Mark Twain famously wrote a friend on the occasion of rumors about his well-being, “the report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Over the past two decades numerous articles have exaggerated the death of branding. Don Peppers and partner Martha Rogers, who introduced the term 1:1 marketing to us, were among the first.
The duo declared in a 1995 Marketing Tools article, “The mass marketing game (is) over.”
Believing this makes brands largely irrelevant, they went on: “Once any marketer takes over the customer relationship, the consumer will have very little need for a mass-marketed brand name. It’s that simple.” Peppers’ bias against branding reflected his background in direct marketing, a largely numbers-driven form of marketing that has generally been indifferent to value of branding.
Peppers and Rogers thought that so-called customer relationship management (CRM) would deliver the coup de grace to branding. But CRM was not living up to its promise when Peppers and Rogers first announced the death of branding. Fifteen years later CRM still hasn’t slain branding.
Peppers and Rogers explained why CRM had not worked as well as many hoped: “The fallacy is in thinking of a ‘relationship’ as emotional. In the 1:1 future, ‘relationship’ will be increasingly synonymous with ‘convenience.”
The mavens of 1:1 marketing came up as short on understanding of human behavior as anyone could. Emotions are the glue that holds together all voluntary relationships whether with animate or inanimate objects. Brand loyalty simply cannot exist in the absence of emotional connections with a company or brand. This is not uniformed opinion. Brain research over the past two decades has unequivocally shown that emotions are essential to bonding in any context.
No more dramatic (and tragic) demonstration of the key role of emotions in generating brand loyalty exists than among patients who’ve lost their ability to experience emotions but have retained normal reasoning ability. They are unable to draw a connection between themselves and another object such as a brand regardless of how much reasoning they put into the challenge. Though they might conclude through reasoning that a product offers superior performance and has the best value, they cannot confidently decide between that product and another.
A Duke University study found that brands, somewhat unique among proper nouns, are processed primarily in the emotional, sensuous right brain. That and other research clearly indicate that brand loyalty depends on emotional arousal.
One researcher who commented on the Duke study opined, “This is very intriguing indeed. It supports our instinctive belief that brands are a special class of word - they are like a poem all in one word in their ability to evoke and express ideas." He was describing the idea of a brand as a metaphor. Brands are abstract representations of what they stand for: a product, a service, a company.
Cognitive scientist Mark Johnson wrote, “Metaphor is not merely a linguistic mode of expression; rather, it is one of the chief cognitive structures by which we are able to have coherent, ordered experiences that we can reason about and make sense of.” That generic description of a metaphor could apply just as well the role of a brand, albeit in a much narrower sense.
British neuropsychiatrist Iain McGilchrist observed of metaphors, “… how we think about ourselves and our relationship to the world is already revealed in the metaphors we unconsciously choose to talk about it.”
Metaphors, like archetypes are emotionally evocative. In fact, archetypes are metaphors that more deeply embedded in our psyche than the metaphors we invoke at the conscious levels of our minds.
Nearly everyone in marketing knows how Pepsi holds its own and often out performs Coke in taste tests. But Coke far outperforms Pepsi in terms of its emotional connection to consumers. Said another way, Coke’s emotional connections to consumers has stronger archetypal rooting. Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson describes Coke’s archetypal image as “The Innocent,” a powerful archetype that invokes images of “God, Flag, Motherhood, Grandma’s apple pie and virtually every baby who automatically brings a smile to your face.”
In a recent study in which subjects’ responses in a Coke vs. Pepsi blind taste test were tracked by fMRI technology, brain responses indicated a somewhat even split in beverage preference. However, matters changed dramatically when researchers told people which cola they were drinking. Coke was preferred by 75% to 25%.
Most consumers seem to process Coke with greater emotional animation in regions of the brain associated with archetypal imagery than Pepsi does. Pepsi will probably never resolve this gap regardless of money spent in marketing or the creative talents of marketing creatives behind a campaign. Coke long ago took possession of the deeper recesses of most cola drinkers’ brains, and the odds of being booted out are virtually nil.
This post inaugurates a new series on the subject of branding. The ensuing discussions will be tilted toward branding in the age of the Internet. I will make a case that rather than the art of branding losing importance, it has become more important since the advent of online marketing. Why that is will be described in the next post in this series. But here is a clue: meaningful online engagement. It’s deeper and often more emotionally charged engagement than consumers generally experience in non-interactive media.