The Brain Audit begins by offering you a great vacation, but in a language you can’t understand. Presented with this situation in real life, would you accept the offer? Stop and think for a second. Someone you only maybe sort of know comes up to you, says something in a foreign language and then quite obviously expects a yes/no answer.

Would you take the offer?

It’s a bit of a silly question, yes, since you have no way of knowing if the offer is good or bad or in between. So you’d waffle around and not really commit either way.

This is where most marketing for businesses sits, according to author Sean D’Souza. You position your business in a way that seems sane to you but you’re speaking a language that your clients don’t understand at all.

Despite the irresistible nature of the offer, I’d say that most people would not take up the offer. Notice I didn’t say: ‘Turn down the offer’. I said: ‘They wouldn’t take up the offer’. And there’s a reason why the most irresistible offer gets little or no response at all.

You see I made the offer in a foreign language.

The offer was made in a language unknown to you. Naturally you would not understand a word I said. And so it is with your audience. You make the most bewitching offer in the world, and all you’re likely to get is a confused look from your audience.

The goal of The Brain Audit is to teach you to speak a language your prospects understand so that you can make more sales and provide value to them. The end result of providing more value to more people is that you earn more.

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D’Souza uses the metaphor of a baggage carousel to get his 7 points across, with each point represented by a bag on the carousel. He contends that you must remove all 7 bags in order to get the prospect to ‘leave the terminal’ and become a customer. If you leave one bag behind then the sale won’t be made and the customer will continue to waffle around not committing to any type of decision.

The book is broken up into roughly 7 sections (one per point) starting off with the problem that your prospects have which you’re solving.

3 Big Takeaways

Before I get into a more detailed review of the whole book let’s look at the 3 big takeaways.

Start with the problem

The brain recognizes a problem long before it recognizes the solution to the problem. In a millisecond, the brain was able to work out the ramifications of what would happen…

So much marketing starts with the solution or the features provided by the product/service. It seems like a decent idea, because who wants to ‘start on a downer’ of a problem in their marketing material?

Good marketers want to start with a problem because every sale is a purchase of a solution to a problem. If you don’t state the problem clearly and make that problem something that the prospect feels they need to fix now, you don’t have good marketing.

Reverse the risk

When you spend your hard-earned money, you expect to get what you ordered. And if you ordered a decaf-soy-latte, you expect it to be decaf, and soy, and latte. So if they can’t provide you with the goods, then hey, they should — at the very least — make up for the gaff. And ideally have a risk reversal policy in place.

Do you know how many software projects fail? According to some sources 68% of software projects fail. I have no problem believing that with the number of projects I end up cleaning up after another agency. In 99% of these cases the customer has no way of getting any money back at all. They simply have to cut their losses and hope the next person they find can deliver on the goods promised…hopefully.

So given that this is the market I work in, what is my risk reversal policy? I charge weekly and at any point my client can stop paying me and we don’t continue the project. They get any work that was completed up to that point, and I have to find another client.

What about you? Do you offer any type of promise behind your services? Not just one that sort of maybe may happen if the client fights long and hard, but one they can use without questions and explaining why they don’t feel your service met their needs?

If you simply fight about the application of your risk reversal policy, then it’s not really useful for the prospect in any fashion and you may as well remove it from your marketing material.

Get a Niche

So many businesses lose customers and suffer the ignominy of ridiculous pricing, simply because they won’t sit down and work out their uniqueness.

D’Souza uses the word uniqueness but a term you’ve likely heard more often would be to find your niche. This is where so many people starting a business trip up and send their business on the way to failure. They fail to find a niche because they’re afraid of saying no to any work of any type.

Years later (if they even survived that long) they complain about the poor fees they get and how much they have to work to make ends meet. The business fails and they move back to traditional employment feeling like a failure. All because they felt that saying no to some clients outside their niche would limit their sales.

If there is one thing I can encourage you to do today it’s to find your niche and focus your marketing on it.

Now on to the big look at The Brain Audit by Sean D’Souza — or you can hop to the end for my recommendation.

Bag 1 – The Problem

This is the first bag you need to take off the proverbial carousel. You need to get the prospect to see that they have a problem and that you understand the problem they have.

Step back for a second and close your eyes. Imagine walking through a peaceful forest enjoying yourself. Then out of the corner of your eye you see a large black shape moving. What’s your immediate reaction? Of course it’s to focus on the possible threat. Is the large object a bear or an unfriendly dog? You don’t know until you focus on it.

The brain recognizes a problem long before it recognizes the solution to the problem. In a millisecond, the brain was able to work out the ramifications of what would happen…

This trait is hard-wired into us, which means as soon as we see a possible problem we focus on it. This focus translates into many areas of our life including the marketing messages we consume.

Your brain is indeed obsessed with problems. And for good reason too. The brain’s job is to keep you alive…

As a marketer this is where we start. Getting the prospect to see the problem and to focus on it. Only by focusing on it can we then lead them to the next bag.

But why do we start with a problem? Won’t our awesome solution/service be a better pull than the problem? Nope, we’re wired to look for problems, not solutions.

You’d think a gleaming red Ferrari would have really got the pulse racing — and it did. But when shown images of problems, the brain activity stepped up to a much higher degree.

That’s why we start any sales page, or proposal to a prospect, with the problem. In my book Writing Proposals that Win Work this is the first section I tell you to include. More than just describing a problem though, we need to use the same language that our prospects are using. If you’re selling a product to many people then looking at forums or Facebook Groups for the language used by prospects is a way to find out what they say. If you’re writing a proposal then record your client calls and listen to them again. Use the language they used in the call or in the emails they already sent.

Once we have the problem clearly expressed it’s time to bring in the solution.

Bag 2 – The Solution

The solution is simply the answer to a need or want that the customer has.

What you provide to prospects are solutions to the problems they have. These solutions provide value to them because they don’t have the problem.

The problem with solutions is that they aren’t super compelling on their own. We often start conversations by stating features and benefits of whatever we are selling. This is why we start with the problem and then bring in the solution, but really they work in tandem. Without a problem, you have no solution or at least no solution that anyone is interested in.

In effect, your ‘solution statement’ should be the mirror-image of the problem statement. So if the problem is getting stuck indoors, the solution is going outdoors. If the problem is a backache, the solution is the lack of a backache…It’s the sequence of the problem followed by the solution that makes the message so very effective.

Another trap that people fall into is not describing the solution, but instead talking about their process to solve the solution. We don’t care so much how our allergy problem is solved and there are likely to be a bunch of $10 words we wouldn’t understand. What we care about when we’re sneezing is that our allergy problem is solved.

Remember, talk about the problem then talk about the solution. The solution is the exact opposite of the problem. Don’t talk about how awesome you are. Don’t waffle around talking about the features yet, just talk about how you bring the solution to the table.

The problem isn’t more important than the solution. It’s just that the problem comes first in the sequence, and then the solution follows shortly after.

Bag 3 – The Target Profile

Target profile is simply the factor of choosing one person.

Not an entire audience.

But one solitary person.

And then crafting your message to that one person.

When you start a blog one of the recommended things to do is just what you see above. As you write an article, write it with a single person from your audience in mind.

Just because you’re marketing a product or service doesn’t mean you should neglect that axiom. While your service may be good for any business owner, you can really only market it to a small segment of ‘everyone’ with anything approaching effectiveness.

Sure, three thirty-something men sitting in a coffee shop seem like a target but what are their individual interests? One may like baseball, while the other is a cyclist and the third looks for rare birds. You wouldn’t market a new app to catalogue bird sightings to all of them because it would only be something that a single one of them has interest in.

Let’s consider a more generic example from the book — selling jeans. Trying to sell jeans to the same three men you may find that the cyclist has legs so big that few styles fit him and the baseball player has let fitness go, so he has a hard time finding jeans that fit his waist.

But to your frustration you and those women (the author’s example) aren’t really buying jeans. They’re buying into a solution. And to work out the solution, we first have to define the problem. One woman may be considering the comfort of the jeans as the top priority. Another is considering colour. The third may be considering cut.

Each one will buy her jeans on a completely different parameter. And that parameter is paramount to them. In fact, that parameter will come before all other parameters.

Ultimately Bag 3 is all about finding your niche and presenting your problem to that niche specifically. Not to anyone that may have the problem you solve, but to the specific market that you can serve best. By knowing the specific person you are targeting you can tailor all your marketing to that profile.

Most beginning business owners get worried here because they worry about excluding possible customers.

Far from that. With targeted marketing you can much more easily become the choice for your market and with that foothold expand into all the others that you could help.

Bag 4 – The Objection

Saying yes to anything means having to commit. And commitment brings its own headaches. Which is why fear kicks in immediately. Our brains scramble to find all the possible reasons where things can go wrong.

In any purchase we have objections and the bigger the purchase is for us the more likely we’ll find reasons not to make the purchase and just wait a bit longer. Even when presented with free goods like a movie ticket, people will offer a myriad of reasons not to accept them. Maybe it’s the show times or nothing playing they want to see. You may say these are practical realities, but according to D’Souza those are objections to the transaction.

Simply wishing that the objections of your prospects will go away is a fool’s errand. Instead you should be embracing them because when you hear a prospect with objections D’Souza contends you’re looking at a prospect that wants to buy.

Objections are not your enemy.

They are your friends. An objection literally means that the person who’s doing the objecting, wants to make a decision to buy your product/service or idea. If they didn’t care about the product/service, they’d just walk away.

So if you’re not supposed to hide from objections, what should you do with them? Confront them head on and defuse them.

You defuse objections by being prepared. You need to list out every possible objection that a customer could possibly ask. And you list the answer to those specific objections. If a customer comes to you with more objections than you have on your list, just add it to that list of objections.

In your products that means just list them out, maybe in a question/answer format. For your services just tell the client the objections that past customers have had and let them know how you address those objections.

If you don’t have a list of past clients that have brought up objections then sit down with your team or a friend and brainstorm through the objections to your service. While you may not catch all of them you certainly will be much better prepared for the objections that come up from your next prospect.

Bag 5 – The Testimonials

Testimonials seem to be a staple of any website today, but there is a problem with them which D’Souza highlights right as he starts talking about Bag 5.

Most testimonials are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Which makes them not-so-reliable, because there are always two sides to a story.

The testimonials you list on your site shouldn’t all be ‘glowing reviews’ of how awesome you are. They shouldn’t make you out to be some all-singing, all-dancing person that fulfills every need of the client. They should start with Bag 4 — the objections that the customer had when they entered into the transaction with you.

A reverse testimonial talks about doubt. It starts with the skepticism first. It describes the fear or uncertainty racing through the customer’s mind at the point of purchase.

I had a friend recommend a restaurant recently and it started with a doubt. “You know that little restaurant in that terrible plaza down the road? Man, is it a gem — the food is great. We’ve been going every Thursday for years and still love it every time.”

By adding that bit of doubt (terrible plaza) the testimonial becomes so much more powerful. If the restaurant is so good that it’s worth braving the plaza for years with little children then clearly it’s a good place to eat.

D’Souza doesn’t just stop by telling us to start with a doubt though. He gives us a way to construct those testimonials from our clients. We don’t just ask for a testimonial and hope for the best. We have 6 questions that give us information to build a solid useful testimonial for our business.

  1. Why were you thinking of not purchasing?
  2. What did you get out of the purchase?
  3. What specifically did you like most?
  4. What other good things came out of the purchase?
  5. Would you recommend the product/service? Why?
  6. Anything else we should know?

Send those questions out to clients and then use that information to write a testimonial for them. Send it back to them for approval and then use it with your product/service.

Bag 6 – The Risk Reversal

One of the final things that prospects worry about is what if they just don’t like the service or product? What recourse do they have?

For my books this is the offer to return your money in 30 days no questions asked. It’s a digital book so it’s not like I can take the book back, nor do I even shut down account access if videos were included. For my weekly priced development work this is where I tell prospects that if they decide they don’t like working with me at any point they can stop paying me and I’ll give them all my code and they owe me nothing more.

But most businesses have no risk reversal policy. In the words of D’Souza:

They expect their customers to take on all the risk.

When you think of it that way it sounds silly. Would you do business with someone that said they’d take your money and do some work but you had no way of tracking them down or getting some money back if things went south? You’d certainly take longer to make the purchase.

Really this is where many Internet professionals sit, though. They don’t know their clients face-to-face. They may not even be in the same country. Then we ask our prospects to spend 5 figures with us after a single Skype call.

While you may think that you simply deserve money for a particular kind of work, that’s not the case. If you don’t deliver, the project has failed. If you don’t deliver on time, the project has failed. What does your client do at that point? Often they just have to keep waiting for you to get around to finishing the work or give up all the money they’ve spent and possibly the work you’ve done.

Don’t put your clients in this place. Make sure that you have a risk-reversal guarantee of some fashion and make sure that you don’t book yourself too full so that you can’t get your work done.

Bag 7 – The Uniqueness

What does it mean to be unique as a person? What about unique as a business? How do you stand out from the crowd of other providers offering essentially the same product or service?

When asked about your uniqueness, you mumble something about ‘service or quality’, which means nothing to most people.

Or, stated in Duct Tape Marketing as Jantsch speaks of ‘Copycat Marketing’:

I challenge you to pick up any business phone directory you like, flip open to any category, and see if you can differentiate one business from another. In some cases the ads are so similar that the owners of the business wouldn’t be able to pick their own ad from the group if the phone number and name were removed. – Duct Tape Marketing

This is where most businesses sit. They all claim to deliver on time and under budget and that they can take on the ‘hard projects’ that others can’t handle. If everyone can do this though, why do we hear of so many failed projects?

So where do you find uniqueness in a sea of businesses that purport to be ‘the number 1 choice for…’?

So let’s go back to your yoga school. If you were asked: ‘What’s unique about your business?’, you’d struggle to give an answer. But if you changed the question to: What would you want to achieve for your students most of all? Aha, that’s a whole new question isn’t it?

See, your uniqueness isn’t about ’service’ or any of the lame and easy answers. For me it’s about helping clients build businesses that don’t take all day every day to run, so they can get to doing other things in life. If I could have a track record (which I’m building) of people that have businesses which don’t consume all their time and energy and let them hang out with their families or go sail a few times a week, I’ve got a track record and business I’m proud of.

So again I ask you, what is the wildest dream you could achieve for your clients? Write that down and you have your uniqueness. Don’t write down 3 things (or at least cut back to the 1 most important thing). You can only have one uniqueness and then you need to tell people about it.

It’s not enough to simply have a uniqueness. You need to tell the world about it.

No matter if you draw comics or build web sites or replace roofs, you are in marketing. Without marketing you don’t have a business because no one knows about you.


There are a bunch of useful thoughts in The Brain Audit and the format is more than a bit playful, which contradicts the style of most business writing.

The biggest knock against it is that it leaves you to flounder still in areas like finding your uniqueness (others would call this your niche). D’Souza gives you these 3 steps:

  1. Make a big list of what makes your business unique.
  2. Use weighted ranking to decide.
  3. Flesh out the uniqueness to create more clarity.

The thing is, that while he writes an extra paragraph below each point they are not super helpful. Make the list by ‘brainstorming’. There are no prompting questions provided to help you think deeper about the process. You’re left to discover what weighted ranking is and then how on earth you’d even set it up for your business. Find more clarity…how? Evidently simply ‘bring more color and detail’ is what D’Souza thinks will do this.

True, he does follow up in the next section with a very basic (but less basic than already provided) example of all the ideas, but you’re still left with lots of work to do so you can even figure out how to do the work D’Souza thinks you should do to find your uniqueness.

Overall, this is where the book sits. Great ideas that you’re going to have to do much more research on to even start implementing. You’re also left to figure out how to research the ideas.

Now the question is, should you read this book? Nope, I don’t think you should. There are better books out there for learning to write a good sales letter or set up a good marketing plan. The Brain Audit simply touches the surface of everything and then leaves you in the deep end barely able to swim with no edge in sight.

Get The Brain Audit on Amazon.

photo credit: clement127 cc