" ` How do we make brand choices? | Haines McGregor

A lot of what we do in marketing is around the edges – rarely do we get to grips with the real drivers.

I cite for example, that much work has been done on recognition, and the fact that selection of brands in store is often made in a fraction of a second – but why is that? How does that work?

Equally the advertising industry has for years made some brands huge by getting the right emotional tenor…think of iconic ads like Hamlet cigars which captured the inconsequential disasters in everyday life – and made Hamlet the answer; or Fairy which made the factually thankless task of washing up alone in a kitchen, the very epitome of family warmth…but why did they work, really?

The answer lies of course in the way our brains work, and to get an insight on to that we have to start top down…

“Although most people feel they are thinking beings who occasionally feel, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that in fact we are feeling beings who occasionally think”
– Daniel Kahneman, Professor of Psychology and Nobel prize winner for Economics.

The point he is making, and the point that led to his prize was that the decisions we make are largely emotionally driven.

And this is down to our brains not being homogenous but in fact, made up of separate entities – the rational brain, which feeds off logic, reason and facts, and the emotional brain that feeds off feelings, instinct and shortcuts – and of huge significance…identity – who I am, what defines me

Now here’s the rub…the emotional brain is more powerful, and faster than the rational brain. It just doesn’t seem that way because the rational brain controls our speech, and tends to be literally and metaphorically vocal in asserting its leadership.

Professor Fred Morrison of Ulster University says of ‘identity’:
“In developed markets, where functional needs are largely covered, the majority of human endeavour is focused on [what he calls] the Identity Project…the subconscious desire which drives most of what we do, to make up the gap between the me I am, and the me I want to be; and in this regard, consumerism, brands and the acquisitive society we live in is there to serve a powerful human need”

Strong stuff – but how do we apply this to brands?

Well let’s think of every brand purchase as a little journey…where you are motivated to move from State A (where you do not have a given brand or product), to State B where your functional and emotional needs are met.

Let’s delve in to State B, and let’s assume there is no functional competitive advantage available between brands – as is largely the case.

Kahneman and Morrison above would lead us to believe that emotions and identity were the drivers of choice – but how do we decode those?

The underlying needs of consumers can be understood by employing needs-based research – we employ NeedMap, a needs-based segmentation, which is constructed not on what people say particularly, but by image associations and projective exercises that are much more reliable proxies for respondents’ feelings to do with a particular brand or category. It plots needs according to universal psychological constructs known to drive decision making in a given context: our relationship with others (fitting in or standing out); and the personality that a given decision brings out in us (high energy/extroverted or low energy/contemplative). These ‘axes’ describe a map, which can then be directed to reveal different states of need – against which we can plot brands, sectors, or communications or indeed cultural biases.

This tool helps us understand the need, and if we can, by extension, understand the functional and emotional characteristics that are relevant to that need, then we can begin to build or position a brand against it.

But that’s only the first part of the equation.

Most markets are highly populated with many brands attending to the same underlying need – so how do we influence brand choice within the crowd?

Let’s go back to Fred Morrison’s identity project and the so called State B…when a number of brands are fulfilling the same underlying need, the determinant of brand choice can be the ‘me I want to be’…in other words the identity that the brand confers on me, and allows me to ‘become’ in a given context, be it social or solo…the identity which incrementally takes you to the desired State B.

This driver to express oneself is after all as important in the privacy of our bathrooms and bedrooms, as it is in the social glare of a Friday night out.

So by employing archetype models which enable us to map alternative personalities, we can craft the brand’s positioning to include a personality which will both distinguish us from the competition, and produce the tie-breaker that will allow the consumer to take the final decision in favour of your brand

The tools and currency of this process necessarily, are sensitive research tools and creativity – images which are intelligently created and selected against careful planning disciplines to both calibrate, and understand consumer subconscious drivers, and ultimately to execute the brand in the market place.