The behaviour of the consumer in the real world rarely corresponds with marketers’ predictions, thanks in part to the way the human brain filters the huge amount of information thrown at it daily.

In The grand paradox of branding, exclusively on WARC, Itiel E. Dror, Senior Cognitive Neuroscience Researcher at University College London, and Nir Wegrzyn, CEO of BrandOpus, explore the role of brand in driving purchase decisions from a cognitive-neuroscience perspective.

They note that to impact a consumer’s behaviour sufficiently that they buy a product or service, branding activities have to create the right associations between the product and the existing elements in the brain – the ‘right’ associations being those that drive decision-making.

Creating these associations requires connection, integration and consolidation with what is in the brain already, in order to fit in with the familiar and known.

However, they add, the brain has a habit of ignoring the familiar. “Hence our paradox: In order for the brain to even process the information it has to be unusual and different, but for it to be associated and integrated with what is in the brain, it has to fit with the known and familiar.”

From a cognitive-neuroscience perspective, they argue, “branding, advertising and marketing must first achieve ‘cognitive penetrability’ (i.e. grab the brain’s attention, penetrate into the complex brain processes).

An understanding of how the brain processes marketing messages can help brands move to a new level in terms of how consumers perceive them.

When information enters the human brain, they explain, “it connects to stored representations and is categorised to both higher (superordinate) and lower (subordinate) levels of abstractions. One visual input can result in multiple categorisations.”

So someone seeing a white, long-haired German Shepherd might categorise it first as ‘dog’ and then according to breed, colour, hair type, and as both a pet and an animal.

“But we do not connect the visual stimuli to all of these simultaneously,” they add. “There is the first, entry-level abstraction [dog], and then we move to higher or lower categorisation abstractions.”

In branding and marketing terms, the aim should therefore be to make the brand rather than the category the entry-level contact.

And that in turn means, say Dror and Wegrzyn, that “the role of branding changes from addressing the consumer in literal terms … the brand needs to primarily exist as a visual construct that transforms the point of entry, controls it and enables memory structures to be formed”.

Sourced from WARC