Does Branding Really Influence Behavior?

I think you’d agree that we live in an information-overloaded society. What you may not be aware of is the extent of the overload.

William C. Taylor wrote an article – “Permission Marketing” – for the magazine Fast Company and told readers, “This year, the average consumer will see or hear one million marketing messages – that’s almost 3,000 per day.” When I share that quote with audiences they’re astounded. When I tell them the quote is now 17 years old they’re blown away! That’s right, the estimate in 1998 was that you were bombarded with about 3,000 marketing messages each day. More recently a New York Times article – “Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad” – put the number at 5,000 a day!

With so much information assaulting our senses each day it begs the question, does branding really influence behavior? You might be surprised that it does in a big way.

I recently read Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing by Roger Dooley and was particularly interested in the brain science on the age old Coke versus Pepsi debate. Many times over, in blind taste tests people preferred Pepsi…even Coke drinkers quite often preferred Pepsi. However, when people knew which brand they were drinking that changed. Dooley wrote:

“When the subjects saw which brand they were drinking, though, nearly all of the subjects said they preferred Coke. Significantly, the subjects’ brain activity changed as well.”

Did you catch that last sentence? They didn’t just say they preferred Coke, their brains actually preferred it! What we think about brands actually changes how we experience the product or service! Here are a few examples of incredibly strong brands:

  • Southwest Airlines – Despite the “cattle call” for seating, people love to be “free to roam about the country.” Passengers’ passion has resulted in 42 consecutive years ofprofitability for Southwest in an industry that’s struggled mightily to achieve profits.
  • Apple – Apple consumers are religious in their zeal for the brand making it the most profitable company in the world in 2014. Other phones may have better features at times but it’s nearly impossible to get Apple lovers to make a switch.
  • Harley Davidson – If people are willing to tattoo your company logo on their body you know you have a good thing going! I remember hearing someone say, “I can accept the fact that someday I might die and my wife may remarry. What I can’t accept is another man riding my Harley.”
  • Starbucks – The coffee giant transformed coffee drinking and doesn’t even advertise. That’s because their customers do it for them. The familiar Starbucks logo on the cup is all they need to spread the word and you probably see it more than you realize each day.

Of course very few brands have the cache of Coke, Southwest, Apple, Harley Davidson, Starbucks or many other successful brands. But, the science shows that a strong brand impacts people’s brain activity resulting in behavior changes even when people are not aware of it.

So what does this mean for you? You’re probably not competing on the scale of the aforementioned companies but what current and potential customers think of you and your company matters.

Each of us can brand ourselves to a great degree. Here are several ideas based on some things I do.

If you call my office you’ll hear this at the start of my voicemail message – “Wouldn’t you agree that much of your professional success and personal happiness depends on getting others to say ‘yes’ to you? Ask me about The Principles of Persuasion Workshop where you’ll learn to hear ‘yes’ more often.” People ask about the workshop and I’ve had compliments on my voicemail.

My email autosignature always has my branding message at the bottom – Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes.” Again, it’s not uncommon to get a comment but what’s more important is people see the message and even if it doesn’t consciously register it impacts their brain.

I wear shirts with the Influence PEOPLE logo prominently displayed. When people ask about it I have a platform to share what I do. Nobody can sell me better than me and nobody can sell you better than you.

Does it work? Absolutely! Before starting Influence PEOPLE my personal brand was – When it needs to be done well. That was on my email and voicemail and I regularly had people say, or write, “I need something done well so I thought I’d contact you.” When someone repeats your branding slogan back to you it’s working! I’ll never forget the first time I met Gerald Ladner, a State Auto regional vice president at the time. His first words to me as he shook my hand and let out a laugh were, “I have to meet the guy who advertises he’ll do it well!”

Make no mistake; a catchy slogan won’t make up for a poor product or service. However, when the differences between you and a competitor are seemingly small, when people don’t always know why they do what they do, a well-crafted, consistent brand can be the difference in choosing you over the competitor. I encourage you to give it serious thought because as we approach the New Year, there’s no better time to make a change than now.

Free is Great Except When We Don’t Want What’s Being Offered

Normally people go nuts for free stuff. It
seems like ads touting “Buy one get one free,” or “25% more for free” cause
shoppers to almost salivate. I bet you’ve been places where things were being
given away for free and you found yourself taking items (pens, card holders,
travel mugs, post it notes, etc.) that ended up in the trashcan within weeks of
getting home. And still, we take the goods because they’re free. After all, you
can’t loose by taking advantage of free…or can you?
Have you ever ordered something on Amazon for
less than $25 then found yourself ordering another book or item just to bump
you over the threshold in order to take advantage of the free shipping? I bet
you have and you probably ended up spending $33-$38 in total. Sure, you
convinced yourself you needed that extra book or CD but in reality you would
not have purchased it were it not for the enticement of the free shipping.
Dan Ariely highlights our obsession with “free”
things in his book Predictably Irrational
in a chapter he calls “The Cost of Zero Cost: Why We Often Pay Too Much When We
Pay Nothing.” He convincingly shows readers sometimes they end up worse off
because of free.
The obsession with free has its limits and
this came to light recently with Apple’s promotion with the Irish rock band U2.
It seemed innocent enough, and generous of Apple and U2, to have the band’s
latest album, Songs of Innocence,
automatically added to the iTunes library of some 500 million people.
Unfortunately for both, many subscribers didn’t appreciate the free album and
voiced their opinion rather loudly on social media. In fact, there was an
article titled Free U2 album: How the most
generous giveaway in music history turned PR disaster
. Ouch!
I think what was missed by Apple and U2 in
their well-intentioned giveaway was this – free isn’t really free if it’s not
freely chosen. While there may have been no purchase cost for the album, people
lost their freedom to choose whether or not they wanted to add it to their
libraries. In other words, forced isn’t free no matter how good the intention.
What should they have done instead? In my
opinion offering the album for free for a limited time would have enticed many
people to take advantage of the giveaway. Think about it; U2 is an iconic band
that’s done a lot of good for people across the globe through charitable work
that could only have come about because of their fans. They could have
positioned the opportunity for the free album as their way of saying thanks. I’m
sure each band member is probably set for life financially so they don’t need
the money and could have really made a splash.
By putting a timeframe on it they would have
engaged the principle scarcity, which would have caused many people to want the album even
more and act quickly. This is important because when things are free and
abundant we usually don’t value them nearly as much as when they are restricted
in some way. Think about air and water. Without air we die within minutes and
without water we won’t survive for very long either. There may not be two
things more necessary for life and yet they are an afterthought for most
people…until they’re in short supply. When that happens we’d pay more for
either than just about anything else in the world because our lives might be at
I don’t think Apple or U2 deserved the intense
backlash they got but let it be a lesson to all of us – no matter how beloved
we, our company, our products/services, may be, never infringe on people’s
freedom to choose. Understanding that and correctly positioning a gift could
make all the difference in how it’s received and how we’re perceived.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.