Brands exist in peoples' minds as a network (a unique memory structure) of thoughts, feelings, experiences, images, stories, colours, sounds, symbols and memories.
Branding acts as a heuristic, a kind of mental shortcut that enables people to make decisions quickly or intuitively. Given the over-stimulation we are confronted with on a daily basis (family, advertising, social media, work, etc.), quick, automatic thought processes are even more important than ever to manage the over-stimulation, to function effectively and to make decisions fast, rather than using precious cognitive resources for every brand choice.
The greater the quality and quantity of prominent mental cues, the greater the likelihood that a consumer will build associative memory structures around the brand so that they will notice, recognise or think of a brand when making choices.
At the heart of this lies a true understanding of what the brand stands for or should stand for: how is your brand relevant in people's daily life? What role does it (want to) play? This question can only be answered if the marketers fully understand the consumer and their needs.
The most successful brands, meet these two criteria: having a real consumer centric perspective on their brand as well as the market, which they implement in a consistent manner to ensure that their branding activities enrich, strengthen and deepen their brand's associative memory structures.
Ipsos Point Of View
In order to be chosen, a brand must come positively to mind at the moment of choice. At these moments brands are retrieved based on the strength of the brand's mental network, combined with any stimulus that catches the attention at the point of choice.
Based on the underlying needs and motivations, some options will be rejected and other, salient brands will be considered as choice options. At that point the '"best" option is selected. (This is a deterministic process, even if entirely unconscious). Following choice and experience, mental networks may be reinforced or challenged based on various types of stimulus at any touchpoint with the brand e.g. communication, conversations etcetera.
At all points in the process, people are influenced by two types of salience:
- Memory salience: All the aspects of the brand's mental network
- Attention salience: All the stimulus that captures our attention at any brand touchpoint
Yet brands don't exist as this mental network from day one. It needs to be built. It develops over time. Brands need to actively build, reinforce or disrupt the brand's network either intuitively or explicitly. A brand can also use more dissonant, disruptive approaches designed to challenge and force a more cognitive level of attention and processing.
Purposefully creating, managing or leveraging these opportunities enables brands to influence peoples' choices, resulting in brand growth.
A leading brand will need to continually work on its own mental network. It has to build on to the existing network by creating new experiences across various occasions for its current users. This will make the network become denser and stronger. Along the way, it might use other means, to disrupt the associations among non-users. It will allow the brand to be triggered more intuitively in more instances, among more targets.
A new brand, will have to be disruptive, challenging the networks of existing brands, or by bringing in new cues that will make people think before they make their final choice.
All of this can be done via a diverse set of instruments, being print advertising, communication, a comment, an experience with the product, an offer at a point of sale, a new pack, etc.
- Brands must be salient, coming readily to mind in the moments that matter. They should have strong brand networks or associative memory structures that are positive, rich and dense, so that they are naturally retrieved in a fast-processing, automatic decision environment. Brands can also achieve this by having distinctive assets that trigger the attention at the moment of truth.
- A brand must be relevant. It needs to have a unique purpose or role in people's lives. It needs to distinctively stand for specific functional and emotional needs consumers might have.
- Any branding activity will need to deliver on these in a consistent and coherent manner, to ensure the brand is always perceived as having the highest value at the moment of choice, compared with alternatives.
- Finally, brands need to make it easy for people to be chosen. The most obvious way to do this is by reducing barriers to be chosen, i.e. being available. But this also includes being perceived as the easiest and best choice.
At all times, when we at Ipsos help our clients build and grow their brands, we incorporate these key principles:
- Whenever we run a segmentation, U&A, ethnography, immersion or other foundation research, we are looking for new spaces where a brand can be relevant.
- Whenever we are doing brand positioning/equity research or set up a tracker, we explore how salient brands are, what their mental network is and how they are relevant.
- Whenever we assess communication ideas, new or existing communication, we measure how the network of associations that people have can or are likely to be influenced and how well this aligns with brand strategy.
- Whenever we test concepts or screen insights, we help our clients develop new ways of being relevant. Same when we test products.
- Whenever we do shopper research or test brand assets we explore ways for brands to be found easier, at the moment of choice.
- Whenever we run a pack test, we test whether a brand is noticed i.e. salient, distinctive and whether it can be easily found on the shelf.
Each time, our tools combine the latest thinking in neuroscience and behavioural psychology with a validated market approach and clear actions that lead to brand growth. Plus, we continuously strive to develop new ways to get closer to the consumer, balancing both intuitive and conscious decision making processes.