13 Feb What Brands Need To Know About Human Psychology
Simply put, branding and brand marketing are about influencing human behavior. Strong brands consistently create and reinforce a clear set of perceptions, emotions, beliefs and attitudes—something we at Six Degrees refer to by the acronym of PEBAs—in order to make their brand more appealing and, ultimately, purchased.
Unfortunately, many brand marketers have little or no formal, or even informal, training in human behavior. So, in this post, we will discuss some of the more important elements of human psychology branders should know and bear in mind.
The human mind is a difference engine
There is a reason why “being different” is held in so much esteem among branders and marketers. Human perception is designed to detect differences. If you would like a bit more information on the how and why being different is so important for branding and marketing, we suggest looking up the Contrast Effect, the Von Restorff Effect, the Anchoring Effect, the Distinction Bias and the Framing Effect in the literature. However, despite the common acceptance among branders and marketers that being different is good, still many brands fail to act accordingly, which helps explain why marketing communications within product categories tends to be so similar. Take, for example, automotive marketing. The majority of the marketing communications follow the same recipe and depict their vehicles carving twisty country roads or turning heads in urban settings. Or watch brands, where it’s practically gospel to show the product displaying time at the “friendly” 10:10.
People like competent brands that neither are (nor claim to be) perfect
Most brands tend to paint an overly rosy picture of their qualities and achievements and minimize, if not ignore, any negatives. However, the reality is that people tend to find a small flaw, especially one that is openly acknowledged in an otherwise competent person or entity as more appealing. In the literature, this is known as the Pratfall Effect, and it should convince more brands to be open and honest with their stakeholders than seeking to paint the perfect picture/image. People can relate to imperfection and often cheer for an underdog. Consider the success of Avis’ “we’re number two, so we try harder” campaign, or VW’s “ugly is only skin deep”, or Dove’s “real beauty”.
Brand perception is NOT based on the sum-total of brand impressions/experiences
Most brand marketers operate under the assumption that a given person’s perceptions of their brand are based on the sum-total of that person’s impressions and/or experiences with that brand. However, the reality is much simpler and in keeping with the human mind’s preference for short cuts: Brand perception is actually the mental average of the most recent brand experience and the peak or most extreme brand experience. For more information on this, consult the literature on the Peak-End Bias and the Recency Effect. The lesson for brand marketers is that negative brand perceptions are more easily swayed with a new, strongly positive brand experience.
People tend to form strong perceptions based on minimal information
Ever wonder why some people believe and pay fortune tellers? Why online product reviews and personal testimonials are often more compelling than quantitative data? Or why close but unrelated timing between a personal experience with a given brand and a news story about that same brand can turn someone on or off about that brand? It’s all because our minds are designed to form perceptions and draw conclusions from whatever information is at hand. All brands have to do to create the perceptions they desire is to consistently provide reasonable proof of what they want to be known for. For more information, take a look at the Forer Effect, the Representativeness Heuristic and Illusory Correlation, to name a few.
People will modify their behavior, often in unpredicted ways
Research shows that when you publicize how common a negative behavior is in an attempt to change that behavior the opposite often happens. For example, telling people that every month thousands of dollars are stolen from a brand of store in the hope that it will put thieves on notice will likely encourage others to start stealing from that store brand as it normalizes the behavior. People tend to mimic the behavior of others, and negative “social proof” tells us, it’s okay to do so. A much more effective communication for the store brand is to announce the implementation of advanced security features.
When the automotive industry widely launched anti-lock brakes (ABS) in the 1980s as a new technology to minimize the risk of crashes, the industry and insurance companies were surprised to see drivers compensating by driving faster.
Psychology and behavioral economics have a lot to teach us about branding, marketing and communications. For greater brand success, we would do well to heed the insights.