How Marketers Can Harness the Power of the Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the human body.

This important nerve stretches from your brain down your spine, attaching to most of your most crucial organs along the way. It’s responsible for keeping your organs running properly and keeping your mind and body connected.

You may be wondering, “So what? Why do I, as a marketer, care about the vagus nerve.”

The mind directly controls the body’s functions, like breathing, heart rate, and more through the vagus nerve. Stressors and positive emotions both travel from the brain, through the vagus nerve, and to the body, causing a variety of responses in it.

The vagus nerve produces something called the vagal tone, which is effected by outside stressors. A low vagal tone is a healthy one that promotes relaxation and grace under stress. This is measured through heart rate. A healthy vagal tone is when there is a slight increase in heart rate on an inhale and a decrease on the exhale.

Marketers have the ability to stimulate or trigger reactions in the vagus nerve through content and communications. But how do you wield that power properly?

Create Awe

Awe is defined as, “that sense of wonder we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.”

Creating awe is a way to trigger a healthy vagal tone through its role in the flow state. It makes the viewer feel that they are not the center of the world.

You can trigger feelings of awe by creating truly spectacular, relevant content for your audience. Say your business does something that no one else can. Find a way to represent that using powerful images and sounds and wow your audience.

Take a look at this example from Intel, where they put on a truly spectacular show using the company’s technology to break a world record for most unmanned done’s in the air:

Unleash feelings of awe on your audience and you’ll find that your content is more effective than before. Not only that, but you’ll see your audience wanting to share it, which leads to the next tip.

Use Positive Social Interactions

Create a positive community space, where your audience can interact with your brand, your employees, and others in the space.

In digital marketing, this is often accomplished through social media. Create a place where everyone feels connected and safe sharing their feelings. This will increase feelings of hope and connectedness. This can be done using groups, which are niche to particular interests and industries.

Create a group or a hashtag where everyone in your space can gather to share ideas and connect. This will create a healthy vagal tone, which in turn promotes a better (and hopefully conversion-inducing) mindset for your prospects.

Don’t Intimidate

Because the vagus nerve controls all of the organs in the body, a stressor can throw off the function of all the organs. It can even trigger a fight or flight response.

And because our vagus nerve often has a hard time determining whether or not a threat is real, simple digital interactions might trigger it.

You don’t want anyone in your audience to suffer because you set off their fight or flight reaction.

This is pretty easy to avoid. Make sure that any video that plays on your website or social accounts doesn’t autoplay with sound. An abrupt noise could startle your audience and trigger that reaction.

Anything that sets off feelings of insecurity, intimidation, or getting “psyched out” can cause the brain to send negative feelings to the body, creating stress responses.

Pop-ups can do that in some people, but so can overly technical language. You need to ensure that your audience is always comfortable in your communications to avoid setting off a negative reaction that drives them away from your brand.

Reframe Priorities

In a study of the vagus nerve, a professor asked his students to write about something positive just before the exam they were taking.

He asked them to write about “relationships with friends and family” or “being good at art.” These were just a couple of examples, but the point is, he asked them to reframe their priorities just before the exam they took. The students who wrote before their exams ended up doing better than the students who did nothing before the exam.

You can help your prospects make decisions well under pressure by making sure that you frame your argument to put your offering in perspective to what your prospect is good at and what matters to them most.

You delve into their deepest motivations and desires, instead of simply telling them that your solution “Saves you money.”

Make Them Laugh

Laughter is one of the most effective ways to positively stimulate the vagus nerve.

Create even mildly funny content. Make your audience chuckle, even if it’s with a simple play on words.

This positive association with your brand will make your audience more relaxed with you, which could inevitably lead to a sale.

Some think the vagus nerve is responsible for “gut instincts,” literally the emotions that come from your organs. Since a lot of decisions in B2B are associated with just a gut feeling, based on interactions with a brand and not necessarily the statistics associated with it, creating positive emotions within the gut of the prospect is crucial.

There is also evidence that it plays into making memories. You want to stimulate that nerve using content and positive messaging to create positive memories and feelings towards your brand.

A healthy vagal tone results in grace under pressure, which means that when the time comes for your prospect to make a decision about your brand, you want them to be relaxed. Aim to stimulate the vagus nerve and you’ll find that your audience responds in a better way to your brand, which in turn leads to more conversions.


Before this post, had you heard about the vagus nerve? What was the most valuable tip in our list? What other ways could marketers utilize the vagus nerve? Let us know in the comments section.




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