Two for the price of one
In the above examples, did you notice we went from "one" to "two?" From hippocampus to dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to working memory to behavioral centers, our gray matter is rerouting blood flow, oxygen, complex sugars, proteins, and enzymes to do two things. One of these things is focusing our attention (keeping us "engaged").
So what's the other thing? Equally important yet seldom recognized is that we're ignoring what's not engaging us.
In order to focus our conscious attention on something, we must create non-conscious filters to exclude ("ignore") any information not relevant to what our conscious mind is focusing on. Some filters are learned from parents, friends, and teachers. Others we create on the spot.
Excluded information is a distraction, and we need to put as much, if not more, energy into ignoring distractions as we do into staying focused ("engaged").
In fact, the effort we put into focusing and ignoring is directly proportional to how important our conscious minds believe the task is and how important our non-conscious minds believe the distractions are.
Have you ever seen a cat preparing to pounce on a bird or mouse? That cat is engaged. Being a predator (however cute and furry) is incredibly engaging. It requires a lot of focus, rapid evaluation of information as either relevant or distractive, and quick action based on those evaluations.
Cat pouncing and predation plays into solving the engagement puzzle because engagement is how our modern minds make use of all that hunter-gatherer wiring evolution designed in us over the last 7 million years.
Let's bring this back to marketing. You want engaged consumers? Give them something to hunt.
Our clever, clever minds
Our non-conscious mind is smarter than our conscious mind. It knows there are some distractions that must break our focus and concentration.
Neuroscientists call these important distractions "meaningful noise." Examples include our child's cry of pain or fear, a car speeding towards us, and anything from The Beatles' "Abbey Road" album.
Did that "Abbey Road" reference stop you -- anything from a full stop to a furrowed brow to a subtle "Huh?" to a mild chuckle? That's an example of meaningful noise.
If you just kept on reading and never noticed it, then you're not focusing on this column, and I'm not doing my job of getting and keeping you engaged.
The "Abbey Road" reference is meaningful noise because our conscious minds flag it as possibly incongruous information, the non-conscious rears its head (forgive the pun) to determine what got through the filters and why, and the end result is a "confusion point."
The incongruity creates noise that our minds attempt to filter (rapidly evaluate) as relevant or distractive information. We experience those confusion points as anything from full stops to amused chuckles.
Confusion points can be used to decrease or increase engagement (an example of relevant and engaging meaningful noise is described in the article "When it's OK to confuse your customers").
Marketing's goal is to cause our clever, clever minds to evaluate information rapidly as relevant and actionable ("engaging").
More specifically, the way marketers want to use the valuation is to create conversion, branding, and -- a recent development -- to provoke the consumer to "like" the brand within social media.