Successful brands do several things well, but from a communications perspective there is one crucial factor. At those key moments when decisions are actually made, a successful brand must make a greater number of people think about buying their product or service compared to the number considering a competitor.
As Byron Sharp rightly states making brands "mentally available" is the raison d'être for the communications industry, but how effective is modern marketing at delivery this?
The answer, it would appear, is not very. In a rather open attack on modern marketing, Professor Sharp compares its efficiency to the archaic and entirely ineffective medical practice of bloodletting. Referring to a study of 143 UK TV campaigns, he points out that in a startling 84% of cases, consumers were unable to correctly identify which brand the advertising was supposed to be supporting. Pro rata this up and business could be wasting anywhere up to £8bn every year on advertising that simply has no effect!
So, in an attempt to make sure we are not metaphorically bleeding anyone unnecessarily, Vizeum has been working with neuroscientist Jack Lewis (Ph.D.) of Neuroformed, to identify better ways of communicating, based on how our brains really work.
This has resulted in 'The S.C.I.E.N.C.E of brand growth', which comprises 7 principles to help brands drive growth through communications.
The human brain is incredibly good at filtering out most of what is going on in the world around us, including advertising. Our brains have evolved clever automatic systems for ignoring all but the most important sensory information. Anything unexpected is relevant. A dedicated brain region (the anterior cingulated), whose responsibility it is to monitor our environment for deviations from the norm, kicks in and focuses our full attention on the surprising event. There is a massive surge of activity in this brain area when an unexpected event occurs, leading to an improved memory of the event in question.
There are lots of ways to surprise consumers: cats acting like a dogs or a bank giving a £5 gift voucher to every 1000th customer who uses an ATM as a thank you. The key is coming up with new, unpredictable ways of creating genuine surprise, and not falling into the old trap of telling consumers what to expect!
Memories are created by physically changing the network of neurons in the brain. Each time we create a memory or revisited an existing memory, this network of links is changed. Dr Lewis points out that it is fair easier for the brain to build strengthen existing memories that start to create a whole new set of memory structures.
Brands use this system of associative memory and this is why it's powerful for brands to be consistent over time and maintain a set of core defining features. Distinctive and ideally emotive attributes can combine to form a brand signature that enables the memory to be updated rather than formed again. This gradually builds powerful brand concepts and impregnable emotional associations.
The key actions for marketers are to review what makes your brand distinctive and make those features prominent and permanent in all communications over very long periods of time.
The "matching luggage" debate has been rumbling on for years: is it important for a campaign to look consistent across different channels? Our research would suggest that "matching luggage" is actually incredibly important. Building on the consistency over time principles, consumers need to be able to link the different elements of a campaign together easily in the moment.
Most advertising is processed by what Daniel Kahneman (of Thinking, Fast and Slow fame) refers to as System 1, which means that it is absorbed at speed and without much conscious thought. It is critical to make it easy for consumers to link the different elements of a campaign together quickly - linking the paid, owned and where possible the earned elements of a campaign together will strengthen the brand in the memories of consumers'
Clearly advertising is always factually correct (otherwise what do the ASA do!), but this isn't always enough to make it believable. Dr Lewis explains that to there is a wealth of research which demonstrates something called "cognitive ease" can significantly help create messages that people believe are true. There are a series of experiments which produce incredibly directional recommendations.
The basic premise is that anything you can do to reduce cognitive strain will help, so the first step is simply maximizing legibility. Incredibly, people find messages that are clearly presented more persuasive, so if the message is printed use high contrast and bold colours rather than middling shades of greens, yellows and blues and this will make it more persuasive!
Another study has shown that language is very important and perhaps counter intuitively using simple language makes you appear more intelligent. The use of complex words to convey a proposition seems to arouse suspicion in people.
The final point is that when people are in a positive mood they are more open to persuasion. Dr Lewis points out that this makes biological sense, when you are in a good mood it is a sign there is no danger in the immediate environment so it is safe to let your guard down a bit. This has a profound impact for communications and targeting people in moments when they are in a positive frame of mind could make a significant impact into efficacy.
As we saw above, surprise has the power to grab attention, anything that runs against current understanding requires the brain to take note and update.
When consumers feel "that's news to me", they change their thinking. Not only that, but if it is a particularly valuable, surprising piece of news then it may have strong re-tell value.
Being able to regularly pass on useful tidbits of information to other people in your social circles carries real social currency, whether this is via online networks or real life social interactions. In the information economy, to be seen regularly sharing information that is "ahead of the game" is to rise up the social pecking order.
When people receive social recognition from grateful peers it sparks off powerful reactions in the brain's "reward system". This internal response strongly motivates people to find more of this valuable, addictive, ephemeral commodity, with social recognition acting as the fuel that stokes the hearth of social status. So long as the news is deemed original, useful and/or counterintuitive: it will spread.
Think of a £1 coin; think of how many times you've seen a £1 coin. Regardless of bank balance, you've surely been exposed to a pound coin on thousands of occasions. Now think of what it says on the coin. If you're certain about that, you've a hugely impressive memory: experiments show that people struggle to recall that detail, in spite of an almost infinite level of exposure.
We don't remember because memory isn't just about repetition, it's primarily about building a network. We attach new memories to stronger, existing memories, building knowledge subconsciously through the context in which information is received. In psychological terms, these help build "schemas" - set patterns, ideas, and expectations based on contextual cues. We have a schema for breakfast, or for a family holiday, or for a nice restaurant. Things that don't have a regular home in these memories aren't remembered. They're not salient.
These connections help us sift through the overload of information we're exposed to. We forget or ignore that which doesn't fit with them, creating shortcuts to that which does - for the moments of maximum need.
For brands, this is crucial. Without a connection to other stronger memories and moments - the dominant drivers of decision making - brands can never be truly mentally available. Think of how Bisto embedded the brand in that classic family context.
Ask yourself: where does my brand fit in the routine of consumers now? What are the contexts most likely to make them think of it? What are their existing default choices there? If you can answer those, you're already a step ahead.
Memories fade with time if they are not revisited. This is the reason why advertising has its biggest impact closest to the point of purchase. But marketing often does not follow this insight. Brands that are purchased 365 days a year continue to run bursts of activity followed by long periods of silence. Budgets are always finite, but thinking hard about how to reach consumers just before any purchasing opportunity arises is something that should be point one on the brief.
This memory effect also has a major influence on who we should target. Byron Sharp suggests that advertising has a much bigger role to play with "light" consumers as advertising is potentially the only contact they have with the brand. The other benefit with this approach is that there are many more light consumers in the market. Getting a wider group of occasional buyers to make one additional purchase has a disproportionately large effect on a business compared to encouraging the comparatively small number of loyal customers to do the same.
The important point here is that the consumer base is almost always much larger than you might think. If you look at the penetration of Stella Artois for example (based on TGI data), you may be surprised that only 9% of the total drinkers are 18 to 24 year old men (the core audience for most lager advertising). What might surprise you even more is that 14% of the total base are women aged 45+. This has a profound impact on who you should target with your media, and paying the premium to access the young male audience may not be the most effective use of the media investment.