Your Brand and the Brain

Posted in Branding, Social Media | March 13,2012

Face it. The human brain likes patterns. Our brain “thinks” by taking in information and comparing it using a predictable pattern it has encountered in the past. In this way, our brains are constantly predicting and setting expectations.

In a recent NPR report, David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, stated:

It helps to consider how the brain looks for consistency and predictability in even a mundane event like reaching for a cup of coffee. Long before your hand reaches the cup, your brain starts making predictions about everything from how much force will be required to lift the cup to how the coffee will taste.

Once the brain makes its predictions, it starts to “use sensory information as it comes in to compare the prediction with what actually took place,” Linden says.

You grasp. You smell. You taste.

If the cup’s weight and the coffee’s flavor match the predictions, your brain declares victory. If not, it tries to figure out what went wrong.

The same thing happens when a client, customer or patient encounters your brand. Not your brand as a logo or color scheme or website, but your brand as their experience in reality as compared to the experience their brain predicted they would have. If they expected their doctor’s office would be clean with a courteous staff and you deliver that experience, the body actually releases dopamine, a chemical reward of good feeling for the brain toward your brand. If they had to wait longer than expected or were treated unprofessionally, the brain makes a deep mental note of displeasure that the experience did not match what the brain predicted.

The Lesson

Striving after excellence in every aspect of your brand is not an end in itself. Rather, in striving for excellence you are seeking to surpass the brain’s predicted expectations and launch a chemical reminder to the customer, client or patient that your product or service is exceptional. Here are a few examples of branding at which the brain makes predications and sets expectations:

  • The ease of finding needed information on your website.
  • The décor and cleanliness of your store, office or practice. You expect a hole-in-the-wall joint to have concrete floors and industrial fixtures. You don’t expect that of a surgical specialist’s office.
  • The quantity of time they will get with you as their doctor, salesperson, or representative.
  • The quality of that time. Were you engaged and in the moment?
  • Your subsequent availability to answer questions and concerns about your service, product or procedure.
  • The cost they expect to pay for a service, product or procedure.

Avoid the Mismatch

If there is a mismatch between their expectation and a lowered reality, dopamine levels in the brain actually drop. This is what could be deemed “bad brand aftertaste.” We have all eaten something that had an unpleasant aftertaste and most of us didn’t go for a second bite. The same is true for our brains. A bad brand aftertaste usually results in a “no” decision by a client, customer or patient. It ensures they won’t repeat the experience with us, but will seek an experience that better matches their predicted expectation somewhere else. It often leads to them broadcasting their displeasure with your brand to friends and family, and with social media, their megaphone of discontent just got much bigger.

While exceeding their expectations at every point possible, make sure their experiences with your brand do include enough of a predictable pattern match to their brain’s expectation that they can relate to it. If you are too outside the box and haven’t managed the way your customer will predict their experience, your creativity can actually backfire on you.

This actually happened in Boston years ago. In an attempt to introduce the concept of the telephone, a novel idea was constructed where theater goers in both Boston and New York would watch a play, and afterwards patrons could walk to the front of the theater and pick up this new invention and talk to someone in the other city about their thoughts and feelings about the play. Cool brand development? Not so much. The idea was so beyond anyone’s predictable pattern of expectation regarding the product brand that exactly zero patrons participated in the exercise.

The morale? Exceed expectations but have enough of the familiar that the brain says, “YES! This is exactly what I was looking for!” This is the making of a strong brand.

– Jordan Fowler