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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.

Personal Branding

Last week I wrote about association and how we all have opportunities to create the associations we want people to hold when they think of us. We can do more than just respond positively to “thanks” to create a strong association. What I’ll share this week I owe in great measure to a coworker and good friend, James Seay, MBA.

James has been with State Auto for many years. He took a break to serve our great country in Iraq and upon his return – because of his passion for branding – he started putting on personal branding workshops at State Auto. The sessions are high energy, fun and interactive. His goal is to get people to realize other people (customers, coworkers, the boss) have opinions about each of us and we should be doing what we can to shape those opinions as much as possible. It’s not unlike companies wanting to direct customer’s thoughts when it come to their products or services. As I shared last week, sometimes hard work and a doing a great aren’t enough because that’s what’s expected in today’s economy. To see what James has to say about personal branding click here. You can also see him on YouTube.

I went through James’ workshop and walked away with this as my personal brand, “When it needs to be Done Well!” That tag line now appears on every email I send at work. If you were to get an email from me here’s what my signature would look like:

When it needs to be Done Well!

Brian Ahearn, CPCU, CTM, CMCT
Senior Sales Specialist
State Auto Insurance Companies www.stateauto.com
PO Box 182822, Columbus, OH 43218-2822
Phone: 614.917.5472 Fax: 614.719.0201

State Auto is one of only 13 companies to earn an A+ Rating by AM Best every year since 1954!

I want people to know they can count on me to do things well so every new email, every reply and every forwarded email people see, “When it needs to be Done Well!” Do you think they’ve started remembering that? I can tell you they absolutely have because some people will jokingly email, “I need something done well…” I know this; I have them thinking the way I want.

I’ve even incorporated my personal brand into my voicemail. If you called and I was unavailable you’d hear this, “Do you need something done well? Then you’ve come to the right place! Hi, this is Brian Ahearn and you’ve reached my voicemail.” One person, my college roommate from my sophomore year at Miami University, left me a very funny message after hearing my voicemail. When I called him back he said, “I have to be totally serious; if I didn’t know you and I heard that message, I’d say to myself, ‘Now that’s a guy I want to do business with!'” That exactly what I want people to think and act on.

Here’s one more proof positive story. A little over a week ago I met one of our Regional Vice Presidents for the first time. We’d had interaction through email and by phone but had not personally met. When we finally shook hands his first comments in a room full of others had to do with my personal brand. He complimented me on the voicemail, emails and most of all, my work.

Here’s a quick side benefit. When you “advertise” yourself you realize you now have a reputation to uphold and consistency kicks in. You find yourself working hard to maintain that reputation because you don’t want to let yourself or others down. If you live up to your brand then you also add to your authority because people hold you in higher regard. As the saying goes, “It’s all good!”

If you wonder why I choose “Done Well” instead of “Well Done” it’s because I didn’t want people to think I was some lousy chef. Seriously, after much soul searching, considering my likes, dislikes, passions, talents, etc., I came up with that personal brand because it tied into my personal mission statement. Next week I’ll share my thoughts about writing a personal mission statement because a personal mission statement can also help you be more influential.

Brian
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!”

Associations and Michael Jackson

 

The passing of Michael Jackson has everyone talking. The morning after he passed away I was running with a friend and I wondered to myself, “How long will it take before Michael Jackson is mentioned.” It was less than half a mile, just three or four minutes into the run, before he became the topic of conversation.

I have to admit, I’m not nearly as bothered by his death as many people. I think it’s because I had a hard time dealing with who he’d become. The part of me that’s interested in the psychology of sales and communication was stuck on trying to figure out what was going on inside his head more than I cared about his music.

But, as more time passed and I saw the tributes, I was amazed at just how many songs I remembered. While I never bought his albums his music was so prevalent that it could not be ignored. What I quickly came to realize is, fan or not, his music helped define a part of my life. I was in high school in the early 80s and graduated from college in 1986. I met my wife right after school and we got married in 1988.

Those are all pretty significant events in a person’s life and music, as much as anything, triggers feelings and memories about those times. Michael Jackson’s music carries many of those associations and memories for me. And that leads me to the subject of this week’s post – associations.

Good or bad, people form thoughts about you when they meet you. Over time those thoughts can change but most people leave that to chance. Oh sure, you may work hard and hope someone notices but that’s like making a good product or offering a great service and hoping someone notices enough to buy. It ain’t gonna happen!

That’s why I always encourage people to do one simple thing after they’ve done something which elicited a “Thank you” response. First of all, never, ever, ever do any of the following:

Say nothing in response.
“No problem.”
“No big deal.”
“I’d have done it for anyone.”

Those do nothing except discount your efforts. Whatever you did might not seem like a big deal to you but it might have been for the other person. What I coach people so say is one of the following:

“That’s part of the great service you can expect when you deal with [company name].” Or
“That’s part of the great service you can expect when you deal with me!”

Why do this? Because, when you reinforce your great service time and time again, people start associating you with great service. The subconscious drives much more of your behavior than you realize and it’s the same for other people. The more you do something like I’ve suggested to set yourself apart, the more people will form that positive association and think of you next time they need something.

Too often when I interview people for sales positions they talk about providing great service but never talk about selling it. Great service and selling are two different things, just like a great product is different than selling. The problem is, people will take your great service for granted…if you don’t “sell” it.

So here’s where you want to end up. Let’s say you’ve reinforced your good deeds time and time again. After a while people pick up the phone and call you before they call a competitor because you’ve formed that association and they realize, consciously or unconsciously, they can rely on you. It’s easy enough, one simple sentence so why not give it a try?

As for Michael Jackson, strange or not, it’s too bad he’ll never fully know the impact he had on people and how much people loved him for that. To a lesser degree we all impact people and are impacted by people so this might be a nice time to let someone (parent, coach, friend, etc.) know how much they’ve influenced your life.

Brian
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!”

What Chevy Chase Didn’t Do Before Vacation

I’m sure many of you reading this remember the classic movie Vacation where Chevy Chase played the well meaning but inept family man, Clark Griswold. This week I’m going to share a principle of influence with you then give you a great idea, something Clark Griswold probably didn’t do but you can.

Did you know most people are more motivated by what they stand to lose as opposed to what they might gain? That’s right, people presented with the same opportunity will take you up on that opportunity more often when it’s presented in terms of what they might lose rather than what they stand to gain or save. For example, talking about the money someone might save using your product will not be as big a motivator to buy the product as it would be if you told them how much money they’ll lose if they don’t buy it. “Mr. Customer, if you install our thermal sealed windows you’ll save $300 on your electric bill over the next year,” will not sell as many windows as, “Mr. Customer, if you don’t use our thermal sealed windows you’ll end up paying $300 more on your electric bill over the next year.” It’s really the same thing just stated in a different way.

This all goes back to a psychological principle of persuasion known as scarcity. We are motivated to action when we see something that’s rare or when we believe something will suddenly become less available. It creates in us a greater desire for the thing that’s perceived to be scarce. If you doubt that just think about how much we take people for granted until we lose them or fear we might lose them.

Okay, so perhaps you’re wondering, “How does scarcity tie into Vacation and Clark Griswold?” As I write this we’ve unofficially entered summer because we’re into the first week of June. For those with families it means kids will soon be out of school and summer vacations are just around the corner. That also means many of you will leave work for a week or two in the coming months. You can tap into the scarcity principle to make your vacation a little more enjoyable, provide great customer service and possibly land (or prevent losing) some accounts.

In the past, before you’ve left for vacation, have you ever contacted all of your customers a week in advance to let them know you’d be gone? If you haven’t don’t feel bad because I’m willing to bet 99.9% of people don’t do that even though email and customer lists make it very easy to do. Most people simply tell co-workers they’ll be gone, change their voicemail and turn on the out-of-office message. Think for a moment about what would happen if you took the extra time to contact your customers to let them know a week in advance that you’ll be gone and when they can expect you back.

Doing this allows you to tap into scarcity because I guarantee customers will call or email you very quickly saying something like, “Thanks for letting me know you’d be gone because I really need to talk with you about…”

You may not have ever considered this before but you are a scarce resource because many people depend on you. If those people know you won’t be around much longer that simple fact will change their behavior just like your behavior is changed when you hear or read, “Sale Ends Sunday” or “Only While Supplies Last!”

 

With those calls and emails come your opportunities to land new business and possibly prevent losing some. After all, if a customer needs you they might not want to talk with someone else in your absence. To them that could be the right time to give the other guy, the one who’s begged for their business, a chance. But you can prevent that from happening!

 

And here’s another cool thing. When those people thank you, it’s your chance to strengthen your personal brand so don’t blow them off with something stupid like, “No problem” or “I’d have done it for anyone.” Both of those statements devalue what you’ve just done for them.

 

A better response would be, “That’s part of the great service you can expect when you deal with me. Can I ask you a quick question? Don’t your other suppliers (reps, agents, etc.) let you k
now in advance when they’ll be gone and when they’ll be back?” The answer to that will be, “No, they don’t.” Bingo, you’ve not bad mouthed the competition but you’ve set yourself apart by comparing what you do to what your competitors don’t do.

 

Maybe if Clark Griswold had done this he would have been a little farther up the food chain at work and could have afforded some nicer vacations!

 

Brian
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!”