I'm an owned man. My mind does not always belong to me thanks to certain brands that make my world go round. When I think of certain products, I have my favorites. Brands like Intelligentsia coffee--Chicago-based and absolutely the best as far as I'm concerned--and Apple products. And, I have a near obsessive-compulsive relationship with Evah Pirazzi violin strings--in my mind no other brand comes even close to the golden tone and the projection I get from these. Most times I buy certain brands without even thinking about it.
So how do marketers and branding professionals cut through this type of single-minded brand loyalty when it comes to certain products and services? How does one even begin to get past those neurons that are firing up with potentially automatic and pre-programmed signals that lead to habitual buying? And, more importantly, are these brand loyalties actually based on tangible evidence of better, faster and stronger, or are they merely effects of cleverly designed and highly effective branding strategies? Are they based on memories cultivated over time?
At the recent Market Research Event 2013, several session and keynote speakers explored this issue of automatic responses and pre-programmed brand loyalty. Some dealt with just how strongly our realities are shaped by brands and our experiences with them. Others showed how it was possible for them to cut through pre-programmed brand perceptions and loyalty by applying insights gleaned from a robust market research program.
In his keynote, The Pragmatic Brain, Jeremy Sack, Ph.D., of the Pragmatic Brain Science Institute, explained that brands have the power to "make" reality and presented examples on how we're capable of conjuring up images in our mind when we think of a particular brand--a "very cold" Coors beer or the altruism associated with Superman for example--and how we oftentimes respond to the brand's stimulus. Nigel Harris, Chief Global Analyst at Millward Brown, talked about getting people to "respond rather than think" when it comes to brand choices and experiences in his session, The Meaningful Brand, and showed how certain brands can elicit immediate and automatic, and sometimes predictable, responses. For example, in a study among British respondents, Cadbury chocolates--a confectionery favorite in the U.K.--were chosen over scantily clad people when asked what seemed most appealing. In the session Curious + Connected = Curve Surfers: Sundance Channel Audience, members of the Sundance Channel's marketing team showed how the provider was able to expand its portfolio of programming, shed its "artsy" stereotype and, as a result of its disruptive marketing and content strategy, attract more mainstream viewers.
A great deal of scientific investigation is being done regarding the neuroscience of consumer decision-making. Research has shown that we make certain decisions based on how our brains view the world, our attitudes and our accumulated experiences--memories--of particular brands. As an example, for some of us, as long as the brands we have chosen continue to provide the same positive experiences over and over again, we continue to buy them and a habitual buying pattern is formed. This habitual buying pattern can become automatic, and cuts out the competition. It is only when an advertiser has created something "unexpected"--a contradiction in our experience of the world--that our automatic response is negated, and we potentially explore other options.
According to some of the presenters whose sessions I attended at TMRE 2013, the most powerful brands, those that have the potential to deliver something unexpected or "contradictory," develop human-centered brand strategies. For example, Zipcar's mission when it comes to their brand experiences revolves around "keeping it simple," and "obsessing about the customer." Sundance was able to accomplish its goal of shedding its artsy stereotype by listening to what viewers wanted and bringing the "unpredictability and excitement" more mainstream viewers wanted to their programming. Both companies developed strategies that strongly represent the fulfillment of their consumer and viewers' needs and the development of emotional ties with the brands. At TMRE 2013, one particular message was clear: brands need to adopt a human-centered mission in order to capture a consumer's attention, and should strive to create meaningful campaigns and experiences around this mission.
Participants of the various sessions I attended also agreed on one other thing: impactful business decisions that have the potential to cut through the clutter of competition and automatic purchasing behavior are only as strong as the insights provided from a well-developed research program. Clearly defined objectives are needed, and an experienced research team that can design and execute an appropriate and relevant research strategy is indispensable. For example, Sundance's aspirations necessitated a mixed method approach that included large segmentation studies and subsequent deep dives. The research findings allowed the content provider to add the "unpredictability" and "excitement" it needed to satisfy the needs of its untapped market.
Admittedly, as I walked away from some of these sessions, I couldn't help but think about my own purchases and marveled at how much of an automaton I can be. Does that say something about my personality? Do I buy certain brands because of own particular experiences with them and what they do for me? Am I just mesmerized by hype or marketing campaigns?
Maybe it's all in my brain after all.