PIONEER BRAND STRATEGIST MEGAN KENT
REINVENTS BRAND STRATEGY
THROUGH BRAIN SCIENCE
Brands that learn to speak the language
of the subconscious mind will create the most powerful
connection possible with their customers
As covered in Bloomberg Businessweek, CNBC, Reuters, The Street, Yahoo Finance, March 21, 2014
Brand strategy pioneer Megan Kent is blazing the branding trail once again by marrying neuro and behavioral science with marketing to create a new model of brand strategy that forms the strongest emotional connections possible between brands and their consumers. According to Kent, it turns out there’s a whole new way to think about brand strategy in the marketplace today – and it’s by appealing to the FEELING, not the THINKING, brain.
Kent is launching her new company, Megan Kent Branding Group, to make actionable the exciting principles she has uncovered. Her company’s own branding line is “Creating brands that appeal, instinctively.”
By combining her real-world experience with a distillation of the most important findings in science, she has developed a revolutionary new branding model called Brain Friendly Branding®. This approach is designed to help C-Level decision makers and senior brand managers give their brands a competitive edge by helping them speak directly to their customers’ feeling AND thinking brains.
“Today is an extremely exciting time to be in marketing; we know so much more about how the brain processes information than we did when I started in this business,” says Kent. “Marketers haven’t been using all the tools available to them by assuming that consumers make decisions rationally. While the rational, or ‘thinking’ part of the brain does play a role, it’s most often there to simply validate, or put into words a decision that our subconscious mind has already made for us.”
She goes on to explain, “In order to reach the neo-cortex, i.e. the ‘thinking’ brain, our marketing messages need to first pass muster with the older parts of our brain, the parts that are far more primal and emotionally oriented.”
Kent adds, “Science now tells us that the data stored in our subconscious minds (our feelings, memories, emotions) are the primary drivers in 90% of the decisions that we make. So it turns out that ‘going with our gut’ isn’t just a once-in-a while phenomenon. The truth is we actually ‘go with our gut’ almost all of the time. As Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman puts it, ‘we think much less than we think we think.’”
“Therefore,” she says, “by aiming marketing and sales efforts at their customer’s feeling brain (the 90%), brands can significantly improve their chance of success. Marketers that continue to target the thinking brain with traditional marketing strategies aren’t making the best use of their precious time and resources.”
She cites her work on America’s first-ever international tourism campaign, Brand USA, as an example. “We knew that if we used a rational approach to selling the USA, we’d come up against foreigner cynicism, especially regarding current U.S. foreign policy and immigration restrictions. But by using a completely non-verbal, emotional approach, the campaign has surpassed target goals and reached a 47:01 ROI”.
“Building brands in sync with the hard-wired tendencies our emotionally driven brains use to make decisions enables those brands to attract customers more easily and retain them for a lifetime.”
Kent has identified seven Brain Friendly brand behaviors that can be used to engage consumers not only rationally, but more importantly at an instinctual, “feeling brain” level. When activated optimally, these behaviors can create natural and lasting appeal for a brand.
Her 7 essential, brain-friendly behaviors are:
Tap your AUTHENTICITY:
Survival and self–preservation are the brain’s number one concern. As a result we have built-in credibility receptors designed to detect suspicious behavior. Brands that prove to be purposeful, trustworthy and genuine will be instinctively preferred. So tap what’s authentically true, and best about your brand and use this to fuel the entire brand experience. (Great examples of brands that act with authenticity through every aspect of the customer experience: Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Zappos, Red Bull).
Humans are biologically conditioned to process the world first and foremost through sight. Our brains process pictures 60,000 times faster than text. So communicate your brand’s benefit visually whenever possible and your message will be more quickly and intuitively understood. (Apple, Dyson Vacuums, Fresh Direct, fashion brands excel here.)
in all brand actions. We’re creatures of comfort – we seek familiarity, predictability and balance in all that we do. We don’t willingly put ourselves in situations where we don’t have a good feeling about the potential outcome. (How many of us go to a restaurant and order the same thing every time – because we’ve had it before and we know it will satisfy!) If your product or service disappoints, our memory of doing business with your brand will dissuade us from wanting to return. In addition, if the product, message and service are not 100% in sync with each other, the brain will subconsciously register the dissonance and be less comfortable about choosing your brand the next time. (Amazon, Starbucks and McDonald’s are great examples of brands that offer consistency throughout all the touchpoints, and predictable outcomes every time.)
Engage the SENSES:
Remember the scent of Johnson’s Baby Powder? Or the stirring “whosh” sound of an email being sent? Through the senses we bypass reason and connect instantly and intuitively with our feelings. The more senses a brand positively engages, the more powerful will be our feelings toward that brand. Singapore Airlines seduces passengers with a signature scent worn by the cabin crew, and added to towels handed out to passengers before take off, Apple engages us with embedded sounds in our technology, Monday Night Football has signature opening music that acts as a primal calling card to all fans within earshot– the game is about to begin!
By concentrating on engaging through proprietary colors, aromas, sounds and sensations as part of a multisensory experience, brands will succeed at creating more visceral, “feel good” connections with their customers.
Create BELONGING RITUALS and BEHAVIORS:
We’re social animals and our desire to connect with others is a strong, innate drive. We’ll take actions in order to feel that we belong in a group. Anthropologist Bob Deutsch says “the quickest way to create a cult feeling is to provide rituals of membership.” (The Corona lime squeeze, the Guinness pour, Kiehl’s “try before you buy” program, Starbucks ordering rituals, and Tupperware’s Meal Prep Mondays are just a few examples of brands that have created membership rituals that create a feeling of belonging to something far bigger than just a purchase transaction.)
Because our instincts are always scanning the environment for threats and danger, we’re pre-wired to be aware of change. As a result, novelty gets our attention – we pay instant notice to what’s new. Caution however – too much novelty creates a sense of danger – novelty must be presented with enough recognizable familiarity to be connected to the brand in question. (Remember when Tropicana created such a radical redesign of its packaging that consumers revolted and asked for the old packaging back?!) Apple CEO Tim Cooke expressed it best when he said “There’s nothing as remarkable as seeing something that’s extremely familiar, yet utterly new at the same time.” (Brands that have excelled at staying familiar yet creating a constant sense of “new” are Burberry, Absolute, Trader Joe’s, and Virgin.)
Give PROOF POINTS:
Though all evidence tells us that emotions drive behavior, emotion and logic are intrinsically related. There is a continual feedback loop between our logic and emotion – our logical minds will be impressed with a 400 horsepower engine (Chevy), or Merino wool grown from high country sheep in the Southern Alps of New Zealand (Icebreaker) which then activates a pleasure center in the brain when these “validating facts” are acknowledged. So let’s be sure to provide supporting proof points – in order to win over both the emotional and rational parts of the brain. For example, not only does Chipotle attract due to their appealing store design and delicious food, but they also provide the extremely compelling proof points that their food is sourced with integrity – in other words the animals are raised naturally – an increasingly well known proof point that has propelled them to being one of the fastest growing food chains in America today.
In sum, by engaging in these 7 simple brain-friendly brand behaviors, a brand can immediately set its course to perform at its instinctively appealing best. “There are so many fun and easy ways to supercharge consumers’ emotional connection to your brand; companies should waste no time in implementing these principles,” says Kent.
She has developed an expertise in this area and has been invited to speak on this topic to next generation marketers at both New York University and the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia, as well as local and national marketing organizations.
Her 27-years in the advertising business includes leadership positions at some of the most esteemed and forward thinking agencies in the country, from Chiat/Day (where she broke ground as a brand strategist) to Foote, Cone & Belding; Hal Riney & Partners; Fallon McElligott; and JWT.
Kent has created and executed brand strategies for iconic brands such as BMW, Coca-Cola, Nikon, The New York Times, Microsoft, and was most recently the architect behind Brand USA, America’s first-ever, highly successful international tourism campaign.