How To Use Immersion To Create Amazing Experiences

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Marketing Podcast with Dr. Paul J. Zak

In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Dr. Paul J. Zak. Dr. Zak is a Professor at Claremont Graduate University. A four-time tech entrepreneur, his most recent company Immersion Neuroscience is a software platform that allows anyone to measure what the brain loves in real-time to improve outcomes in entertainment, education and training, advertising, and live events. He is also the author of Immersion: The Science of the Extraordinary and the Source of Happiness.

Key Takeaway:

The world is rapidly transforming into an experience economy as people increasingly crave extraordinary experiences. There’s a scientific formula to consistently create extraordinary experiences. The data shows that those who use this formula increase the impact of experiences tenfold. Creating the extraordinary used to be extraordinarily hard. In this episode, I talk with Dr. Paul J. Zak about his framework for transforming nearly any situation from ordinary to extraordinary.

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Questions I ask Dr. Paul J. Zak:

  • [2:01] Define immersion and influence.
  • [2:44] What is the neuroscience behind what we’re talking about?
  • [3:41] What’s going on in the brain that you’re able to measure what the brain loves?
  • [4:36] The lab that you ran was really credited with the discovery of oxytocin, is that an overstatement?
  • [5:59] What was the work that you did with DARPA?
  • [7:26] What role does immersion play in creating or becoming a source of happiness?
  • [9:06] Is there a way for us to train mindfulness of a customer or of a reader in a way that’s going to help them become more immersed because they’re more mindful?
  • [11:30] Is there a way to use this framework to create better digital experiences or automated experiences?
  • [13:07] Are there things that somebody can do to create a more immersive experience? And is there kind of a checklist of ways people could up their game in more mass settings?
  • [17:38] In what ways can you measure outside of the laboratory?
  • [21:08] Where can people learn more about your work and pick up a copy of your book?

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John Jantsch (00:00): This episode or the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Content Is Profit hosted by Luis and Fonzi Kajo, brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network. Discover the secrets and strategies of how your business can achieve the frictionless sale. They talk about frameworks, strategies, tactics, and bring special guests to bring you all the information you need in order to turn your content into profit. Recent episode, The power of just one big marketing idea and How to get it really brings home this idea that instead of chasing the idea of the week, really lock in on one big idea to differentiate your business that can make all the difference in the world. Listen to Content Is Profit wherever you get your podcasts.

(00:53): Hello and welcome to another episode with the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Dr. Paul J .Zak. He's a professor at Claremont Graduate University, a four time tech entrepreneur. His most recent company, Immersion Neuroscience is a software platform that allows anyone to measure what the brain loves in real time to improve outcomes in entertainment, education and training, advertising, live events. You name it. So Dr. Zach, welcome to the show. I forgot to mention, of course, we're gonna talk about your book. You're also the author of Immersion, The Science of Extraordinary and the Source of Happiness. So welcome to the show.

Dr. Paul J. Zak (01:32): Thank you so much, John.

John Jantsch (01:34): I have to start it out by saying that I cried at the end of Lala Land too. I've watched it three or four times. I even went to the planetarium the last time was in la. So you got me really with that story.

Dr. Paul J. Zak (01:46): And it's a weird thing, right? Neurologically, I'm a behavioral neuroscientist. Super weird that we're crying at a flickering 2D image. Like what is the deal with that ?

John Jantsch (01:57): So help me rather than just ask you like defined immersion, maybe let's start with our immersion and influence different related, not the same at all. I could see some people talking, I could see some people reading the book and thinking, oh, this is about influence.

Dr. Paul J. Zak (02:13): Yes and no. Like any good question, the answer is yes and no. So right,

John Jantsch (02:16): There

Dr. Paul J. Zak (02:16): You go. Immersion is a neurologic state that my research uncovered that strongly predicts what people will do after an experience. Therefore, if I created immersive experience for you, I am likely to be able to influence your behavior.

John Jantsch (02:34): You are a research scientist and so I get to ask you, I don't have a lot of those on here. I get to ask you the, what is the neuroscience behind the, this thing that we're talking about,

Dr. Paul J. Zak (02:45): Right? And I should say this is 20 years of my life. And so like we knew what we were doing this whole time. So I'm gonna give you the answer. So two core components we found predict what people will do after a message or an experience. One is you've gotta pay attention. That's a given, right? If you're not paying attention, you're somewhere else, it's not gonna work. That's really the necessary condition. But the sufficient condition to induce you to take an action is, can I use one bad word, John? Am I allowed one of our, one of our subscribers, the software called this, the give a shit measure. You have to be emotionally engaged by this. You have to actually care about it. And neurologically, this is interesting because the brain wants to idle. Cause it takes so much energy to really be fully immersed in an experience. So if you're attentive and you have this emotional resonance, like, holy crap, I'm here. This is awesome. Give me more of this.

John Jantsch (03:32): So what's going on? You know, you're, you're, I read in the, you know, the software platform that measures, you know, the brain love what the brain loves in real time. I mean, what's going on in the brain that you're able to go, oh, there it is,

Dr. Paul J. Zak (03:45): Right? It's a very weird state and that's why I gave you this word immersion because it is like being sucked into a movie or ad where we just can't forget it. So the attentional response is associated with the brain's binding of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex. So that's kind of a zero one variable. And that emotional resonance is driven by the brain's release of a neuro called oxytocin, right? Which is associated with empathy and with cooperative behaviors trust. And so if I can create a marketing platform that produces this immersive state that I'm all in, I'm digging this, right? And so I think, you know, what we're bringing to the table from the book is that this is measurable at one second frequency objectively. And having measured 50,000 brains, I can then share kind of key insights what those trends look like on how to create, say great marketing.

John Jantsch (04:36): Correct me if I'm overstating this, but the lab that that you ran was really credited with discovery of oxytocin. Is that an overstatement?

Dr. Paul J. Zak (04:45): Overstatement? We developed the first protocol to measure the human brain's acute production of oxytocin and then showed it had behavioral effects. So prior to our work, it was well known there was a Nobel Prize in chemistry or medicine, maybe a chem chemistry maybe in the mid fifties for the guy who first actually was able to capture oxytocin. But it was just sounded, it was female hormones that's with birth and breastfeeding, not very interesting. And yet there was a rich animal literature showing that oxytocin is kind of a key driver of connection, if you will, attachment safety.

John Jantsch (05:16): Well it, it seems, the reason I bring that specific one up is it is, I know it's key element of your work, but it's also, it's getting a lot of buzz lately in marketing circles. And so I guess it might not be an overstatement to say the application of what oxytocin does maybe is fairly new.

Dr. Paul J. Zak (05:33): Yeah, fair enough. And the technology we developed in the early two thousands and onward was blood draws and, you know, not really ready for prime time in the business setting. Mm-hmm. . So now being able to get that data, the electrical signals associated with that from things like a smart watch, now you have a scalable and usable technology outside the lab.

John Jantsch (05:52): Like most good marketing tactics and techniques, they were developed trying to influence POWs and terrorists. So tell me a little bit about the work that you did with darpa and really, i, I don't know why, Well, I'll just let you tell me the story of how that then sort of pivoted to being more universally used.

Dr. Paul J. Zak (06:13): Yeah, very good question. Again, because of the oxytocin work in the early two thousands, got pressed, got, there was interest I was invited to, to present this work to darpa. And you know, they said, Oh, if this is part of the influence of humans, then we should be using this to get, you know, secrets from terrorists. It's a little more complicated than that. But they did fund, or the war and terror funded a lot of the research we did and the US intelligence community because we were building a platform that would allow us to essentially tested communication. And lemme say for listeners, this is a very noble endeavor. The goal was to equip soldiers with a new superpower called persuasion to reduce conflict, right? I can try to get information by threatening you or I can try to tell you a story I can get you to care about the issues I care about. And so, yeah, so thank you to the US taxpayers who funded a lot of the basic research that went into this.

John Jantsch (07:05): So, um, in the subtitle, I think the science of Extraordinary, I think most people can think, oh yeah, creating extraordinary experiences emerged immersive experiences. I hear people, you know, use that term for something that they're really into and it just takes in all their senses. But I wanna go to the source of happiness. You know, what, what role does immersion play in creating or becoming a source of happiness?

Dr. Paul J. Zak (07:31): So I wanna answer that in two ways. One is the, the kind of business setting. So in terms of customer lifetime value, I want you to have an amazing experience every time you interact with me online in person, right? So how do I know that I can guess I can get you to do nps or I could measure second by second. So as you know, the book has lots of examples of I think sometimes counterintuitive ways to create this wow experience. But the second is really interestingly, and this is very new research in neuroscience, that when I have more peak immersion experiences, I begin to train my brain to be more fully immersed. And there's the book, if you remember, there's an algorithm that tells you how to do that, right? I'm actually preparing you to be a better spouse of better colleague, a better parent, because I'm allowing you to kind of stretch those neural resources that go, oh yeah, you can be full of in, right? It's the brain's very conservative, right? Evolution conservancy pathways. So the pathways in the brain for romantic love for attachment to friends, children, and to love for a brand are very similar. And so if you haven't been in love, then you don't really know how to be in love. Once you've been in love a couple times, you can really be a much better say spouse or romantic partner.

John Jantsch (08:47): You know, as I listen to you describe that, it feels like there's a lot of relationship to mindfulness. I mean, we can be more immersed in something if we're fully present, right? I mean that's that. I mean, every couple's therapy person would tell you in the world, right? They'd just be more present actually. Listen, be mindful of what's going on in that moment. How is there a way for us to train mindfulness, say, of a customer or of a reader in a way that's going to help them become more immersed because they're more mindful? And also feel free to say no, that's a crock of whatever, John.

Dr. Paul J. Zak (09:19): No, that's perfect John. So I call this staging in the book, right? Yeah. So I wanna set the stage so that you come in and you feel comfortable, you feel relaxed. So if we think of rushing a customer through an experience, that rush is a stress response. I'm burning neural bandwidth that takes away from that person really enjoying the experience. So, um, there is an evil plan here, right? The evil plan is to create a fricking crazy good experience for that customer. So they want do this again and again. Now the customer wants that too. So it's not really evil, sorry. So think of being in the theater, right? The lights come down, we ask you to turn off your screens, right? The mute, the sounds probably a little louder than you would normally listen to at home. So I'm setting the stage that you're ready to be fully present for that experience. So I think in the retail setting, there's this term narrative retail. Like I wanna actually create a setting. So you come in, you feel like, oh, okay, I feel so comfortable here. I feel so relaxed. And for marketing too. Now for marketing, we have a much shorter time period. I don't get to keep you for half an hour. So you've got a small window where I can get you to be relaxed, but also get you to care about what I'm, you know, telling you.

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(11:15): You know, I think it, I wanna get it in the framework a little bit in a minute, but I think that most people can say, Oh yeah, okay, like you said, music's on the chairs are comfy, We're gonna meet face to face. My body language will, you know, make people comfortable. I think most people can envision that. How do we create digital experiences where we're, there's no human contact. Maybe they're interacting with a form, you know, as they're first experience with you. Is there a way to use this framework or this thinking to create better digital experiences or automated experiences?

Dr. Paul J. Zak (11:46): But I think it's the same thing in, in, you know, direct sales, right? If I call you, I'm gonna go, John, I'm gonna sell you something that's gonna be a like settle down. Hi John, I'm Paul. So with technology we can do that, right? If I, if you've used my service before or have your IP address, I could say, Hey, welcome Paul from I'm in Loma Linda Paul from Loma Linda, California. Uh, happy you're back. Right? And so I think this is really intricating the UX with crm. Yeah. So once I know something about you, hey, last time you were here you were looking at uh, leather shoes, we've got a great new pair, I think you're gonna like these. Oh wow. Right? So this customization at scale I think can really work. But it's gotta be genuine. If it's a robot speaking robot languages, which is pretty much gone now, but you know, that would be too weird. That's the uncanny valley kind of stuff. But if it's friendly and real and like hey, if you wanna talk to a real human like I'm your chat bot, my name is Bob, whatever, . Yeah. Yeah, right. So customization of scale I think really brings this home and it's gotta feel friendly. It's gotta feel like the place I want to be cause I got a lot of options. Yeah.

John Jantsch (12:48): Yeah. And I think that one of the things that's probably happening very rapidly is people are coming to expect that. And so it's almost like the bar has been raised that if you're not doing it actually stands out more than it certainly used to. The behavior's been changed. So let's talk about two instances in which that are very different. Are there in a one to one meeting, you know, are there things that somebody can do to create a more inverse immersive experience? And then the second one is like, okay, a hundred of my clients are coming to an event. What are some things we should be looking at? Are there, And obviously I'll give you certainly the, well it depends obvi, you know, no question. But are there, is there kind of a checklist of things, ways people could up their game one on one and ways people get up their game in more mass settings?

Dr. Paul J. Zak (13:40): Yeah, great question. So I have this sort of algorithm in the book with the acronym S I RT a certain out like certain. So first is staging again, making that comfortable environment not too cold, not too warm. And the second is immersion. So how do I immerse you in this experience? And the most effective way we have found is storytelling. So tell me human sales scale story with authentic characters who have emotions, who have a problem and my product or service, you know, solves that problem. The are insert is sort of nce make it relevant to me. So for one-on-one, it's much easier to do. I can target to you and I should, if I'm a great salesperson, I should be listening much more than I'm speaking, right? I should make it really relevant to you. And again, use that previous purchase if it's a, if it's subcu you've had before.

(14:23): And then really targeting that so is for target, targeting that description for you as an individual. So again, one on one that's much easier. Mm-hmm . And then have a call to action so that caldo action is gonna be more effective if it occurs at an immersion being peak. So think of immersion as as kind the emotional resonance of that experience. So if I have a telling the story, here's how the product works, here's how it can work for you, using your name, using, you know, all that. Or using social proof people like you add a customer just like you John. And what he did was do this makes it really relevant to me. Social proof is powerful. But then don't stop and close the story and go, I think you need the same solution. I think you're in exactly the same as Bob was.

(15:07): And so John, I think you should be, you know, buying our software right now. So again, one on one, that means a lot of listening. I gotta be really careful when it's one to many. Again, I want to choose who that many are, right? If it's all comers, very hard to do that specialization unless you use technology, right? A scale, I can do it. If I have technology, I have a lot of information about you. So again, set the stage, um, create this storytelling. So we've tried every way to immerse people and stories are the most effective, but they have to be authentic stories. They have to be real stories, right? Even unless you're really a trained actor, it's hard to, you know, we're good at picking up bs. My lab published a paper in the last year showing that with almost perfect certain. And your brain knows when someone's lying, even if you don't, can't consciously say that.

(15:52): The brain will reveal it. So unconsciously go, ah, I think John's full of crap, right? So yeah, yeah, yeah. So again, authentic story and then make it relevant to me. So if it's a nice story, but it doesn't, if you're trying to sell me diapers and that you have a story with cute little babies, but I don't have infants at home, my brain will just flush it out. It'll be interesting. I might enjoy, it doesn't, it's not gonna provoke action. So in short, you know, immersion is the think of immersion as like tension in your brain. Like from a story. And we don't want to have tension. You put tension in my brain, let me dissipate that tension by doing something. So really have that call to action. And I think leaning into that, that I want to help this customer, I created this emerging experience, it's been targeted to you. Give me something to do now. So a concrete example, I am shocked by how many ads that have gone on linear TV go on YouTube and they don't bother to put in a hot link by now you told me a great story. I love this ad. You spent millions of dollars put on a fricking hot link. I'm excited, I'm ready to go. I'm gonna buy this thing. And you don't, you can't even bother to put a link in there to where I can buy it. Holy crap. That's stupid.

John Jantsch (17:04): Yeah. Or today I'm seeing some marketers using QR codes, you know, Of course. Cuz everybody's, everybody knows how to use those now . Yeah. You know, as the direct link to it. It because you've done scientific research like, like stuff hooked up to people when they go through an MRI and whatnot. I mean you're seeing like, oh okay, that's exact signal that happen. Are there ways outside of the laboratory to that that you've found that you can measure whether or not you are doing what you're talking about? If you're creating an extraordinary experience other than lifetime value, the customer goes up, I get more sales. I mean, are there ways that you can start measuring like people are doing more of x or are there even body language tells, you know, you talked about you can tell when somebody's lying. A lot of times it looks like they're left eye twitchees or something. . But uh, we pick

Dr. Paul J. Zak (17:50): Up only it was so easy,

John Jantsch (17:51): Right? Right, right.

Dr. Paul J. Zak (17:52): Yeah. So and that's why we founded this to offer a platform immersion. Yeah. So that we pulled data from smart watchers or fitness sensors, People opt in, right? So you ask people if they can participate and then you can actually see second by second what their brain values. John, here's the coolest thing for live experiences because immersion captures social value is contagious. So we have some clients in the luxury retail space that have their salesperson with an Apple watch and they can predict with 85% certainty which customers buy. And the more immersed a salesperson is in that interaction, the more the customer spends. So then I can go back and reverse engineer, right? We have Cam everywhere has cameras. This is a public space. You don't have to consent people to, to film them in a retail shop and ask, oh it's always 80 20.

(18:36): Who are the 20% of your sales people who sell 80% of the stuff? What are they doing? They're making eye contact. Are they touching shoulders? I don't know what they're doing. So there's a lot that can be done there by just measurement. That's the first. And then second is intuitively you can think about creating this really immersive experience. Look for people smiling, look for the shoulders, dropping this relaxation. Like just like I give a lot of talks to clinical group. So we work a lot in psychiatry. Like when you go to your doctor, don't make me wait, Don't maybe put in a cold room. That's a stressor. Don't maybe wear that stupid little gown that doesn't even cover my genitals. You know, like make it a comfortable environment for me. I'm gonna be a lot more compelling. It's gonna be a better experience for me. So really think about it from the client's perspective. What would be the best thing ever? You know my name, you know what I shop, you know what drives me nuts. Starbucks, I use the app, right? Yeah. And then go, what's your name? Right?

John Jantsch (19:29): Right.

Dr. Paul J. Zak (19:29): Crap, I'm using the goddamn app. What? You should be thanking me. You should go, Hey Paul, thank you for, or Mr. Zack, even better. Thank you Mr. Zack for coming to Starbucks. Wow, that's great.

John Jantsch (19:38): Yeah, it probably says it right on the screen too, is the thing. But you know what's so funny about that is I listen to you talk about like some of these things that are, don't seem to make sense or certainly don't create a great experience. It's, we're not even talking about money to change those. You know, it's actually, as you said, just putting yourself in the point of view of what would be a great experience rather than this is how we've always done it. You know, which is I submit why most of the experience we're subjected to happens is because this is how we've always done it,

Dr. Paul J. Zak (20:05): Right? Yeah, exactly. Right. And to think that even if I like it, that you're gonna like it. So I think that's for want of testing and you can test any way you want. But you know, I'm a big believer in talking to customers. I mean, I think you just, if you're a leader of any group, you gotta go out there on the front lines and figure out what this experience is like. We had a, just a quick story, a well known but kind of dusty airline, you know, measure the whole flight experience using our technology from the check in to the onboard. And man, you find some interesting things that are surprisingly interesting. Like people don't care about the drink cart. That's interesting. But the check in with a person, that is an opportunity to make this experience special. Yeah. Right? Yeah. We look and check in online or whatever in the machine, but think about like for your business travelers, if you're a business or first, I would, you know, really have a person out there that knows your name, you know that, you know facial recognition, they know who my business people are.

(21:02): I, they should be greeting me by name. I just spent whatever, $3,000 for a flight. Damnit, you should know my name. Yeah.

John Jantsch (21:08): Talking with the Dr. Paul Zach, author of Immersion. So you wanna tell people where they can connect with you, find out about your work, and certainly pick up a copy of the book.

Dr. Paul J. Zak (21:17): Sure, you can find the book at Amazon or your favorite online seller. Find out more about [email protected]. And I love questions. If you have a question, you know, send it in. Say, Nah, this seems crazy to me. Or you know, happy to engage with anyone who listens to this podcast is gonna be a friend of mine. So shoot me a question.

John Jantsch (21:36): Well Paul, thanks so much again for stopping by the Duct Tape Marketing podcast and hopefully we'll see you one of these days out there on the road.

Dr. Paul J. Zak (21:41): Thank you John. Hey,

John Jantsch (21:43): And one final thing before you go. You know how I talk about marketing strategy, strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that, what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It's called the Marketing Strategy Assessment. You can find it@ Check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That's just I'd love to chat with you about the results that you get.

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