Get a demo Do I subscribe? News sign-up

The Brand as Human

Opinion, 13 April 2010

"Brand" had been with us since human time began. Millennia before marketing coined the term "branding," the how, when, and why of people "attaching" to a person, product, or idea, has been nothing less than the engine of history. Marketers would do well to look at how the human attachment process operates from the point of view of "people", rather than "consumers".

Particularly in this era of economic uncertainty, marketers must better comprehend the illogical preferences, the innocent desires, the mess of assumptions, and the untested deductions, that people live by. This entails a shift in perspective from seeing people as consumers to relating to people as people. Attitude, usage studies, traditional surveys and focus group methods will no longer do. Traditional methods of inquiry, and the models they generate, catch only the top-of-mind impulse.

To achieve a return on investment (ROI), marketers must define a new calculus - Return On Attachment (ROA). Such a metric would entrain the emotionally-based logic responsible for how the mind enfolds self-identity and product-identity into a single narrative. That is the force that wins sales and boosts profits.

Branding is usually defined as the process by which a company or product name becomes synonymous with positive attributes. But this is mere commodity. The human mind is a maker of patterns, of symbols, narratives, metaphor and myths. Human beings are simply wired to make meaning. ROI implies a consumer who is a linear, rational actor, but people do not paint by the numbers. Nor are they linear.

To earn a dollar marketers must understand peoples' narratives of self, their world and the world at large. These stories virtually always display paradox, inconsistency and irony. These are not elicited by asking product-oriented, attribute-oriented discussion guide questions. Furthermore, in the statistical process, everything that is human is eliminated, averaged out.

Measures of marketing effectiveness have little to do with cognition, recognition and recall. Brand is not a product name with associated positive attributes. Expected utility is not an Einsteinian equation ready to solve the marketing universe. The cosmology of human cognition is more an elegant zigzag than Newton's linear gravity theory.

Marketers must come to terms with how the mind of people, in real time, actually operates, before its methods, models and tools can uncover the "theory of everything."

Go humans!

About the author

From contributing to Military Review ("The Droning of Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy", Sept/Oct 2009), Joint Force Quarterly magazines ("Ambassadors to the World", Jan 2010), to speaking to the USG Intragency Committee of Strategic Communications (published in Vital Speeches of the Day, December 2009) to portraying a college professor in a McDonald's commercial, cognitive anthropologist Dr. Bob Deutsch breaks the mould.

The founder and president of consulting firm Brain Sells (, Boston, MA, Bob has worked in the primeval forest and on Pennsylvania and Madison Avenues.  His focus, since the mid-'70s, when he was living with pre-literate tribes and chimpanzees, has been to understand how leading ideas take hold in cultures.

Since opening Brain Sells, in 1990, he has applied this understanding to how people attach to products, persons and performances.  He is fond of saying, "Reasoned judgment about attributes is not the issue.  The brain evolved to act, NOT to think." Brain Sells' retail clients include: TJ Maxx, Marshall's, Home Goods, Radio Shack, Sephora, Verizon stores, McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts, and Toyota.

You can count on the good Dr. for one to two posts monthly.

You can link to his website He should soon have a blog to link to as well.