Alistair Welch speaks to Vicky Bullen of Coley Porter Bell and learns how the agency is using neuroscience to inform its work.
Firstly some theory. Daniel Kahneman posited in his Nobel Prize winning bookThinking, Fast and Slow that we have two modes of thought: System One and System Two. System One is the ‘rapid response’ element of our brains that makes intuitive, instinctive decisions. System Two, meanwhile, is the more reflective, more logical part of the brain that rationalizes decisions.
Designers at strategic brand consultancy Coley Porter Bell (CPB) wondered how such an understanding of neuroscience might be applied in the brand arena. How might designers ensure they are appealing as much to System One as System Two? Or, as the agency’s snappy mantra puts it, create brand propositions that ‘convince the conscious and seduce the subconscious’.
Vicky Bullen, CPB CEO, explains that the agency has been using ‘visual planning’ as part of its process for a number of years. This technique involves moving beyond the words of a brief to think, instead, in images. A brief, for example, might contain the word ‘security’ – this might bring to mind an image of a baby in a mother’s arms or a padlocked safe; two rather different ideas. Visual thinking can thus help to translate briefs with more clarity and direction. To build on this extensive visual experience, Bullen and her team at CPB were interested in whether neuroscience might provide a formal framework for the agency’s thinking in this area.
“When you start to understand the System One and System Two brain you are able to put the science behind what many agencies and marketeers have known for a long time,” says Bullen. “We know that purely rational advertising is not enough – it needs to work both rationally and emotionally.”
There are a number of scenarios (a mixture of the anecdotal and scientific) that demonstrate the power of the System One (the instinctive brain). If, for example, you give a consumer a vanilla pudding with brown colouring they will likely tell you, before tasting, that it is chocolate. Interestingly, the System One response is so strong that even after testing many consumers will remain adamant that it is a chocolate pudding: System One is effectively overriding System Two.
Bullen shares another example from a consumer trial of face cream in the USA: “The organisers could not understand why the results in one state were so much better than in all the other states,” she says. “They looked into what they had actually given people and in one state they had run out of tall tubes so had given people a small pot. Because people associate a small pot with high-end cream they felt that the cream worked better.”
According to Bullen, creative agencies are inherently biased towards System Two as, by its nature, strategy is associated with clever thinking. It is almost left to chance that the designer is able to encode System One cues successfully into the finished product.
The fundamental question is whether agencies like Coley Porter Bell might leverage neuroscience to more deliberately design for different modes of thinking. “There are some rules of thumb for creating brand design that will seduce the subconscious and convince the conscious,” continues Bullen. “You can think about those rules as you evaluate and create brand design in order to be sure that you end up with something that will appeal to System One and System Two.”
Rule: Brands have to work as a signpost and an invitation
Case study: Morrisons own brand
CPB worked with Morrisons to overhaul the supermarket’s own brand offering – a huge design task over thousands of individual touchpoints.
Whilst the existing Morrisons ‘Value’ range was working well as a signpost with its bright yellow packaging presenting a strong identity, it was not so successful in inviting customers in. Indeed, in some cases it was doing the opposite as consumers were somewhat embarrassed to have the range in their shopping basket.
“Value grocery shopping is the most rational category in the world,” explains Bullen. “Nevertheless, it is not enough to just appeal rationally, packaging has to invite people in and has to connect with System One.”
The CPB redesign saw the bright yellow packaging replaced with colourful hand-drawn illustrations (unique to each product) against a white background. The name of the range was changed from ‘Value’ to ‘M-Savers’. “We helped consumers to understand that every single item in this range had been carefully thought about,” adds Bullen. “The range still works as a signpost, it is still incredibly clear that this is the value range, but we are inviting consumers in too.”
We’re really enjoying Phil Barden’s latest thinking on ‘Liking’ versus ‘wanting’. Do brands and advertising have to be liked in order to sell?
Whether it be a new ad campaign or redesigned packaging, a key question for Marketing is whether consumers like the new materials, which elements they like best, what they don‘t like and what, therefore, should be changed. The perfectly plausible assumption behind this is that consumers choose to buy the products and brands that they like best.
But: How important is “liking” in establishing the desired impact on buying behaviour? Is customers‘ buying behaviour really governed by their “liking“ of the product, the brand or the commercial? If we observe our own behaviour then doubts are raised about this. For example, plenty of readers love their local bookshop but choose not to buy from it, instead making their purchases online. And we can all recognise the typical situation at Christmas: you have already eaten too many sweets and really would like to stop, but you reach for another one.
Research findings from neuroscience and psychology reveal why such liking does not necessarily result in corresponding behaviour: What we like (“liking”) and what we do, or what we want to have (“wanting”), is controlled by different neural networks in the brain. We can like things without wanting them. And we may want to own or consume things, without necessarily actually liking them or their advertising.
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10 Nov 2014 | Vicky Bullen
With the Chiquita/Cutrale banana deal in the headlines, Vicky Bullen, CEO of Coley Porter Bell, looks at how branding can help turn mergers and acquisitions into a success.
As produce giant Chiquita Brands International recently announced that it had accepted a takeover offer from Brazilian juice maker Cutrale Group and investment firm Safra Group, I couldn’t help wondering: can branding and design bring clarity and focus to the daunting process of mergers & acquisitions? It’s a sobering fact that seven in 10 M&As fail to create long-term shareholder value; yet despite the current failure rate, the outlook doesn’t have to be so grim.
Brand strategists can help decision-makers have the right conversations and ask the right questions at crucial (and often difficult) moments of the M&A process. A good example that has stood the test of time is when Unilever acquired Ben & Jerry’s. The brand began using Unilever’s performance management system but added its own performance dimension of maintaining its social mission. During this critical post-acquisition integration phase, Ben & Jerry’s successfully maintained its corporate identity and brand image and, at the same time, became profitable.
Branding can actually help deliver a more successful merger. There are four key challenges in particular where branding and design can make a difference.
First, they can help ensure brand value is engineered in the long term. This should be the ultimate goal. The process of due diligence is the ideal time to consider the real worth of branding, and the best way to integrate brand strategy with business strategy. Charles Worthington / PZ Cussons has gone from strength to strength since acquisition. The brand has now been
taken from the UK and expanded worldwide.
Second, they can ensure the day of the deal is not a missed opportunity. If you take branding into consideration right from the start, the answer to the question ‘When should we announce our new name?’ should hopefully not be met with the answer: ‘later, or not at all’. The announcement of the deal is the ideal time for a new brand identity to be revealed, as it’s the time it can make the strongest impact.
Third, branding and design can help define a vision for the newly merged business. Branding is a crucial mode of communication that can support and guide the transaction by motivating employees and strengthening internal confidence. It’s key to a successful deal and should be the backbone of a comprehensive integration plan. Without a clear definition of the new company’s vision, values and behaviour, the newly merged company’s employees are at risk of defecting and customers will lose sight of what it offers.
And finally, they can help integrate internal and external culture. Adopting one brand over another might be the right decision where one brand is clearly more dominant, as Pfizer did when it took over Warner-Lambert, but you might want to adopt something entirely new. In this case it’s smart to pursue a branding strategy that explicitly seeks to transfer equity from both merging companies to the new one as a merger’s success relies in part on preserving positive feelings among customers and employees.
Incorporating brand at all phases of a merger, from discussions to implementation to integration, undoubtedly forces difficult discussions and decisions, but it ensures that you act in direct response to your business strategy and your unique position in the market.
by John Clark, Planning Director
As seen in Market Leader magazine September issue.
The power of design is its ability to speak to the subconscious as powerfully as it convinces the conscious or ‘thinking’ parts of our brain. For brands this is crucial because this is how we all make choices about what to buy.
Ever since Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for his work in psychology and introduced us to the notion of System 1 and System 2 thinking in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, neuroscience has helped us to better understand how we make decisions. In fact, our decision making is automatic, intuitive and instinctive – and it’s made in the System 1, ‘rapid response’ part of our brains. After that initial ‘autopilot’ response, we then rationalise our decisions in the System 2 part of the brain – the reflective and logical section. It’s why, as consumers, we desire the sleek minimalism of an Apple product or the elegant lines of a BMW first, then convince ourselves it’s because of the interface or engineering afterwards.
This way of making decisions impacts everything from our choice of partner to our choice of brands, products and companies. For this reason, as designers, we need to create brands that connect with the intuitive and instinctive System1 decision-making part of the brain – as well as making sense to System 2.
As System 1 learns by association, practices such as understanding and then utilising the visual impact of trends can pay huge dividends. Health has become less about denial and absence, and more about holistic fun. In turn, this has created a shift towards more vibrant, colourful portrayals of wellbeing. This concept has been leveraged to great effect by the Waitrose Love Life range, where its consumers recognise the brand as a healthier option.
Its core range plays to the vibrant colours of today’s health, while the diet range injects vibrancy and warmth to its identity.
System 1 is also geared towards fulfilling needs or goals. Therefore, understanding and leveraging the visual cues and languages that signal fulfillment of these goals is a crucial step towards a brand being chosen for the job – whether it’s the madcap, fun world of Ben and Jerry’s that fulfils the need for pleasure or the wholesome, honest taste cues of Dorset Cereals that address our longing for trustworthy pleasure.
Because visuals are the dominant language of System 1, successful brands not only know what they stand for in a written sense but have a strong sense of their visual DNA too, letting them tell and retell a consistent story in new and surprising ways.
A visual understanding of your brand is essential in today’s image-saturated world. The steampunk Victoriana of Hendrick’s Gin is present in everything from its pack to experiences to communications; another gin brand, Beefeater, is constantly retelling the story of its London heritage; and the theatricality of MAC make-up is always riveting.
Visual Planning: the philosophy
Taking a visual approach to strategic discussions will ultimately give brands more scope to better connect with consumers in the real world. At the heart of Coley Porter Bell’s Visual Planning philosophy are learnings from neuroscience. Unlike standard planning approaches, with copy-heavy documents and intellectual models that are inherently biased towards System 2, Visual Planning strategically leverages the dominant language of System 1 to blend both System 1 and System 2 cues right from the start. This approach increases the chances of a successful real-world strategy and design, and creates brands and identities that add value, create loyalty and drive choice – and ultimately grow a brand’s bottom line.
Co-operative Retail: ‘Loved by Us’
In the case of the Co-operative, Visual Planning was implemented to redefine its brand offering. The challenge was to shift the Co-op’s identity from a depiction of its ethical brand values that made logical sense through System 2 – but in no way connected with the instinctive, intuitive System 1 part – to a design solution based around the idea of ‘Food as it should be’ (locally sourced where possible, ethical, high quality, but above all delicious). Combining this with the innovative step of branding its core range resulted in the ‘Loved by Us’ brand and a corresponding double digit increase in every pillar, including ‘fresh’, ‘meal solutions’ and ‘wellbeing’.
The approach has since been applied to store design, with new concept stores seeing sales growth of between 7% and 16% and prompting Kantar to cite the Co-op as ‘one of the best examples of convenience shopping around’.
Be brave and stand out
To be a market leader – whatever your specialism – you have to be really brave to break out of the cycle of continuing to do things the way they have always been done. System 1 thinking may not rub well with the desire to take an intellectual approach to marketing and design, but brands need to look towards neuroscience in the planning stages of their campaigns to ensure a strong creative that is effective and invaluable, to make sure that they seduce the subconscious and convince the conscious.