“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
Ask yourself, would you rather have “great tasting cookies” or “cookies just like mom used to make”?
My mom made some “great tasting cookies” when I was a kid, but that’s probably not true for everyone’s mom. So why would a cookie company advertise “cookies just like mom made” if there’s a reasonable chance it’s not true?
Consider the feelings wrapped up in that statement. Even if your mom made terrible cookies or didn’t make cookies at all, associating “cookies” (a sweet, comforting treat) with “mom” (a loving, comforting relationship) creates a connection made for feelings of warmth, care, and safety. When a brand says that their cookies are “just like mom made them”, they are invoking positive feelings and creating associations in your brain that tie their product to all those feelings, so you are more likely to think positively about their brand and buy their product.
This may seem elementary, but this is the heart of branding. But before we move forward, let’s take a moment to define branding.
Simply put, a brand represents your gut feeling about an organization or a product. When you see the Nike swoosh or the McDonald’s golden arches, the emotional reaction you have is a product of branding. It’s a mental shortcut our brains have created so we know what to expect when interacting with a product or service from that company. Once these shortcuts are formed, then our brains assign a higher value to brands we are more familiar with. We may even pay a premium for a product simply because it is a well-known brand.
A prime example of this is the lines outside Apple stores during a new product release. Regardless of whether Apple makes a superior product (which is subjective), Apple fans line up outside stores like they’re waiting to meet their favorite band because of the connection they’ve made with the company. The whole experience of owning and using the product (phone, tablet, laptop, etc.) paired with the service they receive has created brand evangelists willing to wait hours just to be the first to have the new product.
There is a lot of chatter downplaying the importance of branding with claims that if a company has (or at least perceives to have) a superior product or service, then branding is not necessary. Extensive research, however, simply doesn’t support this claim. According to a study performed at Duke University, the IBM and Apple logos were flashed in front of groups of students. The study found that after the Apple logo was subliminally flashed, participants in that group did better on creative tasks when compared to the group exposed to the IBM logo.
The same holds true for service-based companies. Regardless of whether a provider can exceed your expectations for your IT needs, you will likely be more willing to trust a well-known brand (like Oracle) to provide the services you need so you can run your business efficiently.
Brands infiltrate our brains on a subconscious level. You may think you’re too smart to fall for it, but you’re not. No one is. Branding forms associations in our brains and connects them to certain feelings after we encounter a brand repeatedly. Exposure to certain brands can lead to changes in brain activity and lead to certain changes in behavior, like the aforementioned Apple and IBM experiment.
In another study, Michael Platt, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a study comparing the brain activity of Apple and Samsung smartphone users. His research team found that when iPhone users heard positive news about Apple, their brain activity responded similarly to how it would respond to the test subjects’ own families.
“There’s an idea in marketing that we relate to brands in the same way we relate to people,” Platt said.
Here’s another example. In 1985, after years of losing market share, Coca-Cola developed and released what today is known as New Coke. The new version was sweeter, an idea that stemmed from blind taste tests between Coke and Pepsi. When testers preferred Pepsi, which is slightly sweeter, executives at Coca-Cola decided to update the recipe to what became New Coke.
However, what Coke forgot was the emotional connection consumers had with the Coca-Cola brand. Coke fans revolted against New Coke and the company backtracked to the original recipe, which we now know as Coca-Cola Classic. The lesson learned here is that brands become a part of our identity and an extension of ourselves. Fans of Coca-Cola see their fandom as part of their self-expression. In another taste test between Coke and Pepsi where people knew what they were drinking, participants overwhelmingly chose Coke. The emotional connection and memories of Coca-Cola won out over anything the taste test showed.
Knowing the critical importance of the human element in creating a strong brand connection, it’s easy to worry that your brand voice is being overlooked in B2B or B2G scenarios where the client, at first glance, doesn’t appear to be a person. But at the end of the day, a business is not a building and a government is not a faceless entity (no matter what dystopian novels about authoritarian regimes might have you think). There are people behind that business making decisions, and those people are not robots. They are human beings with emotions who make decisions based on feelings. If you can arouse positive feelings about your brand in your customers, you will be more readily remembered and people will buy your product or service from you.
Now that you understand the importance of brand voice, let’s talk about how you can use it more effectively. In part two of this post, we’ll give you five tips on building a strong brand voice and how you can get the most from the connections you create in your organization.