16-23B Brand Awareness


What is it that makes you buy one brand of vodka or soup or ketchup over another? Do you like the way it tastes? Is it a brand that you remember your favorite movie star using? Or is it something else? We talk to a brand expert who has researched the psychology of why we buy what we buy and find out that it’s not always a conscious decision, but one that is influenced by our brains, memories, and how we perceive ourselves using a product or service.

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Daryl Weber, brand consultant, author of Brand Seduction: How neuroscience can help marketers build memorable brands

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The Psychology of Branding

Marty Peterson: You’re in the market for a new phone, and you’ve done your research on the Internet. You’ve asked around to your friends about their experiences with the phone, and you have a list of all the features you need, the size and weight of the phone you want and even the color. With your homework done, you head for the store to plunk down your credit card and buy it. Now, you might think that the decision about the phone was made rationally and without consideration to all of the hype that its advertisers threw at you.  Maybe that’s the case, but more likely you weren’t in complete control of that decision, at least at the outset. Daryl Weber says that the first “spark” that drew you to the brand you bought might have been your unconscious mind’s doing. Weber is a brand consultant with a background in neuroscience. He’s also author of the book, Brand Seduction: How neuroscience can help marketers build memorable brands…

Daryl Weber: Most of the neuroscientists who I’m reading today are talking about how it’s an interplay between kind of these unconscious drives and our conscious mind and there’s a combination of the both that’s influencing us. So, typically the way I think of it is that, you know, we’ll have an inkling or an inclination toward a certain product or brand and that’s really what I’m interested in: How do we get that certain first feeling and initial impression, and what’s pulling us towards it and putting it in our consideration set? And then our conscious mind will often take over and say, “Well, you know, what features do I like better? Is there a sale price here, you know, are these colors better?” whatever might pull you one way or another. But it’s that first call that I think is really interesting and how can we build brands that call people towards them right from the start?

Peterson: Marketers are always looking for an edge to bring their brand to the forefront of our minds. Weber says our brains are rather lazy organs even though they process unbelievable amounts of data. And it’s because of all of the work they do that they naturally take shortcuts – what scientists call “heuristics” – to get all of their work done…

Weber: I’m not sure that marketers really know that though and understand it. I do a lot of consulting and my marketing clients, I feel they’re very focused on this conscious message that they’re trying to get across. And that’s assuming that people are going to pay attention and give some more effort and thought to what they’re saying and not really playing into that lazy brain.

Peterson: As a brand consultant, Weber tries to convince his clients that they should pay more attention to the “lazy,” subconscious side of the brain, because people don’t always pay attention to TV, radio or print ads, but they do remember them…

Weber: All advertising works on a subliminal level. So there’s a kind of conscious level that where you get a message and maybe you can consciously recall it. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of seeing an ad or even talking about an ad and saying, “Wait, what was that for?” You know if you ask someone “What brand was that for?” and they’re mixing it up or forgetting. But there is a lot of evidence now that even if you can’t remember the ad, even if you can’t remember having ever seen it, people say “I’ve never seen that ad before,” there’s evidence that shows that it still works in a way. That at an unconscious level our mind is always sort of taking in information like a sponge and learning about our surroundings whether we realize it or not, consciously. So advertisements actually get in and have an effect and influence us and stay in our long-term implicit memory it’s called without us even knowing that it’s there or got in there. So I make the argument in the book that, actually, all advertising is subliminal if you think about it in that way. It’s all sort of working on that subliminal level.

Peterson: Weber says that brands build connections in our brains and reinforce our “fantasy” selves. He talks about a marketing study that was run using Grey Goose vodka, a spirit that its manufacturer wanted to sell as a premium, upscale vodka experience…

Weber: Because really the liquids are very similar and, even by definition, they’re supposed to be sort of tasteless and odorless. The product itself, rationally, functionally is very much the same but the brand that you wrap it up in and package it in makes such a difference. Grey Goose is a great example of it where the founder, Sidney Frank, when he first started the brand decided, “Let’s make it in France because it sounds fancier if it’s made in France.” And they filtered it through Champagne limestone because Champagne limestone sounds fancy and sounds impressive. And so, you know, it’s all purposeful and, just, they made that brand from scratch to be fancy and the highest end and we’re going to charge more for it and, of course, the price also sets expectations when really the liquid is no different than cheaper brands and if you did a blind taste test you’re going to have a very tough time trying to tell the difference. But because they made it seem so fancy and elegant, premium, the bottle design and everything adds up to that, that makes that brand feel fancier and more special.

Peterson: And, in turn, it makes the buyer and his guests feel more special too. Weber says that the same thing works with other brands, such as Red Bull energy drink. When it first came out, it didn’t taste the way you would expect a non-alcoholic beverage in a can to taste – but that was one of it’s biggest selling points…

Weber: There was this mantra in the beverage industry for a long time that “taste is king” you know, or “taste reigns supreme,” that you have to have good taste to have a successful beverage product. I think Red Bull just went and overhauled that where if you do a taste test people say it doesn’t taste that great. You know, they tend to not like it. But, because of their promise – they were this first energy drink so they’re creating this new category – it felt like this almost, you know illicit, like mysterious substance. You don’t really know what’s in it, it’s got this strange name, you know this strange look and feel. And I think the taste was a part of that, and it said “This is something different.” It almost has this medicinal feel to it and it tastes sort of efficacious in a way, right? It says, “This is going to do something. This is going to have an effect on me,” right? It’s not just for the enjoyment of drinking it, it’s for the effect that it has. I think that taste actually really supported and builds on its full brand message and feel, what it was going for, and really separated it out from other drinks.

Peterson: Price can have a big part in the decision-making process. Weber says that in another study, participants were given sips of two wines – one was said to be inexpensive and the other, the participants were told, was very pricey…

Weber: If you have people sip on a wine blind, they don’t know what brand it is, you know that will affect things. If you tell them it’s a $99 bottle of wine versus a $9 bottle of wine – it could be from the exact same bottle – people will perceive it very differently. And there are actually brain scans to show that different parts of your brain will be activated depending on what you think the price is. People will consciously tell you they enjoyed the $99 bottle more, and they probably really are enjoying it more because their brains are showing that they’re enjoying it more. So, that’s what I mean, even at this physiological level the price is changing that wine in a way, right? It’s changing how it’s being perceived and tasted and enjoyed just by changing the price.

Peterson: Weber says that there are those brands that seem to be able to tap into their customers’ psyches no matter how long their products have been on the market. Apple, with its iPhones, iPads, Macbooks, iPods, and other electronics never seems to put a foot very wrong when it comes to luring customers to its stores. Why is this? What does Apple do that other brands don’t?

Weber: What the Apple brand does really well, I think, is not hit on a lot of this sort of conscious, rational benefits that some of its competitors do like Samsung or any of the sort of android products. Apple, instead of telling you about its features or benefits, it just almost shows a product demonstration, a demo, in most of its ads. But it does it in such a beautiful, elegant way. And that just fits with how their products are designed and their overall elegance and simplicity. It all really fits together to have this beautiful aesthetic and that just attracts you, right? So they don’t talk about (Apple) being creative or being overly emotional in a very direct way. Instead, they just kind of live and breathe it, and it comes through in everything the brand does. I think that’s a great lesson most marketers can learn.

Peterson: Marketers learn by using a variety of techniques – questionnaires, focus groups, observation, interviews and field trials. Weber says that marketers can get a deeper understanding of consumers’ decision-making by using some more abstract methods to drill down to the unconscious reasons why we buy what we buy, and he suggests that they not only test consumers, but also themselves…

Weber: And I talk about a great example of that in the book where we were doing some research for the Ketel One brand and sort of consciously they talk about, “Yeah, it’s another premium vodka, it’s the same as Grey Goose and all these others.” But when we did things like collage-building or story-building, a very different picture started to emerge where they talked about it as really super-masculine, somewhat similar like a Scotch kind of occasion where it’s like a poker night, muscle-y boxer guys they were putting in their images. You know, a very different thing than they were saying in sort of in the conscious questionnaire kind of thing. So it’s a way of probing deeper and understanding brands at these sort of deeper, abstract sort of mood kind of levels. And it’s used in market research kind of regularly, but I’m saying we should also, as marketers and brand strategists ourselves who are building brands internally, we should make sure we look at our brands that way and know what those associations and moods should be in a pretty detailed way. Marketers typically tend to say, “I’ll know it when I see it,” or “That feels on brand or doesn’t,” or “We’ll let the creative agencies or the designers worry about that.” But I’m saying we should be much more strategic about that and ourselves try to go through these exercises with our own brands and make sure we understand and have a goal for what our brands should feel like at that deeper, unconscious level.

Peterson: So how do you work around the mind games that marketers play to convince you to buy what they want you to buy? Weber says that we really can’t trick our unconscious to not remember brands and not develop connections with them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be more strategic in your decision-making…

Weber: Acknowledging and recognizing that maybe I’m not as in control. So, when you can do that you can maybe step back and say, “Why am I attracted to this brand?” Like, “Why am I on this brand’s website and researching it,” or “Why did I pull into this store?” and you can say, “Okay, maybe I should explore these other options,” or “ I never considered this brand maybe because it just doesn’t look or feel right or, you know, I didn’t like the name or, you know, I just kind of brushed it off.” Consciously you can override that and say, “Well, maybe it’s worth some merit. Maybe I should look at this product and features.” Actually force yourself to go into that sort of system to more rational deliberate-type thinking. You can override your sort of unconscious urges and pulls towards different brands, then take a more considered look at things.

Peterson: You can read up on all the tricks that our brains – and marketers – play to lure us into buying in Daryl Weber’s book, Brand Seduction, available in stores and online. He also invites listeners to his website at Daryl-Weber.com. To find out more about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpointsonline.net. You can find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher.  Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter. Our production directors are Sean Waldron and Reed Pence. I’m Marty Peterson.

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