Companies looking to promote their brands or products amongst today’s complex audiences can gain a great deal from understanding how the brain functions. The first step for many marketers will be to recognise a difficult truth: our brains aren’t intrinsically interested in brands.
From the point of view of the brain, the crucial issue for a brand is how it exists and operates in our memories. If it’s not in our memories, essentially a brand doesn’t exist for us at all. But getting into memory is easier said than done. Memory exists for us to make sense of the world around us and guide our future decisions, and this determines the things that get stored away, or encoded. These things tend to be factors that are key to our survival, or which comprise a narrative linking situations and stimuli.
The problem for brands is that typically they don’t need to be remembered for either survival or key narrative information, and so run the risk of being disregarded by our brains.
However, a simple analogy can help brands overcome this indifference by utilising the brain’s own processes and preferences to maximise the impact of brand messaging.
To imagine how this works, consider the network of information a person has about a brand as comprising a ‘brand room’ in the brain.
As new information about a brand is gathered, our brains link it by association to existing knowledge, and the network – or brand room – grows. Accordingly, brand rooms for more familiar or better-loved brands are well furnished while the rooms for less well known brands are comparatively empty.
Each brand touchpoint can either ‘furnish’ or ‘re-decorate’ a brand room by offering new information or changing perceptions of that brand.
People don’t think about brands all the time, however. To continue the analogy: a brand room will usually be in darkness. So, as well as furnishing or redecorating the brand room, brand owners need to identify ways of turning on the metaphorical light switch to illuminate all their hard-won associations and bring them to the front of our minds. This is important throughout the purchasing journey, so that when we come across a brand we can instantly access all the associations that we have with it; but the challenge is to find brand triggers which will act like light switches in this way.
Luckily, these triggers often exist already, in the form of brand iconography. Logos, shapes, sounds, or colours that are strongly associated with a brand can light up the room in a way that instantly conjures up the wider brand identity – they are key to leveraging the impact of branding and brand communication across different touchpoints along the path to purchase.
The strength of using these “light switches” is that they can be much more effective than overt brand messages that attempt to hammer themselves into memory. Hard selling messages can actually have a very negative impact on the brain.
This is because our brains have built-in defences against being influenced by overt selling messages – as we mature, our prefrontal cortex can act as a filter that blocks out any sort of hard sell, paving the way for more compelling, perhaps subtler, ways of delivering brand engagement.
Rather than shout, brand owners should think smarter and act more strategically, which is where the brand room analogy comes into its own.
Thinking about the brand room can help marketers and planners understand the role of any brand touchpoint – is its role to furnish the room, or to turn on the light switch?
The inevitable starting point is to identify the triggers that a brand can own, and which can be activated consistently across touchpoints. From there, the next step is to decide the function and purpose of each piece of brand communication. Is it to furnish the brand room making it more comfortable and compelling? If so, consistency is critical. But if the aim of piece of communication is to turn on the light, clarity and strength of message are key.
Ultimately a brand needs to both furnish and light up the room, and a great comms strategy will contain elements that do both.