Brain research and branding

I read a few articles in a back issue of “Marketing Management”, which, if correct, may throw a lot of what many marketing experts think they know about branding out the window!

In the past, marketeers have often tried to “personalize” or “humanize” products through branding and identity campaigns. The goal is to make products connect with people on an emotional / personal level. The theory is that it’s easier to sell the product and build additional awareness — sort of like a programmatic approach to turning someone into a “Ford” guy or a “Chevy” guy.

Well, well. It’s turning out that our brains may not be WIRED for this sort of cognitive connection. Based on some very sophisticated magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) research, people seem to form their opinions about products completely independently from any warm and fuzzy feeling they might have toward the BRAND of the product. Even such commonly practiced marketing theories like “positioning” may become dinosaurs as we learn more about how the brain forms relationships to “things”. As a student of Ries & Trout, this comes as a bit of shock to me.

Unfortunately, the research doesn’t tell us what will work. (Darn.) But, some of it suggests that the product itself (quality, features, usability, price, etc.) may be more important than companies would care to admit. Who’d a thunk it? I’ll bet the engineers are laughing their heads off.

There’s a lot to be learned yet and branding will always have it’s place. Volvo = safe comes to mind. But, it sure will make the new frontiers of marketing more interesting!

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