Why brand building is brain training for your customers

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Much has been written about the power struggle between the rational and irrational powers of the mind — the divided brain, the opposing forces that will convince you to have that extra slice of pizza even though you know you shouldn't.

In Daniel Kahneman’s landmark book, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, they are described as two separate systems of thinking; first, the emotional and irrational process that makes you love or hate something, followed by the slower and more thorough process of rational logic.

Balancing the short-term "sugar hits" of performance marketing with the long-term, "slow burn" power of emotional brand building is one of the most powerful ways a brand can grow and succeed in the digital economy of the future.

But despite extensive evidence and research that proves its effectiveness, why is this type of thinking so widely overlooked in marketing? Let's explore.

Reverse the activation obsession by investing in share of mind

Brands that achieve a share of voice above their share of market will grow.

Decades worth of research from the brilliant minds at IPA demonstrates that the rate at which a brand will grow will be broadly equivalent to the difference between their share of voice and share of market.

Simply put — the more that your audience hears and talks about you, the more you will grow. That sounds simple, right? Well, it is — and despite the rise of digital marketing, this is still true, so why aren't we doing it?

The truth is that the power and relative ease of performance digital marketing (and the short-term benefits it can deliver) have created a hyper-dependency on quick wins and instant results that are easy to prove through simple metrics.

Digital marketing has developed an addiction to the "sugar hits" of short-term success.

While these short-term, quick-win ad-funded campaigns contribute strongly to the bottom line, they also have such a fast decay that evenue will literally dry up overnight if the campaign is switched off. That means they rarely deliver meaningful long-term effects.

Instead, brands must combine the power of performance marketing with the long-term effects of brand building for maximum efficiency.

Brand building is brain training for your customers

As humans, our brains are hard-wired to process emotions much faster and more deeply than rational facts — and every interaction with a meaningful and memorable brand experience will gradually and permanently change the perceptions and intent of your audience.

So, think of brand building as a form of mental training for prospective customers.

Our emotional brains are much smarter and faster than your logical brain thinks it is — without realising it, you make decisions even when you unconsciously think you are choosing not to decide. It's a hard-wired fact of human nature — and one that we often overlook as marketers, despite the evidence and research to prove otherwise.

Why? Because we're obsessed with activation and quick-win results. The "sugar hits" of short-termism.

Each exposure to emotional brand building produces relatively smaller sales improvements, but with a much slower decay than activation campaigns, as they continue to literally change customers' brains over the long-term. This long-term exposure and conditioning will gradually make customers more likely to buy, whilst simultaneously reducing price sensitivity, and other rational barriers that may impact a successful campaign.

Persuasion and precision: long-term profit is all about balance

The power lies in balancing short-term activation campaigns with long-term brand building that will build brand salience, reduce price sensitivity and deliver much stronger long-term success than either approach in isolation.

Take the graph below as an example: the vast majority of sales in this case study by IPA came from the yellow area — long-term brand building activity, supercharged by short-term bursts of activation campaigns.

By carefully and purposefully combining human interest stories and emotional content with rational, factual messaging and product information, over time a strategy that combines both types of engagement will see considerably better results than those who favour one approach over the other.

To dive deeper into the topic, check out Effectiveness in Context and The Long and Short of It, both by the great minds at IPA.

Creativity is key to long-term brand building

Emotional engagement and storytelling creates long-term memory, which is a critical part of brand building.

How people feel about your brand matters more than what they think about it — which is why human interest content, emotional responses and even humour (this will obviously depend on the type of brand you are) can have a powerful effect on your audience that is impossible to achieve through rational messaging only.

Let's take a look at some examples:

Google: Loretta

Google's incredible powerful Superbowl ad for Google Assistant crafts a powerful human story about a man's journey through memories and loss — the ad does a great job of humanising Google Assistant, while completely avoiding any messaging about features, price or availability typically seen in search advertising.

However, this ad creates powerful reactions that make eventual customers more likely to choose Google Assistant over Alexa or other competitors, provided they had the right emotional response.

Cravendale: so good the cows want it back

Cravendale's classic, iconic ad injects a cynical flavour of humour into a category that is price-competitive, and notoriously difficult to differentiate in. Even decades later, their brand of humour makes their brand memorable and powerful.

As humans, our brains are hard-wired to process emotions much faster and more deeply than rational facts — and brands that successfully balance the raw emotional power persuasion with the science of precision and performance, will unlock the keys to much higher and sustainable long-term growth.

Julio Taylor, CEO at Hallam.