There are lots of reasons why we choose one brand over another. In this blog we take a look at how marketers try to influence our decision making process.

For most high value purchases we’re buying into how a brand makes us feel – once we’ve evaluated the fundamental features and benefits, our emotions take over. We’re attracted to brands that evoke positive feelings (desire, happiness, safety, loved, surprised, valued, respected, proud, excited etc) and repelled by those that have the opposite effect.

We buy products based on a whole range of criteria – price, availability, personal preferences, features and benefits, how well something fulfils a need etc. and of course, we buy with our hearts too.

Marketers have been using psychology to try and influence our hearts, and therefore our decision making, for decades. Advertising, packaging design, slogans, jingles, role models (remember the Marlboro cowboy), promotions, messaging, imagery and subtle persuasion are all tools in the marketers arsenal.

But, in order for a brand to grow, consumers first have to experience it, believe in it and develop a sufficiently positive perception of it to want to part with their hard earned cash. Brand perception is all down to the consumer, it’s their view of you – you can influence it but you can’t control it. You might have the most amazing product in the world, but if consumers aren’t aware of it and don’t get that connection, they won’t buy it.

Why would someone spend tens of thousands on a Rolex ? In terms of time telling ability, a Timex tells time just like a Rolex. Both have a movement, both have a strap, both have a face and both have hands. Both tell time. What’s important is how the watch makes the wearer feel. That’s what we’re buying, we’re not buying time, we’re buying a statement.

Everyone knows that Rolex stands for quality, craftsmanship, luxury, status, achievement – when we associate with brands, we’re trying to reflect those attributes on ourselves. We’re buying into everything a brand represents because it makes us feel a certain way and we want other people to know that too.

We buy into the magic that is marketing because deep down we have a subliminal attraction to those compelling marketing messages and alluring product images. Your neighbour drives a BMW because it’s the ultimate driving machine; Audi drivers buy into the understated, technology-focused offering communicated so brilliantly through Vorsprung Durch Technik (progress through technology); Mini owners love the eccentricity and free spirited nature of their quirky cars and so on.

Building brand loyalty.

Brand perception, how we feel about a brand, plays a huge role in our decision-making process – how does it contribute to long-term brand loyalty? Successful brand building, and therefore loyalty, is about keeping customers coming back for more – to turn early adopters and steady consumers into advocates, we need to understand how brands use psychology to strengthen the perception.

We know that highly effective and successful brands create emotional bonds with consumers – but on a practical level how do they achieve it? Differentiation is one way, finding a point of difference between them and the competition. Most consumers are creatures of habit if they’ve always bought Clarke’s shoes (they just fit great) or Macleans toothpaste (I love its minty taste and texture), chances are they always will.

It’s the distinctiveness of a brand that drives its success. When a consumer has a particular need – for food, clothing, a new TV, piece of furniture or toothpaste; the chances are they already have a set of products, or their favourite ‘go-to’ product, in mind.

When a buying problem arises – I need to renew my car insurance – consumers just don’t have the mental capacity to consider each and every insurance product on the market (after all there are literally 1000’s of them). They might have a very short list of 2 or 3 brands at best.

When I think of car insurance, for some reason I always think of Go Compare, Money Supermarket and Compare the Market (even though these are comparison sites and not insurers). I could have said Direct Line or Aviva, but I didn’t. Why? Mass advertising through multiple channels and a catchy commercial – everyone knows the Go Compare man and the cute little Compare the Market meerkats – it’s this distinctiveness that we remember, not the specifics of the offer.

So the question becomes, how can a brand achieve distinctiveness? How can I get my brand into the mind of a potential consumer? It’s a bit like trying to get a meeting with the managing director, but first having to get through the PA.

A great starting point is to build a strong brand identity, promise and value set that consumers relate to – going back to my earlier point, brands must foster an emotional connection with their audience. From there, it’s about continuous engagement and empathy – treat them with respect, be their number one fan – don’t be seen as profiteering. Great brands have purpose, vision and a strong visual identity – we identified above that the strength of a brand is based on our perception of it. And a positive brand perception equals long-term brand growth.

Brand perception and the role of psychology.

There are numerous examples of how psychology works to influence brand perception, in practical terms:

1. Visual Identity.

A combination of language, typography, iconography, imagery and colour combine to define a brand’s visual identity. Colours are chosen for how well they represent a brand’s personality – they give a visual context to the feeling, mood or behaviour the brand tries to evoke.

The use of a certain colour in an advert or brand identity is more than just an exercise in making something ‘look pretty’ – psychologically, colours have the power to elicit certain emotions whether we’re aware or not. Yellow signifies optimism, but it can also trigger impulsivity. Red evokes a sense of urgency and excitement – typically associated with the end of season sales or fast-food chains; red also physically stimulates the body by raising blood pressure and heart rate – maybe that’s why most Ferraris are red?

Blue represents trust, security and reliability for example – an important attribute for brands in the financial sector; green represents positivity, health and nature – the green in Starbuck’s logo reminding consumers of the brand’s environmental credentials and focus on fair trade. It works the other way too, thinking about the damage oil companies inflict on our environment, isn’t it ironic that brands like BP and Petronas also use green – a bit of reverse psychology at work here? This is where trust, transparency and credibility play a part. Great brands have these in abundance.

McDonald’s ‘golden arches’ is one of the most recognisable brands in the world – the iridescent yellow on red working in harmony with the tag line ‘I’m lovin’ it’ – helping to create an aura of happiness and positivity, perfect when you’re feeling like a bite to eat. Apple is an example of probably one of the simplest logos around, a white apple on a plain background. But it works. Apple stands for simplicity and technological advancement; their products exude sophistication, understated design and desirability.

Purple represents wisdom and luxury, it’s also associated with royalty — emanating from the time of Queen Elizabeth I when she forbade anyone except members of the royal family to wear it, further contributing to its exclusivity. Purple dye was so expensive that only the very rich could afford it. Finally, black is associated with power and strength, it also evokes feelings of exclusivity and quality – unsurprisingly, most premier banking products feature black in their colour schemes.

2. Messaging, story telling.

What we say and how we say it can have a huge impact on perception. For example, it’s generally perceived that Tesco focuses on offering customers great value, at the expense of quality. In 2017, the supermarket aimed to challenge this misconception with its ‘Food love stories’ campaign.

Exploiting the emotional role that food plays in our lives, the campaign focused on an individual preparing and eating their favourite meal with those they love. Fresh, lovingly prepared, quality ingredients coming together to create a delicious meal. By putting customers at the centre, they managed to create an emotive and heartwarming campaign which effectively repositioned Tesco as a supermarket offering quality food, at everyday prices. It was their most successful campaign at the time, generating an incremental £680m in revenue. But sometimes, messages can become ‘lost in translation’.

Over the years there have been a few classic examples where brands have become unstuck. Snickers 2006 campaign ‘Get some nuts’ featuring Mr T was dropped after it was accused of being insulting to gay men. Mr T was seen firing Snickers chocolate bars at a man speed walking in tight yellow shorts while yelling, ‘You are a disgrace to the man race. It’s time to run like a real man.’ Mars released a statement saying the advert was intended to be funny but that ‘humour is highly subjective’.

3. Social aspects and influencers.

Social influences have long been used to create brand loyalty by fostering a sense of belonging – Maslow labelled belonging as one of our five basic needs. Super successful brands work hard to foster a sense of belonging – by bringing people together through shared values and common passions.

In the US, Capital One opened their Capital One cafes – with free wi-fi, coffee, food and money coaching advice (Virgin Money in the UK did a similar thing). The concept was so successful because, in our digitally-connected worlds, consumers actually felt more disconnected than ever. In a recent study by Cigna, over 50% of Americans said they sometimes felt alone or left out. The solution – more face-to-face interaction, more real community. Brands are evolving, and those that embrace community and connectedness will thrive.

Influencers have a role to play here too, the use of celebrities in ads (George Clooney – Nespresso and Philip Schofield – are two that immediately spring to mind) help draw in consumers ‘because they relate to the celebrity’ and therefore the brand. Am I more likely to buy Nespresso just because George enjoys it? Yes, no, probably. It goes back to being distinctive – when I think coffee, I’m thinking George Clooney and Nespresso – not Nescafe, Dolce Gusto, or the other myriad brands out there. I want to be like George and, if drinking Nespresso gets me a fraction of the way there, then that’s good enough for me. Because it makes me feel good.

More recently, we’ve seen the rise of niche influencers on Instagram and YouTube – for example SuperCarBlondie and Joe Wicks, aka the BodyCoach – with millions of followers between them. Influencers have the power to build or destroy brands, literally overnight. But they help create a sense of belonging and community, that’s a powerful brand building strategy.

In summary, brands must connect emotionally with consumers – the ones who do it well build exceptional long-term value and loyalty, those that don’t, don’t.

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