The Unconscious Power of Brands
When we buy something, we like to think we know the reason why. We move through the world feeling in control of our actions; and the decision to purchase something is no different: We think we bought that new product because it had the best features, the best price or the best look.
But, as research from neuroscience, psychology and behavioral economics has shown, we humans are not nearly as rational as we think. Instead, we’re driven by subtle unconscious influences that have their basis in our distant evolutionary past. The ancient machinery in our brains is being used for tasks for which it did not evolve, and this can lead to many irrational behaviors and actions.
As entrepreneurs involved in building businesses and brands, we have to realize how our customers’ minds actually work, not how we’d like them to work in a perfect world. In his new book Brand Seduction: How Neuroscience Can Help Marketers Build Memorable Brands, Daryl Weber, a branding consultant whose work has influenced some of the biggest brands in the world, takes a fascinating dive into how the consumer mind works, and what we as brand owners can do about it.
Here are a few tips for how entrepreneurs and small business owners can apply his thinking:
1. Everything you do is branding
For starters, realize that your brand is far more than your logo. Says Weber: A brand is a “collection of associations in the mind, both conscious and unconscious.” The conscious associations may include your product or service; its features, price and name; your ads and marketing. The unconscious side is the underlying feeling connected to your brand.
This feeling is built over time by every interaction people have with your brand — where they see it, whom they see it with, its colors and the emotions that the name inspires. This means that every part of your business that a consumer is exposed to — from how your products are distributed, to your company’s culture and people — will influence a consumer’s gut feeling toward your brand.
2. Build out your brand’s ‘fantasy’
Weber describes the unconscious feeling of a brand as its unique “fantasy.” This is the brand’s collection of associations that together form a gut feeling in consumers’ minds, and can impact whether they decide to purchase your product or a competitor’s. Weber suggests diving deep into the feeling, personality and even the soul of your brand, then blowing it out in abstract ways, such as mood boards and collages, to help define and articulate how you want your brand’s particular fantasy to feel.
3. How you say it may matter more than what you say
As business owners, we like to talk about why our product and brand are better than competitors’. We tout our benefits and features in our marketing and PR. This is important, of course, but what may even be more important is how we say it.
In Brand Seduction, Weber describes the idea of “metacommunication” — how the tonality and personality of marketing make a big difference in how consumers view your brand. Design elements like colors and fonts, the look on a model’s face, the lighting, the music and more, can all have drastic effects on how your brand is viewed.
These elements can make your brand feel more modern, premium and sleek, or else warm and cozy, even nostalgic — depending on your intent. But one thing is for sure, there is always metacommunication. Even a blank page says something. So, make sure you’re imbuing your brand with the feelings you want with every message.
4. Don’t take consumers at their word
Because of these unconscious associations, market research may tell only half the story. When we run surveys, focus groups or interviews, we’re focusing on consumers’ conscious reactions and explanations about our products and brands.
This data can be valuable, but it often misses the important unconscious side of brands. While the emerging field of neuromarketing seeks to address this issue by peering directly into the brain, there are things we can do easily and cheaply to make sure we’re not reacting just to consumers’ conscious minds, but to their unconscious as well.
Be sure to listen to the energy and feeling behind consumers’ words. Watch for cues like body language (are they leaning in or sitting back?), the tone and energy in their voices and the broader context of their lives to understand why they might be saying what they’re saying.
Digging deeper in this way can give you a much richer picture of their true feelings.