Our brains have two ways of processing information: the “low road” and the “high road”. Understanding the peculiarities of both can greatly support the quality and effectiveness of communication on all levels.
The low road is the path our brain automatically takes in front of a stimulus of some kind: it is an instinctive reaction that is usually complemented (or countered) by the rational evaluation which is then performed by the high road. The main characteristic of the low road is that information always flows through this channel first, while when talking about the high road it is important to remember this is a slower response that requires more processing time.
The typical example used to describe situations where the low road is predominant are “fight or flight” situations: our hearts will start pumping faster way before we consciously assess the nature of the threat. In this case, our brain is interpreting a generic “danger” signal and the low road is activating our defenses on instinct, while the high road focuses on elaborating a strategy.
We do, however, have less dramatic and instinctive reactions every day. It is because of the low road that first impressions are so important – as anyone working in sales well knows. First impressions are low road emotional reactions that will cast a light – or a shadow – on all the reasoning the high road will process from then onwards.
The “halo effect” occurs as a consequence of our low road first impressions, because the brain has the inclination to project both positive or negative feelings on the elements surrounding the actual object of the emotion. If your customers like your brand and your sales representatives, it is likely they will be positively inclined during the technical evaluation of your product.
Any time your communication is descriptive and technically-oriented, it will appeal to the high road reasoning processes of your audience – conversely, images and the very colors you choose for your brand identity will trigger an emotional response from low road interpretation.
Knowing how to consistently design and align the messaging for both high road and low road content provides a considerable boost in the effectiveness of communication. Every topic and every human is subject to low road heuristics and reasoning “shortcuts”; being aware of these mechanisms of the brain allows both improved communication and messaging interpretation.