|THE POWER OF brands is undeniable. The moment we decide to buy soda, we know what brand of soda we’d purchase even before we leave our apartments to the corner store. Brands create unmatched loyalty and boundless profits for corporations. What’s it about brands that transforms people’s emotions and behavior? Why should a pair of jeans from True Religion inspire such an emotional response and commitment. Why should MBAs who graduate from Thunderbird or bikers who ride a Harley ink the logo of the brand to claim membership to an exclusive clique?
In 2007, I embarked on a journey to find out the answer(s) how brands create devotion strictly from the consumer’s perceptive. My journey took me to ashrams in India, secret consumer tribe conventions, Sturgis and Daytona motorcycle rallies, Apple stores, tattoo parlors across the length and breadth of the US, and many other exciting places. I am still collecting valuable data with plans of publishing my findings. This keynote presentation uses four iconic brands: Coca-Cola, Apple, Thunderbird, and Motorhead. I hope this set of slides helps unlock some of the secrets of how brands build emotional connections, and why branding is important.
Category Archives: Insights
We have only just scratched the surface of our potential – like icebergs at least 98% of our emotional and intellectual awareness occurs ‘under the surface’ in the murky depths of the subconscious mind1.
It would be disingenuous to dismiss this when approaching the all-encompassing practice of Marketing Research; after all, an iceberg wouldn’t even reach the surface without this sturdy base below.
So why do market researchers only focus on that 2% rather than engaging with those core beliefs that keep that smaller percentage visible?
Here’s a lesson from my graduate school days: A friend of mine, fresh from his native country and in the US less than a week stumbled upon a way to earn a quick buck. He registered himself to take part in a focus group for consumers who loved to eat Mac and Cheese straight from the box.
In his native country, breakfasts are as freshly cooked as they are varied – they didn’t even sell Mac and Cheese; however for his insights into this largely unknown delicacy he received a cool $100. He even showed me the T-Shirts and CDs he brought with his Mac and Cheese money.
My friend displayed the basic human characteristics that we all take for granted; those impulses that lie above the surface. We as a species, driven by a collective consciousness that elevates intelligence as a desirable quality, even in the lack of that quality, will strive to appear intelligent.
Such social performances can come in myriad forms – artful omissions, the provision of incomplete or misleading information, outright deception, faking, lying, carefully chosen words, persistence, bullshitting, and so on.
This deceptive behavior does not have any power; it is only when someone believes in the manipulation that its power manifests itself. In an interview, Vasudevi Reddy of University of Portsmouth claims:
“Fake crying is one of the earliest forms of deception to emerge, and infants use it to get attention even though nothing was wrong.” 2
In this case, it’s a question of dignity: the infant knows the parameters in which it will be most successful. Now, think about adults; Do any of these responses sound familiar?
“Honey, you look perfect in that dress!”
“Oh, your e-mail must have ended up in my spam folder; that’s why I didn’t respond!”
“Your updates never show up on my Facebook newsfeed.”
Both women and men consciously fabricate these face-saving stories. In one out of ten interactions, married couples lie to each other, and such made up incidents skyrocket to 80% in the context of spending. 3
Stepping back from spending for a moment; I recently eavesdropped in on a conversation on my daily train ride to work. A forty-something, suit-wearing professional was boasting to her companion about how she had hoodwinked a focus group that called for participants who were paid subscribers to Skype. Just hours before she was due to take part in the market research study, she googled everything she need to know about the survey and lied through her teeth all her way to $300 in participation money.
My question here is: What’s the use in spending tons of money in carrying out elaborate market research sessions – asking the neocortex or the rational mind, questions about irrational behaviour?
The logical side of our brain is only going to lie or act as if it were intelligent. Truth is often the first casualty of any conflict, and there is no greater conflict than that between the consumer’s beliefs and their buying behavior. Don’t believe me? Keep reading:
The irrational buying behavior of the average consumer was put on display during recent consumer research for an 11powerN client. Several New Yorkers were asked why they drove a SUV on the streets of Manhattan. Oddly enough, the number one response was: ‘What if I chose to go off the road?’ Keep in mind this is Manhattan. Manhattan. You remember: the financial and cultural nexus of the US? Manhattan the island? Off-road? The more I probed, the weirder their responses got; “Oh it’s because I go off-roading at weekends.”
As amusing as those responses are even if consumers were downright truthful; how do they put their irrational buying behavior or the emotions they have for a product, service, or experience into words?
Today’s marketers recognize a very distinct “ebb and flow” of an emotional wave influencing the consumer’s choices; this recognition, however, does not extend to the identification of an emotional connection that can bridge the gap” and afford any sort of measurement of an association of that magnitude. Given the existence of this reality and its attendant limitation, one must ask: Is the expenditure of funds in extending this elaborate market research helping or hindering the marketer in understanding this emotional connection? To what end should the marketer seek to find in asking the rational mind questions about irrational behavior?
If presented with rational thought and behavior, the neocortex will have no choice but to lie – that is, to “act out” as if it were intelligent.
Fish where fishes are. Answers to subconsciously driven motives need to be sourced at the subconscious level. Market researchers have a duty to extract the subconscious agents that make decisions, preferences, feelings, and beliefs by probing into the subconscious or ‘the lizard brain’ as I’d like to call it.
The lizard brain is not mutually exclusive; it pervades every dimension of our lives. It doesn’t shut down when we go to bed or go on vacation. Every second, it is dictating how one should act, judge, think and feel.
Theologians, philosophers, and scientists have been studying the unconscious to know why we do what we do for several centuries. Half a century ago, Ernest Dichter, the founder of motivational research, helped launch in-depth consumer interviews to explore non-rational motivations in consumers when marketers still believed in the homo economicus.
In the last decade or two, there have been a host of tools developed by social psychologists, cultural anthropologists, neuroscientists, sociologists, and economists that have given marketers a peeping hole into this lizard brain or reptilian complex.
Lizard harbors vast riches in still largely unmapped areas immersed in deep emotions, traditions, values, and culture. Marketers who see the advantage in wandering into this dimly-lit treasure trove will be richly rewarded with the keys to brand success.
- LeDoux, Joseph (1998). “The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life,” New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
- Gray, Richard (2007). “Babies not as Innocent as they Pretend,” The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/3298979/Babies-not-as-innocent-as-they-pretend.html (retrieved on 8/5/2012)
- Villareal, Phil (2010). “Survey: 80 Percent of Married Couples Lie about Spending,” The Consumerist, http://consumerist.com/2010/07/survey-80-percent-of-married-couples-lie-about-spending.html (retrieved on 8/5/2012)
Illustration: Mohan Raj
If customers were unhappy about a product, service, or experience in the physical world, they might each tell 5 friends. Today, unhappy customers each tell 5,000 friends on social media channels.
In today’s increasingly digital world replete with mobile technology and post-PCs, websites are the epicenter of branding programs. To compete in this fast-paced digital jungle, and to be self-sustainable engine for growth, loyalty, and differentiation, brands must be remarkable both offline and online. These are slides from a keynote I gave in 2007 that discuss how products and services need to be branded in this paradigm-changing media.
Skoda is a student car of Europe. Flourishing on consumer ignorance, Skoda has successfully created an aura of exclusivity in South Asia. Toyota Kijang of Indonesia manufactures Innova, a compact SUV that failed security tests in the US, but is sold in twelve popular variants in other markets. This doesn’t mean consumers in the eastern world are only taken for a ride by con marketers. Many bottled water companies in the US use glorified names such as Alaskan Falls, Yosemite Water, Fiji, etc, but bottle and sell artesian (municipal) water to make profits. For instance, Alaskan Falls has nothing to do with Alsaka; it is bottled in Worthington, OH with tap water. You can reach them at 614-888-5430; the company is actually called Liqui-Box). Coca-Cola and Pepsi saw the huge profit-making potential that they sell coke and pepsi without the carbonated, acidic sugar -syrup as Dasani and Aquafina to the world. Poor consumers are fooled.
The attached video is a fitting evidence how Whole Foods, a 275-grocery store chain in the US, which has created an indelible perception that is almost synonymous for locally grown organic food, sells vegetable imports from China as California Blend Veggies (see video clip attached). This should startle most American men and women who innocently believe what Whole Foods says it stands for, but is now deplorably exposed by ABC News.
Branding is about creating perceptions. It is not about creating false promises, and pulling the wool over consumer’s eyes. As a Brand Strategist, I strongly profess alignment of identity and image. You can’t claim what you are not, for one day soon karma will catchup.
Today digital marketing is considered as a meat and potatoes management tool for acquiring, engaging, and retaining customers. Unlike traditional marketing, digital marketing readily has access to consumer data; after all, the consumer is online providing rich and relevant information for marketers to mine, analyze, and strategize. Why then companies don’t view outsourcing low-value marketing activities such as, data mining, social listening, and market analytics as a strategic lever to keep marketing costs in check?
In a world where information technology has become the fulcrum of businesses with advent of web 2.0 technologies, marketing function has undergone a sea-change at the intersection of technology. Outsourcing can create a win-win situation, as it will enable outsourcer to reduce marketing costs and increase quality in non core areas of business, while the outsourced can prosper, mature, and build core competencies. At the organizational level, marketing outsourcing can represent a basic restructuring of businesses away from a model designed for the industrial-age, offline consumer.
Critics of digital marketing outsourcing can theorize the macroeconomic effects that may result in a ‘race to the bottom’ wage rates or the engendering job insecurity for marketers in outsourcing country, but business leaders better know that bits can easily reach people and places that atoms can’t. Companies should do what they do best, and outsource the rest.