The Neuroscience of Engagement

Spark Centre recently attended OCE Discovery – Canada’s leading innovation-to-commercialization conference in Toronto. The Spark Zone was full of activity, showcasing eight of our high potential start-ups, including Dr. Edmond Dixon. His initiative, Helping Boys Learn revolves around a unique “6 Secret” framework designed to improve boys motivation and achievement by using an approach in sync with male brain wiring and physiology. At the conference, Dr. Dixon had the opportunity to connect with 360 Incentives, one of Spark Centre’s innovation partners in Durham Region. 360 Incentives featured the following piece on Dr. Dixon and Helping Boys Learn on their Technology Blog discussing engagement in learning and business.


“Maybe the loyalty business has it all wrong.”

The idea that loyalty is a fish you can catch if you simply own the correct accoutrements is to ignore the biology of how loyalty works.  Herein lies the problem: loyalty in business is too often approached as simply a “what” question, but it’s really more of a “why.”   “What has worked before?” is often the question, when a more useful question is “why did it work?” and then capturing that information and applying it to create new, better programs.

After all, loyalty is not a mathematical formula, a secret sauce or social movement – it is a feeling. And feelings can be tricky little devils; they don’t necessarily simply come when called.   It turns out though, that feelings of loyalty do, in fact, have some predictable triggers.

“Motivation and engagement only happen when the person you want to engage actively participates in the activity,” says Dr. Edmond Dixon.  “You can’t ‘con’ them into it – the base of engagement is learning and for us to learn we have to be motivated to do it.”

Dr. Dixon specializes in building greater engagement between developing boys and their schoolwork.  Getting into this field involved years of studying the neuroscience around motivation and engagement.   It turns out that engagement has very different biological construction within the bodies of males and females.

So what is the biological makeup of engagement? Dr. Dixon says “Males release testosterone and prefer victory and triumph of some sort, whereas females release oxytocin and tend to like the idea of community better.”

From a marketing person’s perspective, considering these simple facts as we build strategy can serve us very well. You may be at the mercy of your incentives management software to determine if you have the necessary flexibility to address males and females differently in your marketing, but here is a brief cheat sheet to help you tailor your programs in such a way that they resonate better with people.

Start With Why

Males – Dr. Dixon says that in order to engage males, right out of the gate they need to know “what’s the end game?”   Be sure to communicate your own business goals, how it fits in with their own goals and any other information that fulfills this need.

Females – “Females need to understand ‘how does this fit in (to the bigger picture)?” adds Dr. Dixon.  They don’t necessarily need to know the clear end result, but be sure to frame your offering in terms of the big picture.

How To Get ANYONE Engaged

Even in the digital age, there may be situations where it is tough or even inappropriate to segment your marketing by gender. It is useful to consider some universal principles of this science.

“The connected world gives us all previously inaccessible amounts of information and choice, and when people can act autonomously, they tend to be more engaged,” says the doctor.

“You have to allow them to use information and choice in their own way,” he adds.

In the specific instance of engaging retail sales associates, Dr. Dixon suggests giving them a quick path to information to make sales.  Provide a way that they can get more expertise in a short time in order to help customer make choice.

He adds, “We say we’re socially connected, but people still like to feel special, like they’re part of a team.   To engage sales, allow them to learn in collaboration with others using their own information and choice, combined with recognition.   Geography is not important to forming this recognized group.   They will effectively go about forming a mastermind group, solving problems that a company may never have previously imagined.”

Remember: technology helps you scale these training resources and user communities in a way that was previously impossible. Digital assets such as training videos, sales leader boards and online discussion groups will build the engagement what you need, help the people in the channels to perform better and keep your brand on the tips of their tongues.

What has worked before will always be a sensible and useful point of reference.   Understanding why it worked will drive us to do better and better work.

This article was written by Jason King and first appeared on the 360 Incentives blog.

Peter Crouse


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Dave Miller

Software Technology

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