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.

A Funny thing Happened to me on the Airplane…

I travel a good bit and it seems to pick up
each year. For example, last year I was away from the office half of the weeks
during the year. Quite often my travel entails flying to and fro around the
When it comes to air travel, I’m a Southwest
guy through and through. Rarely am I late and I can’t recall a time when I
didn’t make it to my destination the same day I was supposed to. Combine that
with the best fares in the industry and people who seem to genuinely enjoy what
they do and it’s a no brainer for me to choose Southwest each and every time.
If you’ve flown Southwest then you know you
have to check in 24 hours in advance. They have me trained better than Pavlov’s
dog because I’m on their web site 24 hours ahead of my scheduled flight and
check in the moment the clocks tells me it’s exactly 24 hours till take off.
That usually gets me an A30 or better assignment which translates into sitting
almost anywhere I want to.
When I fly I typically have my iPad out to
read or get my MacBook out once we’re airborne so I can work. And I’m not
someone who throws their seat back so the person behind me has their legs up in
their belly or their tray in their chest.
Not long ago I went through my usual routine as
I got on a flight and almost as soon as I sat down the flight attendant said,
“Excuse me sir. You’re sitting in the row right in front of the exit row and
that means you can’t recline your seat.” I replied, “That’s not a problem
because I never recline my seat.”
As soon as we started down the runway I began
to think about not being able to recline my seat. The more I thought about it
the more I was mentally kicking myself for not changing seats when I had the
chance. Once in the air all I thought about was that I wanted to recline my
seat. In fact, my mind obsessed over it!
What was going on? After all, I almost never
put my seat back so why was I so obsessed with wanting to do it on that flight?
In a word – scarcity. The principle of scarcity alerts us to the reality that
human beings want things more when they believe those things are rare or going
away. To put it more succinctly; if we can’t have it, we want it.
In the book Scarcity: Why Having so Little
Means so Much
the authors wrote, “Scarcity captures the mind. The mind orients
automatically, powerfully, toward unfulfilled needs.” I didn’t “need” to put my
seat back but as soon as I realized I couldn’t I wanted to.
If you’ve raised kids you’ve no doubt seen
this. As soon as you tell a child they can’t:
  • Watch a particular movie it’s the only one
    they want to see.
  • Listen to a certain song or artist and that’s
    all they want to listen to.
  • Play with a toy and it’s the only one they
    want to play with.
  • Eat or drink something and they want it all
    the more.


Bottom line; deny something to someone and
it’s natural that they’ll want it even more. It doesn’t matter if they need it,
want it, or possibly have ever considered it before because scarcity changes
how their brain views it.
An effective persuader understands this and
one other important factor. It’s not enough that something is rare, difficult
to obtain or going away. The real key is that the other person becomes aware
that what you’re offering is rare, difficult to get, or might go away soon.
Disney is a master of this when it comes to
marketing. For example, Snow White has been around since 1937 so how do you
make people want a product that’s been around so long and is so easy to obtain?
Change it ever so slightly, offer it for a limited time then throw it into the
Disney vault. No one knows the combination and no one knows when the vault will
open again. When it does open up you can bet your bottom dollar the whole cycle
will repeat itself making people want Snow White once again.
Sometimes scarcity causes us to buy things we
don’t need or want because its pull on our mind is so strong. Having said that,
scarcity was at play in my decision to marry Jane. After 10 months of on again,
off again dating, I was talking to her in the break room (we worked together)
during an “off” period and she told me how happy she was and told me even if I
asked her out again she wouldn’t go out with me. Two weeks later we were
engaged! Was I played? Maybe so because I didn’t need her but I sure wanted her
and the thought of not having her was too much to bear!
Hopefully this gives you a vivid picture of
how scarcity works on the mind and causes people to take action. I’ll end with
this; since that earlier Southwest flight I’ve flown a lot and not once have I
put my seat back. Truthfully, it rarely enters my mind…until someone else
brings it up.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.