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Hitting the Brain`s Bulls eye: Brand Positioning for the 21st Century

Walking my dog, Frank, I realized that his approach to finding worthy items and places to sniff is similar to the way we perceive and seek brands. We have overlaid our process with advanced intelligence and a superiority complex, but it’s really the same. For Frank, his world is a continual source of stimuli received primarily by his powerful sense of smell. His brands run the gamut from leftover morsels hidden in a thrown away bag to fetid undergrowth in which resides treasures of pungent quality. What struck me was the way his path, at one moment in a determined forward motion, could, in the next, be derailed by an aroma, whereby he veers off into some bush, nose first. I like his purity of intention. I can’t be sure of what he ignores because, thank god, I can’t smell most of what he finds interesting, but there are brands lessons to be learned here.

The truth is that we buy with our feelings. We are creatures of impulse. Now I know that there may be purchasing agents out there who would deride the notion, but consumers are not in the same boat. We’d like to think we bring hefty intellect and keen analytic power to what we buy, but we’re dogs at heart. There are metaphoric brand smells which bypass any cognitive functioning and hook us. We may cover this up with much homework, great digging of information, and the like, but the reality is that we want what makes us feel good. We may apply word of mouth (good or bad), past history (good or bad) and appropriate external factors (decent reputation for service & quality or lack of same) to the decision making process, but we’d all save a good deal of time and mental activity if we just accept that when it comes to most purchases, instinct trumps intellect. “How dare you!” you may say. “I think profoundly before I purchase!” you may protest. “How about those text heavy ads for Mercedes or Lexus extolling the virtues of ionic spark plugs or catalytic conversion” you offer as proof. Let me tell you something, if you think that people fly on Southwest simply because it’s cheap or buy Lexus because of their text ads, let me sell you a bridge across the East River.

In a recent article in Time Magazine on the science of neuro-imaging, marketers investigated the electro-chemical functioning of the brain when offered brand stimulus. In a study done for two major soft drink companies, consumers, in a blind taste test, rated them both roughly equal. When brand symbols (logos, etc.) were introduced, one brand creamed the other. The respondents preferred and were prepared to buy one brand over another, in spite of the products original perceived equality. This was not just evidenced by the spoken response of the group, but the neural mapping of their brain’s chemical response. Areas of the frontal lobe went hay wire when exposed to the brand material. It’s the same place where primordial feelings and passions are generated. It’s our very own ‘dog’s snout’. There was nothing thoughtful about it, only visceral. Now, it cost a pretty penny to create the brand marketing that worked so beautifully, but the loser (and that company lost by a wide margin) also spent a ton. What can be deduced? The position of brand A, its message and look and all the emotional qualities consumer ascribed to it, made a bigger impression on this primitive part of the consumer’s brain than brand B.

The moral of this story is that if our ‘dog’s snout’ makes the purchasing decisions, then see positioning as a platform for your brand to orchestrate emotions and sensations. Use the tools best understood by those parts of the brain which receive those stimuli. Aesthetics rule. They are not to be dismissed as frou-frou or insubstantial fluff. Feelings matter. Businesses, even as they are measured by numerics, must be managed by embracing the world of emotion. The 5 senses drive purchases. Stimulate them where ever possible.

We may believe we are superior to our canines. While I wonder sometimes if my dog, Frank, doesn’t lead a better life, there is no question I can take a brand lesson from his nose.

Rick Hendrie is President & Chief Experience Officer of Remarkable Branding, Inc. a Cambridge MA based consultancy which helps clients create memorable brand experiences.