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Mind over Mouth – How Brands Go Beyond The Tongue

Where does the taste of a brand fit? You guessed it, in the mouth. But even if your brand can’t fit into your customer’s mouth, this article may still provide you with wisdom about this unique portal to human consumption. The taste of any brand is more about what you think a brand is than what you think you experience.  Hold that thought as we move on.

The Tongue

The tongue does all the heavy lifting. If it’s not busy articulating a verb or noun, it’s busy moving food and drink around in our mouth. The tongue has over 10,000 taste buds (the little bumps on your tongue) which helps distinguish between sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory (also known as umami). On its own, it can only decipher basic elements of taste. But to realize its full potential, it requires other senses like smell, texture and temperature. Taste is really the summation of the tongue and nose (if not influenced by our eyes), which our brain connects, and leads our emotional unity to our experience. This is the sweet spot where we know, in branding, is ripe for manipulation and trickery.

Howard Moskowitz once said, “the mind knows not what the tongue wants.” And Moskowitz should know, as a well-known market researcher and psychophysicist. He was made famous by author Malcolm Gladwell in his New Yorker article titled “The Ketchup Conundrum” and his TedTalk called “Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce.” A perfect video to watch on a Friday night. Gladwell recounts Moskowitz reinventing spaghetti sauce through his research where he discovered there were three main sauces: plain, spicy and extra chucky. The market place only offered plain and spicy spaghetti sauce at the time. Moskowitz’s customer, Campbell Soup Kitchen, used this information and introduced Prego extra chucky spaghetti sauce that made over $600 million in the first 10 years. Moskowitz certainly understood the secret to that sauce.

Taste Test

The most memorable and successful taste test was the legendary Pepsi Challenge, which started in 1975. This simple tactic put Pepsi on the map and kicked Coca Cola off their game with their introduction of the New Coke blunder. Years after, scientist continued to ponder what role taste has in building a brand.

While we believe the ultimate criteria for liking a drink or food is its taste, we are certainly influenced throughout the brand experience by extrinsic cues like packaging, labels, the brand story, the environmental situation, as well as the intrinsic product attributes, like texture, smell, appearance and perceived quality (price).

In a 2013 blind taste test research study between Coke and Pepsi conducted by Dr. N. Ramanjaneyalu, C. Asangi and V. Kadabi at Karnatak University in India, found that only 37% of respondents could successfully identify Coca Cola through taste or a lucky guess. They concluded that building the right brand image and positioning is just as important as the taste.

The Brain

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink, echoes a similar conclusion where he explains that people prefer a sweeter drink (characteristics of Pepsi) in a sip test but generally not necessarily in glass size. He also goes on to talk about the importance of “sensation transference,” a phrase coined by scientific researcher Louis Cheskin, who said people’s perceptions and emotional attachments to the aesthetics of the product goes beyond just the taste of the product.

Neuroscientists Lauren Atlas and Tor Wager’s research on cognitive neuroscience concluded that expectations and beliefs play a pervasive role in the workings of the brain. What this means is expectations can influence those things we are knowingly aware of, like our loyalty and familiarity to a brand. Consciously and unconsciously we are collecting information and analyzing our surroundings and assessing what we think we like and don’t like.

 

Tasteless

Gil Morrot, a wine researcher at the National Institute for Agronomic Research in Montpellier, found that the simple act of adding an odorless red dye to a glass of white wine was able to fool a panel of tasters, who later described the wine as a true red wine with tasting notes of cherry, dark fruit and cedar.

It’s no surprise that the top five beer manufactures in US spent approximately $1.6 billion in advertising in 2016, especially if beer preference is not driven completely by taste. Bottle water is another great example of brand-first, tasteless-water second. (Check out my article The Power of a Brand).

In a study conducted at Stanford and Johns Hopkins, their researchers tested the effect of branding on taste preferences in young children. The 95 children aged 3-5 were given identical food, except one choice came in McDonald’s packaging and the other was in plain-white packaging. All of the food came from McDonald’s, except for the carrots. Which one do you think the kids liked best? No brainer. McDonald’s was chosen hands-down, including the carrots that they don’t actually sell. Interesting to also note that the preferences for the McDonald’s branded food increased with both the frequency of McDonald’s consumption and the number of TV sets in the home of each kid.

Taste Matters

I remember the day McDonald’s coffee tasted like merde! (pardon my French). In 2006, McDonald’s upgraded is coffee from a generic, non-descript coffee, to a darker-roast, Arabica, premium coffee they called “Full Bean Coffee.” I recall people walking into the office at the time with their extra-large McDonald’s to-go-cup saying the coffee tasted great, even better than Tim Hortons. They were happy they saved cash and got a free muffin on the side. This was the start of the coffee wars with Starbucks. Within a year McDonald’s coffee sales climbed 20% in a market where coffee sales are over $30 billion. During that time they gave away a lot of free coffee. Why? To demonstrate that their coffee did taste great because taste does matter.

Taste is one of the most important factors influencing consumers’ preference for choosing one food and beverage brand over another. But we should not be so naïve to think that taste is the only discerning factor unless, its Heinz’s ketchup—the perfectly balanced condiment with the right amount of tangy sweet tomato and salty goodness, with pleasant sour notes and a buttery umami finish. Even with a 62% market share lead in US (84% in Canada) this brand doesn’t rely only on taste. The Heinz brands spent approximately $530 million on advertising in 2013, including securing a Heinz’s ketchup ad in the 2016 Super Bowl (which isn’t cheap). Most recently Heinz‘s ketchup launched a brilliant advertising campaign inspired (actually a complete rip-off) from a Mad Men episode.

Final Tasting Notes

We understand the mouth’s role within our complex sensory system. It’s integral in how we interpret taste, and also how we define our likes and dislikes. We also know it has its limitations, and in the end, is overruled by our brain’s desire to bring it all together.  So when positioning a brand that has strong oral opportunity, we can’t put all the pressure on the tongue to carry us through. By ensuring multiple sensory stimulation, only then will the tongue feel affirmation in what it’s experiencing. Now how you choose to influence this experience will leave your brand tasting bitter or sweet.

 

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A Brand with Feelings

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

 

Maya Angelou’s life lesson is something we have the pleasure of taking solace in, and it’s what inspired looking at brands with feelings.  She understood the power of emotion with an audience, and I’ve dug a little deeper in this article to further articulate the ways brands can use emotion to build deeper customer relationships.

 

There are 8 basic emotions – which ones does your brand focus on?

It seems that the subject of determining how many emotions there are was started way back in the 4th century B.C. by the philosopher Aristotle, and explored much later by Charles Darwin. Most recently psychologists have concluded that there are anywhere from four to eight basic emotions.

In 1978 Dr. Paul Ekman, with the help of W. Friesen, developed the first and only comprehensive tool for objectively measuring facial movement – the Facial Action Coding System (FACS). Since then there have been over 70 others studies confirming the same set of results of seven universal facial expressions of emotions – anger, contempt, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise.

Psychologist Robert Plutchik developed the famous wheel of emotions which identifies eight basic emotions – joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, and anticipation. His theory starts with these basic emotions then blossoms out to multiply variations creating a wide spectrum of emotions with opposing relationships.

Kendra Cherry author of Everything Psychology Book said, “The basic emotions, however many there really are, serve as the foundation for all the more complex and subtle emotions that make up the human experience.” There is some compelling evidence that shows consumers use emotions rather than information to evaluate brands. Emotions also create deeper and more visceral impressions that have impact on long-term memory.

Emotions are complex but for the purpose of building a brand based on feelings, we used Plutchik’s eight basic emotions.

 

Negative Emotions

Most companies try to stay clear of associating their brand to negative emotions. But some brands have been very successful in differentiating their brand with the contentious emotions of disgust, sadness, anger and fear.

 

Disgust

Disturbing graphic images on cigarette packs is a great example of using disgust to build the brand of anti-smoking. Gone are the days of the iconic Marlboro man, the ultimate American masculine cowboy brand, which drove Marlboro to the number one tobacco brand in the world. I have read that several actors who portrayed the Marlboro man over the years have rode off into the sunset prematurely due to smoking-related diseases–talk about disgusting. Dr. Ellen Peters, who conducted a research study on the effectiveness of smoking warning labels and graphic images with 244 smokers, says, “The images definitely did stir their emotions, but those emotions led them to think more carefully about the risks of smoking and how those risks affected them.”

Another brand that serves up a spoon of disgust is the famous Canadian cough medicine Buckley’s with the slogan “It tastes awful. And it works.”

But the most disgusting advertising for a brand has to go to OXY Face Wash with their series of zit popping videos. Say no more, the images speak for themselves!

 

Sadness

Is sadness the new happy? Does it leave a mark deeper than joy? Making people cry seems to be many brand’s objective these days. Take a look at all the holiday epic stories of lonely and sad people. The U.K. retailer brand John Lewis is built on pulling consumers’ heartstrings. But some would say that we can’t be happy all of the time so there is an authenticity in trying to get to a deeper brand engagement. Several insurance companies have cornered the market for ‘sad-vertising’ such as Thai Life Insurance (Unsung Hero), MetLife (My dad’s story) and Nationwide (Dead Boy).

 

 

Anger

Making people mad to buy a brand seems counterproductive but it is used to create an action or to make a strong statement. If you want to change a perception or get people to take action, anger can be a very persuasive tool. Generally, we feel angry when we see a person or a helpless animal hurt, or a major injustice being enacted.

Sadly, terrorist groups like ISIS have used this emotion effectively to build their brand. “They’re very good at branding,” said J.M. Berger, co-author of the book ISIS: The State of Terror. They have a complete visual look with a black flag, distinctive clothing, black masks and identical weapons. They use brutal violence against innocent people and public executions to generate widespread anger which also appeals to a small niche of supporters who want to take up their cause.

 

After the Great Recession, many brands tried to take advantage of frustrated and angry consumers affected by hard times by emulating further antagonism. Eastman Kodak did a rant about overpriced inkjet printer ink (I actually purchased a Kodak printer based on this fact). Post’s Shredded Wheat Cereal declared “Innovation is not your friend,” Miller High Life showed their support towards blue-collar customers and Harley-Davidson condemned “The stink of greed and billion-dollar bankruptcies” to align with their customers.

 

 

The most unique brand campaign I have seen that successfully angered its target audience was a simple billboard advertising that said: TEXT AND DRIVE with the company logo Wathan Funeral Home. The outraged and upset viewers went to the funeral home’s website to voice their angry but were surprised to find that it was a PSA to get people to stop texting and driving. Angry with a happy ending.

 

 

Fear

Every brand has a call to action and in many cases, depicts a sense of urgency to respond. But brands would tend to prefer a positive experience and keep as far away from risk as possible. But there are brands who thrive with their use of fear, like Greenpeace. They have been effective in shutting down major projects and changing their prey’s business practices by way of fear mongering. They take mere possibilities and translate them into fearful statements, such as “Our health is threatened by climate change. Malaria, asthma, encephalitis, tuberculosis, leprosy, dengue fever and measles are all expected to become more common.”

 

 

President Donald Trump’s success is attributed to building his brand on fear. Alex Altmen, a Washington correspondent for TIME magazine said, “No President has weaponized fear quite like Trump. He is an expert at playing to the public’s phobias.” Barry Glassner, a sociologist at Lewis & Clark College and the author of The Culture of Fear, says Trump “is a master” at creating fear. “His formula is very clean and uncomplicated: Be very, very afraid,” says Glassner. I repeat be very afraid.

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research demonstrated that consumers who experienced fear while watching a film felt a greater affiliation with a present brand than those who watched films evoking other emotions, like happiness, sadness or excitement. I believe this goes back to our basic instincts of survival.

So you see how negative emotions can successfully build a brand, but caution cannot be underscored enough. Graeme Newell, marketing consultant, speaker, and founder of 602 Communications says negative emotions can be a powerful tool to elevate a brand’s message, as long as they’re not delivered too bluntly and you must leave the audience with a positive takeaway. Greenpeace’s continuous use of fear has lost some value over time and has created its own challenges. How long can you cry “wolf” to get people to mobilize your brand?

 

Positive Emotions

As character Don Draper said in a Mad Men episode, “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.” This is the territory many brands navigate using the emotions of joy, trust, surprise and anticipation.

 

Trust

Without trust the financial industry doesn’t work. In essence a five dollar bill or hundred dollar bill is the same simple piece of paper with different numbers on them, but the buying power is significantly different thanks to trust.  No surprise that the business and financial services industry needs trust to operate. Trust is integral to the success of all brands but foundational for those brands built on faith and intangible, complex components.

Generally, the emotion of trust becomes super important for a brand if it has broken this bond with the customer. I am sure VW, Toyota, and BP are working on this emotion extensively today.

In the UK’s 2015 Consumer Trust in Brands report, they state that food brands have one of the highest trust levels—its important to have repeat customers who aren’t sick or dying from eating your product. That is exactly what happened with Maple Leaf Foods Inc. in 2008, when they produced listeria tainted luncheon meats that killed 22 people and sickened 35 others. Sales were immediately hit by a 50% decrease but was only down 15% two months later.

“The very first thing that must happen in these incidents is acknowledgment, apologies, and action from the CEO,” says Hamish McLennan, CEO of Young & Rubicam. Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain felt the company’s transparency and immediate reaction in taking responsibility for the crisis helped win back customers. Morgen Witzel’s article, Maple Leaf Food’s response to a crisis, states, “The trust built in the days after the onset of the crisis laid the foundation for its eventual turnaround.” Today, I don’t think there is any trust issue facing Maple Leaf Foods thanks to Mr. McCain’s conviction to making things right and not listening to his lawyers.

Humanizing your brand helps build trust but you must foster an authentic and lasting connection with your customers to get there.

 

Joy

What brand do you immediately think of when you hear the word “joy”? Think of joy as a sudden burst of happiness on a high. Does “Joy in every bottle” ring a bell?

 

 

Most people are always on a quest to experience more joy in their lives and looking for those small indulgences of pleasure. Many brands have found the sweet spot, such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, Campbell’s Soup, Kraft Mac & Cheese, Zappos, Facebook – “likes”, and Ferrero Rocher chocolates to name a few.

 

Surprise

A pleasant surprise is always appreciated by consumers and can be leveraged across all consumer touch points (social, events, in-store, advertising, mobile, etc.).

In a social listening study conducted by DraftFCB (now known as FCB or Foote, Cone & Belding), using W. Gerrod Parrott of Georgetown University’s emotional framework (Anger, Love, Sorrow, Joy, Fear, and Surprise), they found “surprise” as a distant sixth place in association with brands. So there is room for brand differentiation in using this emotion.

MasterCard has been running their “Priceless” campaign for over 17 years  and in 2014 they introduced “Priceless Surprises” with the goal of surprising cardholders when they least expect it. For example meeting Justin Timberlake, Gwen Stefani or VIP tickets to special events. There is a strong emotional element in watching a fan connect with a star and MasterCard #PricelessSurprises made it happen. Raja Rajamannar, CMO of MasterCard said, “The success of Priceless is driven by the campaign’s ability to create emotion, influence behavior, unite people and touch upon consumer passions.” Their website says that over 97,867 cardholders have experienced a surprise so far. I’m still waiting for a surprise that doesn’t include 18% when I check my credit card bill!

 

GoPro on a smaller scale had a campaign called “Everything We Make Giveaway” where every day one person wins everything they make. In the last five years they have given away 1,500 cameras and $4 million of GoPro gear. Don’t get too excited this campaign is no longer on.

For the last five years WestJet Airlines has implemented their “Christmas Miracle” by surprising a select group of customers or potential customers. In 2016, they surprised the residents of Fort McMurray, Alberta who were impacted by the devastating wildfires with a special “Snowflake Soiree”. Everyone who attended was given a free WestJet ticket.

 

Anticipation

I am sure you have been anxiously anticipating this last emotion. Researchers have found that people experience more intense emotions around anticipating future events/opportunities than remembering those in the past.  Booking a holiday is a great example of a positive and powerful emotion as a person waits for the exciting trip. High-end cruise liners have perfected the art of creating excitement with cruise planners and special updates prior to embarking.

Sandals Resorts understand the importance of anticipation with their beautifully stunning, natural blue and turquoise oceans and clear sky images, but more importantly, keeping the excitement growing with their social media activities. Tiffany Mullins, Social Media Manager says the Sandals Resorts “strategy is to evoke an emotion with every single social media post.” Not only are they humanizing the brand but their social media presence is creating a virtual vacation experience in advance of the actual vacation. Brilliant.

The Apple brand is an expert on contemplating the future and having their customers emotionally engaged beyond their current technology and living in anticipation of the next generation, like the iPhone 8 soon to be released. Each version is a stepping stone to further deepen the brand loyalty or cult-like following.  Apple is notorious for their pre-launch hype, limited availability, reorders and long lineups on launch day, only to be repeated again within another 12 – 18 months. Here we go again.

 

Emotional Branding

Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman says that 95% of our purchase decision making takes place in the subconscious mind, a place where emotions are king. If you are going to engage in emotional branding, understand how and where you want to connect to your customers so you can consistently build on every touchpoint.

As William Gelner, Chief Creative Officer of 180 explains, “We live such digitally switched-on, always-plugged-in lives, and yet we still also somehow feel disconnected from people. As human beings, we’re looking for true human connection, and I think that emotional storytelling can help bridge that gap.”

Pick your emotion(s) and start building your emotional brand story today, every step of the way.

 

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Why Great Brands Still Needs a Great Commercial

6 Ingredients to Making a Blockbuster Commercial

 

The importance of sight and sound (preferable together) can’t be underestimated in the brand building process.  Walter D. Scott, Assistant Professor of Psychology in Northwestern University who studied the psychology of advertising says “the function of our nervous system is to make us aware of the sights, sounds, feelings, tastes, etc., of the objects in our environment, and the more sensations we receive from an object the better we know it.” The more senses a brand can touch the more memorable the brand message. No wonder the video expression of the brand is king.

 

There was a day when a 30 second commercial could change a brands image overnight as long as the viewing audience was large enough to create a tipping point. Ergo the NFL Super Bowl where 114 million people are anticipating the commercials as much as who is going to win the game. But this also comes with a hefty price tag of almost $5 million per 30 seconds or $166,666 per second. At this rate you better have a message that achieves a touchdown.

 

superbowlads

 

Not dissimilar to the movie industry, there are blockbusters that captivate the world, and then there are hundreds of movies that pass through the night with no residual effect or impact. The average Hollywood movie is about 150 mins long and cost about $200 million (or $11,000 per second or $330,000 for 30 seconds) to make.

 

According to the last published report on this topic (2011 Television Production Cost Survey) the average cost of a 30-second commercial was $354,000. If you project that number into 2016 prices, it’s fair to say the average cost is around $380,000. During those precious seconds, you’ve got to tell a story that’s so memorable it burns a life-time image in the consumers mind.

 

how-the-greatest-super-bowl-ad-ever-apples-1984-almost-didnt-make-it-to-air

 

Take for example the iconic 1984 Apple’s Macintosh commercial that ran only once on the Super Bowl, it is still being talked about today 32 years later. While the media buy was for one 30 second spot it broke the barrier beyond advertising into non-paid public relations as the commercial was on every talk show and news show. Oh and, by the way, they sold $155 million worth of Macintoshes in the first three months. A touchdown indeed.

 

Evoke Emotion

 

A successful brand video (TV commercial or online) must have one important ingredient to be successful – it must be emotionally engaging. You must feel it.

 

Being edgy helps to be memorable, but it must be relevant within the times.  Humour is often used to capture the heart with the help of a likeable character. Animals and babies are generally foolproof in pulling on the heart-strings. The most memorable commercials are those that solicit the “wow” factor by combining sheer entertainment with something you never thought of or have seen before. The two strongest reactions are a hardy belly laugh or an emotional tear. Every Telus commercial tries to put a smile on your face with their zoo animals or Budweiser with their puppy love commercials.

 

Extra Gum – The Story of Sarah & Juan

 

Kmart – Ship my Pants

 

Relate To People

 

Mitch Joel, president of Mirum and author of Six Pixels of Separation says brands cannot be human but acknowledges that brands are made of people who actually care about their customers.  Likewise, people like connecting with other people (including pets, but that’s another discussion). Mitch states “[successful] brands may never be human, but they can become more humane.”

 

Brands spend millions of dollars trying to be more human-centric with better customer-service, and constructing lovable brand personalities that convey human characteristics and values. What better way to add the human touch or face to a brand than seeing the brand as a person. The premise is simple. If you like the person you will like the brand. Some brands cheat or exploit their relationship by using a famous person’s celebrity status to instantly add millions of followers, but others build a unique personality from the ground up.

 


Old Spice Man

 

Apple guy vs. Microsoft guy

 

Be In Tune

 

In a study by Jacob Jolij and Maaike Meurs, the researchers found that “mood, as induced by music, is also reflected in visual awareness, both in biasing processing sensory input, as in the generation of conscious visual percepts in absence of structured visual input. In other words, the music you are listening to might directly alter the way you perceive the world.” The soundtrack is hugely important in stirring the emotions and feelings. Think of all the great movies like Titanic, Jaws and Star Wars. You can probably hum the tunes right now. Can you still feel the intensity? What would these films be like without a soundtrack?

 

The Dirt Devil – The Exorcist

 

Be Different

 

Everyone has a story that’s unique to them – as does a brand. Uniqueness make the story worth sharing. Inspire and awe your audience. The most memorable commercials holds a place in our memories forever. They are essentially pieces of art that display the latest designs, music and culture at that moment of time. In a world where art expression is everywhere, commercials must earn consumers attention and not expect it.  Ken Segall, who worked on Apple’s “Think Different” campaign, attributes the success of this commercial on its ability to be thought-provoking and disrupt the advertising world by creating “a commercial that is totally revolutionary in the world of advertising and is seen by a huge audience.”

 

Nike – Find Your Greatness

 

Red Bull – Space Jump

 

Achieve Greatness, Responsibly

 

Any brand with tons of cash and a very creative agency can create an awesome commercial. But if it doesn’t match the product or customer experience, you are wasting money and could inadvertently damage the brand. The commercial can transform a brand image, but is must also support the core brand values and promise. Nothing is worse than setting high expectations with a great commercial to have people disappointed when they advertising promised isn’t delivered by the product. I think of Banks or Airlines who continue to over promise and under deliver.

 

the-california-raisins

The California Raisin Board created memorable TV commercials in the 1980s. They portrayed raisins as cool sunglasses-wearing Claymation characters singing and dancing to Marvin Gaye’s soul music. Using beer advertising classic technique of associating their product with music and fun. However, fun and music are generally associated with social events (where beer may be present). I’m not sure the same stories are shared around a bowl full of dried grapes…that will never be wine! In fact, raisin sales did get a small bump from the commercials but soon slumped. Maybe “the blues” would have been a better fit.

 

yo-quiero-taco-bell-chihuahua-copy1

In 1997, the Taco Bell Chihuahua was the fast-food chain’s big attempt to establish the dog as the brand mascot. While the ads were great fun and memorable, sales went into the toilet. I guess no one wanted to buy spicy ground beef from a dog. Maybe the same happen with the Subway monkey commercials.

 

10 – 600 Seconds to Shine

 

No longer are we confined to the 30 sec or 60 sec video format built by the classic TV commercial. The digital world has redefined the rules. However, most agency and brands are still stuck in the TV commercial format, primarily because television commercials still greatly influences a buying decisions. According to Deloitte‘s 10th edition State of the Media Democracy survey done in 2015, 63% of Americans stated that TV advertising still has the most impact on their buying decisions. This has dropped from 86% just four years ago. Meanwhile, millennials rely more on recommendations from their social media circle and online reviews.

 

Make a Blockbuster

 

Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore in their book, The Experience Economy, make a compelling case that today’s customers want and expect to be “positively, emotionally and memorably impacted at every level of their commercial existence.” The fastest and the most impactful way to make this happen is video. A brand video has the power to make customers cry, laugh or change their perception forever.

 

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The Touch of a Brand

In past articles, we’ve covered the sense of smell and sound and how they enhance the brand relationship. Here our goal is to explore the sensation of touch and its impact on branding. The sense of touch isn’t often considered in building a brand. For some brands this is a huge missed opportunity.

 

One of the obvious ways we use touch is shopping for clothes. Our first instinct is to touch the fabric to feel it against our fingers. The quick touch tells many things about the garment – its softness, wear ability, durability and quality. Think of the last time you visited a car dealership showroom when you inspected a vehicle. The first impression is how the door handle felt in your hand, how it opened and closed. If the interior was leather you assessed the quality by touching the seat or better yet felt the experience by sitting in the driver’s seat. Then grab the steering wheel. With every touch point our brains are processing the information and analysing the vehicle’s durability, craftsmanship and overall quality.

 

woman-touching-clothing_web

 

Touch is the first sensory system we develop in the womb and is the most developed by birth. If you ever raised a child you know that holding, rocking and rhythmic stroking are all ways to calm and connect with babies. Trust me, I had many sleepless nights using all of these techniques to make my loved ones fall peacefully asleep hopefully as humanly possible.

 

The somatosensory cortex of your brain, which processes touch information, dedicates a large numbers of neurons to your fingers, lips and tongue. What this means is these areas are more perceptive and finely attuned, maximizing the sensory richness and brain intimacy.

 

touch sense

 

Greek philosopher Aristotle concluded that man was more intelligent than other animals because of the accuracy of his sense of touch. The sensation of touch influences what we buy, who we love and how we heal. We use touch to gather information, establish trust and social bonds.

 

Dr. David Linden said in his book, Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind that the “genes, cells and neural circuits involved in the sense of touch have been crucial to creating our unique human experience.”

 

braille

Test Your Touch

 

Let’s try a touch test. Imagine that you are in a pitch-dark room with no light and you’re handed a bottle. Through the power of touch you determine what I have given you.

 

You feel the cold glass bottle in the palm of your hand. You sense a distinct curvature of the glass in an elongated shape. Moving your fingers along the side you notice subtle smooth groves like ribs that flow up & down the bottle. Through the glass you can sense the content. It feels cold and wet as the glass sweats droplets of water on your hand. You remove the cap with a pop then move the bottleneck towards your lips. You feel the coldness against your bottom lip and tongue. The effervescence of tiny little bubbles dance and tingling against your lip and mouth. You smile with excitement and embrace the bottle’s opening with your lips like a wet kiss. It’s the real thing!

 

If we really conducted this experiment you would have quickly determined that the glass bottle was indeed the most famous shaped soft drink bottle in the world – the iconic contour fluted lines of the Coca-Cola bottle. In 1915 Coca-Cola challenged several glass companies to design a bottle that could be recognized by feel in the dark. 101 years later this unique design still succeeds with its objective.

 

Two Types of Touch

 

We’re not going to talk about appropriate and inappropriate touching if that’s where your mind went. If you want to explore the topic of sex and branding check out my article on Using Sex to Build a Brand.

 

The first type of touching is the sensory pathway that provides us with facts about touch such as pressure, location, texture, vibration and temperature. The coke bottle test is exactly this type of touching. Linden explains it as “figuring out the facts…uses sequential stages of processing to gradually build up tactile images and perform the recognition of objects.”

 

The second pathway processes social and emotional information, with human touch, for instance; a simple handshake, a hug, a caress of the arm, or a pat on the back. Friendly touching communicates trust and cooperation. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study stating that people are making judgments and base their initial opinions of you based on a simple handshake. Linden explains “In both kids and adults, touch is the glue that makes social bonds.” Further echoing this idea is Dacher Keltner, Ph. D. and professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley who explains “that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.”

 

What does this have to do with building brands? Both types of touch are very important in helping build brand perceptions and trust.

 

Tactile Branding

 

This is all about what the brand or components of the brand feel like. Jeremy Hsu in his article Just a Touch Can Influence Thoughts and Decisions on Livescience.com says “hardness may evoke concepts of stability, rigidity and strictness. Roughness can lead to thoughts of difficulty and harshness, while heaviness conjures up impressions of importance and seriousness.”

 

In a study conducted by Joshua Ackerman, an assistant professor of marketing at MIT in Boston, Mass., he had participants sit in a hard and soft chair as they negotiated the price of a new car. Guess who was less willing to move on their position? If you guessed the poor people in the hard chairs where the hardest negotiators, you’d be right.

 

Apple is a great example of a brand that has embraced the importance of touch. Their smooth, rounded edged, metal and glass iPads, iPod and iPhones convey a sense of ease and simplicity. They also make sure their customers have ample opportunity to touch and feel the merchandise in their interactive Apple stores.

 

If your brand isn’t an actual product but more based on services, understand that anything you physical give a customer, like a brochure, contract or correspondence, is tactile and communicates your brand by touch. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon says “The physical world is the best medium ever invented and betting against it has always proved wrong.” No surprise that Amazon takes pride in their shipping experience with custom printed boxes and custom packing tape with a program called “Frustration-Free Packaging.”

 

Packaging can be paramount to a brand experience. Again, Apple shines with its packaging. Their new Apple watch packaging is a masterpiece, making the watch seem bigger and weighty to help deliver the “a-ha” moment of expectation.

 

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Ever wonder why a diamond ring box is as important as the ring itself? The jewelry box must communicate the feel of love and commitment while showcasing the ring in all its glittery splendor. The most popular materials are velvet (commonly used on valentine day), silk and leather. All soft and sensual to the educated and expensive touch.

 

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Bed Bath & Beyond organizes their customer experience around touch as their store layout is designed to allow consumers to feel their way through the various sections of towels, curtains, linens and rugs, etc.

 

In the book Brand Sense: Sensory Secrets Behind The Stuff We Buy, the author Martin Lindstrom shares an example of ASDA supermarket chain in UK where they displayed their store brand toilet paper so shoppers could actually touch the tissue and compare textures with other brands. The sales for the store brand T.P. “soared.”

 

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Human Touch Branding

 

The power of interpersonal touch can be euphoric or at least communicate the feeling of warmth, safety and reassurance. The outcome of this feeling motivates consumers to spend and consume more. No brand has been immune to the changes digital technology has given to the consumer relationship, but technology will never replace the human touch. Brands live in a highly competitive and fast moving environment where creating meaningful connections with customer is almost impossible. More and more brands forgo the bricks and mortar for a digital brand connection. If your brand has any chance to reach out and touch a customer in a truly meaningful way – the human touch is a true differentiator.

 

Research conducted by Ackerman found that waitresses who touch restaurant patrons (mainly men) earn more in tips, and customers (mainly men) innocently touched by female bartenders drink more alcohol. The key point here is woman touching men. Are we so gullible? You don’t have to answer. The research is clear.

 

Have you ever checked into a Starwood Westin Hotel? Once you have completed the check-in transaction they make sure they move away from the counter that divides you from them and stand face to face in front of you. There is a moment of peace and warmth when they welcome you and hand you the passkey. The touch is minimal but the effect is powerful. But the best part is tucking into the Heavenly Bed with its luxurious 100% Egyptian cotton sateen sheets. Now I am in heaven and been touched by a angel.

 

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The Last Touch

 

The simple use of touch can be profound when used properly and authentically. The sense of vision might dominate many aspects of branding, but the subtleties of touch can increases the brand perception immensely. In the book In Touch with the Future, authors Alberto Gallance and Charles Spence state that more companies have started utilizing the growing field of cognitive neuroscience to help guide product development and marketing decisions.

 

Look at everything your brand is doing to build relationships – where do tactile touch points fit to heighten your brand relationship? Are you maximizing the human touch points? You must clearly understand how your customers interact with your brand to ensure the right touch points are consistently in place to strengthen the brand experience.

 

Think about the key moment when the customer interacts with your brand for the first time. Are they excited to open the box or remove the wrapping? Do they need to read a 10 page instruction manual before they start engagement with your brand? Have you made it idiot-proof for them to turn it on? Is the packaging inviting? Does it feel expensive or simple and clean? Does it reinforce their purchase decision?

 

IKEA has an obsession with efficient packaging to lower transport costs and ensure their products are affordable. CEO Peter Agnefjäll explains “We hate air at IKEA.” But it is a balancing act in efficiency and customer satisfaction. Allan Dickner, packaging manager at IKEA admits that they have destroyed products because they were driven by efficiencies and not customer needs.

 

One word of caution as people get older their sense of touch decline so does a lot of other senses (like hearing, seeing, and smelling). Today, there is a large portion of the population that is aging. If older people are your target audience you might need to reengineer or increase the intensity of your brand’s sensory touch points to make the emotional connection remain with your brand.

 

Whether or not a customer physically interacts with your brand today, consider the influential power it plays to reinforce your brand relationship. It might be time to reach out and touch someone.

 

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Brand Overkill – Why Less is More

Everything is a brand today. Brand experts even tell us that we must build our own personal brand. Everywhere we look we are being attacked by brands. We are lucky to get through a day without being bombarded with over 5,000 brand messages (Yankelovich study) of which only about 12 get any brain attention. There is over 4 million new brand names every year added to the brand shopping list. There is a serious problem of brand overload. Is it really important to have over 50 different shampoo brands and hundreds of specialized types to give you the perfect bouncy, curly, wavy, shiny or smooth tresses?

 

 

The biggest problem facing companies today is the world is running out of pronounceable brand names. We are making it almost impossible for consumer to keep up. The World Intellectual Property Organization report that in absolute terms, trademark demand quadrupled from just under 1 million applications per year in 1985 to 4.2 million trademark applications by 2011. In developing countries such as China, India and Brazil the rise in trademark applications is exploding. In the last four years there has been approximately 16.8 million new trademark applications.

 

Are we reaching a point of saturation where the proliferation of brands are doing more harm than good? Our memory banks just can’t keep up.

 

Barry Schwartz, PhD, a Swarthmore College psychologist and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less explains “there’s a point where all of this choice starts to be not only unproductive, but counterproductive – a source of pain, regret, worry about missed opportunities and unrealistically high expectations.”

 

 

Have we reached a state where a brand is no longer able to differentiate itself from other brands? How many deep brand relationships do we really want or can handle in our busy lives? A Gallup research study (2004) suggests that on average, Americans say they have about nine ‘close friends’ and the older you get the number maxed out to 13 close friends. Can we expect any more from a consumer concerning a meaningful relationships with brands?

 

The Beginning of Brands

 

We can blame Japan for starting some of the world’s first and oldest brands such as Kongo Gumi which was established in the year 578 and Hoshi Ryokan founded in 718 according to William O’Hara book Centuries of Success. Kongo Gumi is a construction company that built Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and castles. But after surviving 14 centuries (1,428 years!) as a family business it closed its doors in 2006. There wasn’t a huge demand for  building temples anymore which occupied 80% of their business focus. Hoshi Ryokan is a Japanese inn located in Komatsu for over 1300 years. You can book a room today on booking.com. In a study conducted by the Bank of Korea they discovered over 3,146 companies that are over 200 years old in Japan, 837 in Germany, 222 in the Netherlands, and 196 in France.

 

Brands Come & Go

 

But brand age doesn’t guarantee brand success. Jim Collins, a co-author of Built to Last—Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, says brands must follow a set of unchanging and sustainable principles of who they are, yet constantly change in what they do and how they do it. Today, we have many examples of brands who knew who they were but didn’t have the courage to change what they did such as old favourites as Kodak, Blackberry, Blockbuster, Nokia and Hummer. Check out the article Lessons from the Brand Graveyard.

 

If you go back to the Fortune 500 in 1955, 88% of those brands no longer exist on the 2014 Fortune 500 list. Brands continually get destroyed by mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies or break-ups. There is a healthy churn in brands coming and going. Steven Denning reported in Forbes that fifty years ago, the life expectancy of a firm in the Fortune 500 was around 75 years. Today, it’s less than 15 years and declining all the time.

 

That being said, there are about 250,000 new brands launched globally each year which keeps the world’s advertising agencies very busy. Lynn Dornblaser, an analyst at market research firm Mintel who tracks new products, says the typical failure rate of new product launches can be anywhere for 85% to 95%. That’s a lot of new business cards and advertising wasted. Schneider Associates and research partners SymphonyIRI Group and Sentient Decision Science did a consumer survey (2010) that found 45% of participants couldn’t name a single new product brand.

 

The Virgin of Everything

 

But all of these setbacks in launching a new brand hasn’t stop brand extension and introducing new products.

 

Many brands have tried to extend their brands from the classic offering to capture new markets and target groups – some successfully and others with less clarity. I call it the “Virgin of Everything.” Sir Richard Branson has taken the irreverent and fun Virgin brand and has stretched it across 350 different products from life insurance to lingerie. David Taylor blogger on Brand Gym said in his article Virgin: the worst or best of brand extension? that this was a “brand ego trip, where the brand gets too big for its boots.”

 

Then there are sub brands of brands with unique attributes, quality and value levels. For example, Coca Cola with its line of Classic Coke, Diet Coke, Caffeine Free Coke, Caffeine Free Diet Coke, etc. Nothing is simple today. Too many choices.

 

Brand Apathy

 

Everything in life is moving faster and faster. Nothing is predictable and digital technologies are changing everything except our brains. Humans still have only so much memory power and capacity to retain and process information. Bob Nease, behavioural scientist and author of the book, The Power of Fifty Bits explains that the brain can process 10 billion bits of information each second but when it comes to the “decision-making part of the brain [it] only processes a maximum of 50 bits per second.” This is a major bottleneck in the decision making process that won’t change anytime soon. Just think, we have a bandwidth issue in our brains. The proliferation of brands and branding messages means fewer chances that new brands will find a permanent place in a consumer’s mind. Steve Jobs said on his return to Apple in 1997 that “For me, marketing is about values. This is a very noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. So, we have to be very clear what we want them to know about us.” Almost twenty years later Jobs’ comment is even more relevant today. A simple route to the consumer’s head and heart doesn’t exist anymore.

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We can get a new product brand to market faster and more efficient than ever before. We have more channels to get our message out than ever before. But the resulting complexities has created brand apathy. As we continue along this path of madness, brands have less of a chance to be successful. Aldo Cundari, CEO of Cundari agency, explains in his book Customer-Centric Marketing, “The new customer behavior has serious implications for all brands. If organizations don’t commit to meeting their customers’ expectations today, customers will go elsewhere tomorrow.”

What Cundari says isn’t revolutionary thinking but the warning signs are everywhere–consumers are reaching a point of brand overkill. It’s like a stadium full of brands all screaming to persuade potential customers to reach for their brand. The noise is deafening.

Havas Media Group’s annual global Meaningful Brands survey (2015) has been consistent in the last five years in saying “most people would not care if 74% of brands disappeared.”

 

Survival Tips

 

Put our branding feet into the consumer’s shoes for a day. They truly need our support.

Help them manage the daily complexities, simplify the burden of choices and reduce the cognitive load. Be where they want your brand to be and be relevant. Solve their problems even before they become problems. Take away the need for them to have to make another decision or remember another brand name.

Automate to eliminate repeating issues or tasks. Make them feel good even when your brand isn’t about feeling good. Help them navigate a simpler life. Stop yelling and start listening more.

Your brand will be rewarded for its simple solutions and not for more choices. Remember less is more and always be empathetic and relevant.

Just be human.