What is the Reticular Activating System?

And how does it play a role in your marketing efforts?  Merriam Webster defines its function as controlling "the degree of activity of the central nervous system (as in maintaining sleep and wakefulness and in making transitions between the two states)." Its more general function is to help transition your brain from a relaxed state into a state of high attention. What does that mean for marketing?

The RAS is how marketing works. It is how we get through to our prospects and it is how they notice our attempts to get their attention. Depending on your current awareness of or need for a product, the Reticular Activating System (RAS) controls how often you will register seeing that product. When you are thinking about buying a particular car, you start to notice that car everywhere you go – parked at the mall, on the highway, in your neighbor's driveway. Suddenly it seems like they are everywhere.

If a prospect has heard about your company enough times, their RAS will remind them to use your company when they need the type of service that you offer.  And, if they hear about your company through different sources, their RAS will work faster.

For example, if you send a plumbing service mailing every month for four months, and then the prospect has a plumbing problem, their RAS will tell them to notice and think about plumbers.  If the mailings are followed by a radio commercial, the RAS will pick out the radio commercial and cause them to pay close attention.

Recently, we conducted a TV commercial with five customers of Pronto Plumbing.  After these customers told their story on camera, their Reticular Activating Systems were very strong and most likely they will notice everything about Pronto for several weeks.

The RAS is also strong after a purchase is made. This is a key time in the relationship with the customer and is a prime opportunity to get the customer to purchase additional services, get referrals, and to get testimonials.

In the Marketing Spectrum, we work to gain awareness, interest/need, then purchase.  The RAS is what makes this process work.  For example, our company started working with Painting contractors (awareness), so I soon found myself noticing how badly our office needed to be painted (interest/need).  I also noticed the areas in our home that needed paint.  Two Dudes Painting Company painted our office about a month ago (purchase).

Every customer has a limited amount of attention and processing resources. Understanding how RAS helps allocate a customer's attention can make the marketing process – working to gain awareness, increase an interest or need, and then make the sale – more effective.