gorilla science content ignored by customers despite being engaging (This essay was sent today as part of the Hammock Idea Email series called “Beyond Selling.” You can receive each essay via email if you subscribe here.)

A long-time customer makes an offhand remark that shows he or she isn’t paying attention to important information you’ve been sending for months. It’s perplexing. Your data shows the customer has opened your email. Maybe the customer even purchased the product you’ve been promoting. But still, they don’t seem to be connecting the dots between your message and their perception of its significance.

What’s up with that? Why is your message being ignored?

Last week, NPR ran a story about ongoing research into how we all use selective attention to either ignore or absorb information. The research began almost 15 years ago with a video that challenges viewers to count the number of basketball passes made by students wearing white shirts (Watch it now before reading on — it’s a great way to test your concentration.)

If you’re familiar with the video, you know that 50% of those tested were so focused on counting the passes, they didn’t notice — spoiler alert! — when someone in a gorilla costume walked through the middle of the students and stopped to beat his chest. The lesson: People look for what they’ve been trained or told to look for — so much so, they can be blind to something as obvious as a guy in a gorilla suit.

83% of radiologists who were asked to look for abnormalities on this lung X-ray didn’t notice that it includes an image of a gorilla waving hello. Need help? Look on the right side, close to the top.
(Credit: Trafton Drew and Jeremy Wolfe)

New research has tested to see if radiologists, trained to find the equivalent of needles in a haystack, would see an image of a gorilla on a lung X-ray. Believe it or not, 83% of them didn’t. That’s because life-threatening abnormalities in a chest X-ray never look like gorillas. (You have an advantage when viewing the X-ray appearing with this post: You know to look for one.)

What should you do when you discover your customers are using selective attention to filter out your message?

  • View the world through the eyes, traditions and intentions of your customers.
  • When introducing something unexpected, think of ways you can guide them to see something new, even when it looks the same.
  • When you discover that your customers don’t see the gorilla, use it as a point of inspiration instead of frustration. Eat some banana pudding, toss around a basketballand then give it another shot.

Gorilla Suit Photo: ThinkStock