Leveraging cognitive branding

Ambi Parameswaran | Updated on August 01, 2021

Title: Right between the ears: How to Use Brain Science to Build Epic BrandsAuthor: Sandeep Dayal Publisher: Penguin PortfolioPrice: ₹449

The author has delved deep into behavioural economics to apply it to branding problems

Canadian activist, Naomi Klein’s book No Logo published in 1999 created a huge uproar when it came out. The author, a social activist and film maker, proclaimed that consumers are wising up to the tricks of brand marketers [or logo marketers].

With the availability of a lot of product-related information at their fingertips consumers will stop paying absurd premiums to mundane brands. But that was not to be. The Economist in its cover story ‘Pro Logo’ wrote, a few years after the publication of ‘No Logo,’ that brands are here to stay simply because consumers seem to love brands even more.

The world has seen a flurry of brands in the last two decades and there is no domain that is untouched by the brand magic. New books on branding have continued to flood the market. This reviewer too has penned books on ‘how to build brands’.

In this melee of branding books, Right Between The Ears by former McKinsey consultant Sandeep Dayal stands out for a few simple reasons. One, the author has worked on several brands mentioned in the book and is able to demonstrate his concepts with live examples.

Two, the author presents a new way of looking at branding that goes beyond the normal rational/emotional benefit argument. Three, the author presents an interesting template to look at branding. And four, the author has delved deep into behavioural economics to apply it to branding problems.

What is cognitive branding? The author explains that “..cognitive brands are the hits they are because they work the way the brain does and are the key for unlocking the sensations of experience and fantasies lodged in our minds”.

Two systems

The author digs into the Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow theories propounded by Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Laureate and the father of what is known today as behavioural economics. Our brain has two ways of processing information. System 1 is the quick way, which takes the least effort. Then there is System 2, which calls for a lot of thinking and deliberation.

Applying this to marketing, the author argues that a consumer often uses the System 1 thinking to go from brand exposure to purchase. And if marketers can understand how consumers process information, how they look at the world around them, then they can get consumers to adopt new brands without going through the elaborate System 2 mode of thinking. In a sense brands can avoid being questioned too hard if they trigger the System 1 thinking.

In the whole brain thinking approach, the author presents a functional model of the brain that consists of Deliberator [the system 2 process], Associator [system 1 process], Learner [wisdom] and Conator [action tendency]. Consumers see all brand messaging and experiences through these four processes in the brain and these help consumers choose between and buy available products and services.

How is this different from what we have been doing till now? The traditional equity ladder-based brand approach looks at factors like functional benefits, emotional benefits, points of difference and reason to believe. For a detergent the functional benefit could be dirt removal, emotional benefit could be pride in how the kids look dressed in clean clothes, points of difference could be stain removal and reason to believe could be stain removing enzymes. This kind of thinking still works but the author presents an argument to look at a new framework, a Cognitive Branding Framework.

This framework has three modules. Brand Vibes. Brand Sense. Brand Resolve.

Brand Vibes answers the question ‘Does this brand give me good vibes?’ ‘Can I trust it?’ Brands can activate this by shared feelings, where the brand says ‘I know how you feel’ or shared beliefs, where the brand says ‘I believe what you believe’.

Brand Sense is when a brand answers the question ‘Does this brand make intuitive sense?’. You trigger brand sense by making the act of choosing your brand feel effortless by making it familiar, or more true/authentic or good or easier.

Brand Sense is also when a brand answers the question ‘Does this brand make reasoned sense?’ To trigger this response, brands can amplify the value of the brand, lower the risk of selecting the brand, providing reasons to believe the brand claims or framing the brand choice favourably.

Brands build resolve when they become key to helping consumers move up on the happiness scale by addressing universal psychological needs.

The book is full of several brand stories including on De Beers, Mastercard, Allstate and Guiness. What pleased this reviewer is the fact that the author has presented several brands from the healthcare domain, both prescription medicines as well as OTC products. The Pediasure case is indeed a great example of the application of Cognitive Branding principles. Having executed the Indian ad campaign based the power of the consumer insight ‘picky eating by children’, I was happy to read the chapter on how the insight was mined in Indonesia, taken to Mexico and is now a global strategy for this power brand from Abbott.

Coming back to the No Logo argument, the book also presents a case for the importance of ethical values when adopting a Cognitive Branding approach. The author presents three imperatives: canonical imperative [would you want somebody to do this to you; categorical imperative [would it still be okay if everybody did this?] and sunshine imperative [would you run for cover if everyone saw what you were doing?].

The book is a very useful read for all brand marketers with numerous examples and concepts to take and apply to one’s own brand challenges. A small complaint. The book’s title is a little too complex for my system 1 thinking process.

The reviewer is a best-selling author and independent brand coach

Published on August 01, 2021

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