Do you have a rad RAS?

Picture yourself walking through a busy airport. Wheels are whirring as suitcases whiz by. Papers are shuffling as people forage for their IDs and boarding passes. As they’re being shed, shoes and belts clank into bins. And there’s an almost constant hum of messages coming over the loud speaker. How much of this do we take in? Very, very little.

How is it, then, that as soon as the humming loud speaker blurts, “[insert your first and last name, e.g. Erica Mills], please go to the Alaska desk in Terminal 1,” that you hear it loud in clear? You blocked out announcements with everyone else’s name, referencing everyone else’s flights, but when it’s about you and your flight, it’s like they turned the amp  to 11 and you hear it all loud and clear.

This is thanks to your Reticular Activating System, or RAS. The RAS is our brain’s way of filtering. It’s in charge of figuring out what we need to know and what we don’t. It’s a link between our conscious and subconscious thoughts.

The RAS has lots and lots of implications for marketing and fundraising. It can help you–literally–cut through the noise. Here are two RAS-based tricks to try:

  1. Use the person’s name: We can’t ignore our names, we just can’t. It’s a survival mechanism for us. Rather than start your letter or email generically, take the time to do a mail merge and add their first name (or Salutation + Last, if you’re more formal in your communications). With some programs, you can mail merge into the subject line. This can sometimes come off as cheesy. But if you do it right (meaning cheese-free), you’ll up your open rate for darn sure.
  2. Drop in ‘you’ and ‘your’. You’ve probably seen this advice before. Now you know why! Same goes for ‘you and your’ as it does for names–the RAS is hard-wired to pay attention to whatever it feels you need to be consciously aware of. Therefore, its inability to block out whatever comes immediately after the words ‘you’ and ‘your’.

#2 is effective for everything from website copy to newsletters to elevator pitches. Embrace it. You and your board, your staff, your donors, your volunteers and everyone else who cares about your cause will be most appreciative that you’ve so artfully cut through the clutter on their brain’s behalf.  (See what I just did there? Activated your rad RAS, that’s right.)