We like to think that we are in control of our thoughts — that the decisions we make are always thoughtful, logical and rational. But as recent neuroscience research is revealing, our decision-making is heavily influenced by our subconscious. The same is true in marketing, where the field of neuroscience presents a world of opportunities — and concerns — for the marketer as well as the consumer.
That’s where Daryl Weber’s recent book Brand Seductiom: How Neuroscience Can Help Marketers Build Memorable Brands comes in. In Brand Seduction, Weber (Twitter handle: @BrandedCortex) shares how the latest research on the human brain can help us better understand how and why we make decisions, and offers some examples of brands that are using these new findings to retool their marketing approaches. Weber talked about his book and neuroscience in an email interview with me. Here’s our Q&A:
1. Brand Seduction builds upon a lot of research into the way the brain works and how this research can be applied to brand-building. Applying the results of neuroscience research is a relatively new approach to branding and marketing. Based on what you discovered in your research, what is the most important piece of advice you could give to marketers?
Most of the marketers I see spend the vast majority of their time and effort on what their marketing communicates consciously. But the big mistake, and biggest opportunity, is for them to understand what their brand and marketing are communicating unconsciously. Everything communicates something — the design, colors, lighting, tone, and mood all contribute to the metacommunication of any marketing communications. The research shows that what gets into the mind via metacommunication — the mood and feeling of an ad — can actually stay in memory longer and may even be more influential than the conscious message we work so hard to craft…which is often forgotten.
So it comes down to this: How you say it is more important than what you say.
2. As you conducted your research for this book, what was the most surprising finding for you in terms of how neuroscience can be applied to marketing?
The most surprising thing for me is probably how attention works — and how it doesn’t work how we think it does.
Our minds are processing so many things we’re not aware of, and many of this can actually get into our memory even if we don’t realize it. The flip side of that is that direct conscious attention that marketers try so hard to gain can actually backfire and cause consumers to counter-argue the message.
Dr. Robert Heath has done a lot of research into this space, and has shown how too much attention may not be ideal. The reality is most consumers let most advertising wash over them, without paying much attention. But Dr. Heath shows why this can actually be more effective if you gear your marketing to work at these lower levels of attention.
3. In your book, you talk quite a bit about the importance of creating a “brand fantasy” for a brand. Briefly, describe for us the concept of “brand fantasy” and tell us how is it differs from the more traditional brand positioning concepts like the USP, or unique selling proposition?
One of my main reasons for writing this book was because I felt most of the ways marketers talk about “positioning” today is woefully incomplete. Things like positioning statements or brand architecture documents tend to focus almost exclusively on the conscious side of brands. Even emotional insights and emotional benefits are still conscious. This way of thinking ignores the incredibly powerful unconscious side of brands. So the “Brand Fantasy” is my attempt to give marketers a model for understanding, articulating, and working with the unconscious side of their brands. It’s a way to make this highly intangible thing a bit more tangible and useful.
Simply put, a Brand’s Fantasy is the collection of associations — both conscious and unconscious — that live in the consumer’s mind related to that brand. This model gives you another tool to add to the marketer’s toolkit that lets you dive into those associations and plan them strategically for your brand, rather than letting them happen by accident which is usually the case today.
4. You don’t say much about the role of traditional market research (focus groups, quantitative surveys and the like) until later in your book. What role, if any, do you see for traditional market research in the modern marketing organization?
Traditional market research has a major flaw: It asks the conscious mind to explain things that are probably more driven by the unconscious. This is why the field of neuromarketing has been growing so rapidly — it aims to bypass the conscious mind and peer directly into the unconscious and the brain.
However, there are still important roles for traditional market research. It is still important to understand the conscious reactions and feelings people have to your marketing, brand, or product idea. And, there are ways — such as “projective techniques” — that you can use in traditional settings to explore the unconscious side of things.
The market research industry is still thriving and not going away any time soon. But I do think it’s time they started realizing this major flaw and adapting to it more.
5. From your perspective, which colleges and universities are doing a good job of building a brand fantasy, and why do you think that is the case?
From what I have seen, it seems most colleges and universities have very similar brands. They try to appeal to the same people in the same ways, and stand for the same things. As is true with any brand, it’s better to stand for and own a specific idea that differentiates you in consumer’s minds. For example, MIT owns the idea of technology, engineering, and innovation. If you’re a student interested in going into those areas, MIT will likely be your dream school. Same thing for music schools like Juliard, or places like Bard.
Most schools tend to fall into a certain bucket or grouping. There are “small liberal arts” schools, tech/engineering schools, the Ivy League, big sports and party schools, etc. In order to stand out, schools need to know what makes them unique, and what they can own in relation to the others in that bucket.
Visit Daryl Weber’s website for more insights into neuroscience and its role in branding and marketing.