through the AXIOMTREE cognitive profiling platform, powered by the PsyCom engine, which is armed with 50 years of cognitive science, identifies the psych traits of everyone in the segment. Then the platform groups them into PsyCom clusters. Each cluster is a group of people from the golf segment who have similar psychological makeup and triggers in common. Golfers in the “bonding with their in-group” cluster will not respond to the solitary and exclusionary messaging necessary for those in the “achievement/excellence” cluster. Further, the demographics will be all over the place, as demographics are weak decision triggers. We focus on what is important and effective.

Once we know how to trigger each cluster, we can move on to generating stimuli in the form of communication. 


Ad communications is only seen if it is cognitively resonant. This is why we need to create cognitively resonant communication (CRC). CRC is what is seen by consumers’ brains, and what gets decision. It matches the unique brain structure, like a fingerprint, that each of us has. 

Decision is a response. In order to get a response, you have to have a stimulus. Any communication that is not validated as cognitively resonant for a given cluster cannot be stimulus, it’s invisible and will not get a response. Unhappy CFO. However, once you know what to trigger and how to intentionally build communication that stimulates a response, you have the key to reaching any KPI set in front of you.

When you buy an idea, the risk is 100% yours. When you buy an outcome, it’s…

…not. Welcome to the new era of outcome-driven marketing. The PsyCom era. 

Christopher Demetrakos

Christopher Demetrakos

Neuroscientist, architect of PsyCom®, a model that reads psych traits of audience clusters, used to trigger consumer decision. Founder & CEO of mnzt.io

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