CRACKING THE CODE ON BRAND GROWTH
How can you change consumer behavior?
This is one of the biggest questions corporations face. But it’s also much more than that. It speaks to political campaigns, social movements, and anything else that requires winning over proverbial “hearts and minds.”
So, how do you change consumers’ behavior? It’s not simply via digital, TV advertising, promotions, or other traditional methods. It’s something deeper. You need to influence the place where instinctive, automatic decisions are made.
Reaching the subconscious
Today’s buyers are busy, and don’t have the time or energy to weigh the merits of one item over another in a store or online. They grab or click a favorite, and move on. An estimated 90% of purchasing decisions are made instinctively.
To get consumers to choose your brand, you need to build a positive impression that reaches them on a subconscious level. This means discovering the images and stories that build positive associations with your brand in their minds -- the subconscious drivers. The moment people look at your brand, what thoughts, images, experiences and feelings pop into their minds?
The false allure of ‘emotional marketing’
Many brands try to reach consumers on this level through emotional marketing, partly in response to research by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman that showed most decision-making is “irrational” and driven by subconscious shortcuts. But in a great many cases, these emotional marketing efforts have failed.
Just taking a buyer on an emotional journey through an ad that makes them laugh or cry is often irrelevant to the brand or business. Emotional benefits only work if they’re rooted in your product experience. So it’s little surprise that many Super Bowl ads don’t lead to the kind of sales spike you might expect.
The key is for consumers to feel a positive connection with a brand, not for brands to communicate emotions. Emotion is the outcome -- the feeling a consumer experiences, not the message itself. And emotional connection comes from tapping into positive, familiar ideas in consumers’ memories.
A successful example of this is a Super Bowl spot for M&M’s that was rightfully declared the “most engaging ad.” By creating the image of Danny Devito blissfully lolling about in a pool of melted chocolate, M&M’s tapped into an ideal stored memory of superior chocolate – liquid, rich, enveloping. This elevated the consumers’ impression of M&M’s and connected that sense of joy to the brand itself.
Another piece of this puzzle is sending the message to consumers that your brand is the ultimate expert in its category.
One brand I’ve worked with, a household name, was facing sagging sales. When I dug deep into this problem with consumers, and determined their associations with the brand, I discovered why. People did not see the brand as authentic. They saw it as having no genuine expertise in its category.
The brand’s marketing extolled virtues of the product, but didn’t explain to consumers why it was based on superior knowledge. When the company changed its marketing to focus on this, sales immediately spiked. The new campaign gave buyers positive codes and cues (including language, imagery, and even music) to perceive the product on a subconscious level as being a true expert in its category. That delivered credibility.
Focus on what makes buyers alike
Discovering subconscious barriers and drivers can help you change consumers’ behavior no matter where they fall in any demographic breakdown.
Unfortunately, companies are wasting time and money these days over-segmenting their audiences based on the belief that a more personalized marketing campaign will be more effective. Marketers should be asking how consumers are alike, not how they’re different. People are much more similar than we think.
Virtually all buyers, no matter their demographics or attitudes, have similar associations about brands. They respond positively to the same remedies for enhancing perceptions. Particular codes and cues bypass the conscious, skeptical brain and build positive brand associations at a subconscious level. This is what’s really happening when people say they have a good “gut feeling” about something.
Plus, when you have limited resources, putting them behind one universal message is much more likely to yield a high return.
The same approach applies not just to selling products, but also to building support for social causes or political campaigns. Entrenched beliefs such as racism, gender bias and anti-Semitism are based on an instinctive response that occurs at the subconscious level. To mount a successful campaign to counteract such responses, you have to address bias in the same deep-rooted spot where it originates.
So if you’re looking to change people’s behavior, don’t fall prey to accepted marketing beliefs. Ignore the hype. Focus on triggering positive associations, and watch success follow.
1. It’s not just about entertainment, it’s about elevating
Michelob must’ve dropped a mint on their “Perfect Fit” commercial, starring super-buff, superhero Chris Pratt, playing an egomaniacal version of himself. The spot follows Pratt as he pumps iron, brags about his new gig, and yet curiously never mentions Ultra’s main selling point—that its low calorie/low carb formulation helps him keep fit. The spot is entertaining, but the viewer doesn’t learn anything about how the beer tastes, whether it’s responsible for Pratt’s abs of steel, or why he suddenly wants his own beer truck. Pratt is handsome and charming, but will it help Michelob’s bottom line? We predict not.
2. It’s not about conversation, it’s about conversion
Agencies want their spots to be the topic of conversation, but trending on Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve created an effective commercial. Super Bowl ads may generate a lot of “likes,” but twenty years of CEM case studies show that liking a brand bears no relationship to sales. When these commercials are done well, they can be life-changing for a brand. Apple’s iconic “1984” spot for its new line of computers provided both conversation and conversion, with millions of consumers ditching their old PCs for the then-new-fangled Mac.
3. It’s about more than building up your brand, it’s about
Tech commercials are nothing new for the ‘Bowl, but Wix did something genius when they bought the first of three successive Super Bowl ads in 2014. Instead of using sexy spokesmodels like Go Daddy or Apple’s feature-film style scenarios, Wix addressed the barrier that prevents people from using them, head on. Realizing that most of us find the idea of building a website intimidating—a major obstacle to purchase—the brand hired retired football players to illustrate the ease of building a site using Wix. Paired with a simple tagline—“It’s that easy”—the brand exploded, reporting a 54% growth in revenue in a three-month period.
4. It’s not about just getting a laugh, it’s about serious
Even though many viewers consider the commercials a high point of the game, studies show 80% of Super Bowl ads don’t spur any increase in sales. That’s because emotion—whether it’s making consumers laugh or cry—doesn’t translate to growth unless it organically links back to the brand. For example, the teaser for this year’s M&M spot shows beloved curmudgeon Danny Devito blissfully lolling about in a pool of melted chocolate—a chocolate lover’s fantasy. By combining the trifecta of humor, fantasy, and a solid (well, melted) connection back to the brand, two decades of research into consumers’ subconscious has shown that this M&M ad is a guaranteed success.
5. You don’t want your product to be famous for 15 minutes,
you are in this to win it.
Do you want an ad that makes your creative team famous, or do you want an ad that makes your brand famous? Chrysler took a chance and spent $12.4 million to film a simple, but iconic, commercial showing rapper Eminem driving through Detroit. As much a love letter to the city as it was an ad for the car, Wieden + Kennedy’s two-minute spot achieved success on an artistic level, along with a sales jump for Chrysler to the tune of 50% over the next couple years.
This spot is next-level because it starts off in your face, splintering consumer preconceptions—that an automotive brand based in Detroit can’t possibly produce a truly high end car, asking: “What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about luxury?” It quickly becomes clear that the city is a metaphor for the brand. As the shots shift back and forth between scenes of the city, its hard-working residents, and the sleek lines of the vehicle, we’re rooting for these underdogs. We’re on their side! By the time Eminem slips out of his ride, walks into the beautiful old theater, and strolls up the aisle to join a gospel choir, we’re full-on believers—in Detroit, its inhabitants, and Chrysler.
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Leslie Zane is founder and president of the Triggers, a growth strategy consulting firm that helps clients change minds to deliver disruptive growth.
1. Overpromise, under-deliver
When a well-known coffee company billed their beverage as the one that will “help you live a fuller life,” they failed. Why? Because that is a lot to promise, even from a deliciously steamy, caffeinated mug of goodness. Think of all that’s involved in living a fuller life. Does coffee play a part? Perhaps. Will it make your life complete? Probably not.
2. Skipping rungs on the communication ladder
A common mistake is to assume that your customers know what your brand is about and to leap straight to the emotional benefit. Only once your brand story is well understood can you move into emotional territory. And this isn’t solely true of new product launches—even brands around for 50 years often need to reacquaint consumers with their core benefits.
3. Disconnected promises
Another common mistake is for a brand to embrace an emotion it has no hope of delivering. Let’s take “confidence.” A fine sentiment. But a bottled water or a shower curtain will not deliver confidence no matter how many times you say it. In order for emotional benefits to work, they must come organically out of the product experience, not off a list of trendy buzzwords.
4. Emotion without expertise
If you communicate emotion without establishing a clear expertise, you leave your consumers vulnerable for poaching. It’s remarkable how many brands forget this essential ingredient for success. Every brand has to establish its unique knowhow. To create a sustainable competitive advantage, consumers must understand what your brand does better than any other.
5. Telling, not showing
When you try to tell consumers how they should feel, you don’t sell, you alienate. Nobody likes to be told what to do or how to feel, yet many companies insist on expressing emotions overtly. Instead of instruction, use illustration, and let consumers come to their own conclusions.
In a meta-analysis of 40 new product and existing brand concepts, Triggers demonstrated that overt claims of superiority don’t drive purchase interest nearly as effectively as a differentiated positioning with relevant multi-sensorial cues.
In fact, a product with the right Brand and Category Triggers® outperforms concepts with overt superiority claims by an average of 20 points of purchase interest.
Consumers are skeptical creatures and when you tell them a product is superior, their antennae go up along with their barriers. But identifying a brand’s specific Triggers® enables marketers to leverage positive associations consumers already have in their minds, making them far more likely to buy.