March 6-9, 2011  |  Lost Pines, Texas
The drivers behind powerful brand relationships

The influence of non-conscious decision-making on brand relationships is of critical importance to digital marketers. Learn how you can better tap into the why behind the buy.

Why do people buy? The answer to that question is one that haunts every marketer. And, ultimately, it's one that focus groups and market surveys can never fully answer. After all, only 15 percent of a buying decision is made at a conscious level, where people are aware and able to articulate their thinking. The other 85 percent occurs at a non-conscious level, said Donna Sturgess, founding partner and president of Buyology Inc.

Addressing the audience at this week's iMedia Brand Summit in Austin, Texas, Sturgess noted that non-conscious processes encompass important influences such as memories and values, intuition, emotional wants and desires, and reflexes. In addition, relationships influence decision-making on a non-conscious level -- meaning customers' true feelings about and reactions to the brands they buy (or don't buy) exist on a level that they themselves cannot fully access and describe.

Using advanced neuromarketing tools that tap into the fundamental ways in which customers' brains react to brands, Buyology sought to understand the non-conscious buying decision. In doing so, Sturgess said the company evaluated 10 key brand relationship drivers:

  1. Symbols
  2. Rituals
  3. Sense of belonging
  4. Sensory appeal
  5. Evangelism
  6. Storytelling
  7. The power of the enemy (e.g., obesity as the enemy of a diet product)
  8. Mystery
  9. A clear vision
  10. Grandeur

The brands that Buyology evaluated according to these drivers differed in the ways in which they connected with people on a non-conscious basis. For example, the key drivers of favorability for Google turned out to be a sense of belonging, sensory appeal, and symbols. Meanwhile, Apple's favorability was driven by sensory appeal, symbols, and storytelling.

"Google has space to improve its storytelling," Sturgess pointed out. "Story is incredibly powerful in terms of moving information into a consumer and having it stick."

Consider, for example, the story that Mattel has been telling with regard to the relationship between Ken and Barbie, Sturgess said. It exists in every channel -- on Facebook and Twitter, on billboards, in news stories. The story line activated memories within the people who remembered Barbie and Ken from their youths, while igniting the epic romance for a newer customer base.

Beyond evaluating brands according to key drivers, Buyology Inc. developed a method for measuring both the type and the strength of a brand's relationship with its current and prospective consumers. Specifically, Buyology identified four primary types of non-conscious relationships, or Neurotypes, that customers share with brands:

  • Awe: Exemplified by National Geographic and Pixar
  • Exploration: Exemplified by American Express and Pepsi
  • Superiority: Exemplified by Sony and IBM
  • Harmony: Exemplified by Hewlett Packard and DreamWorks

Once a company understands the type of non-conscious relationship that customers forge with its brands, these insights can be used to assess the impact of its marketing activities and determine how to strengthen the brand's relationships going forward, Sturgess said.

"Think about how you're activating your relationship with consumers," she said. "After all, people don't need more stuff, they need better stuff -- including better relationships with brands."

Lori Luechtefeld is editor of iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow Luechtefeld at @loriluechtefeld. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet, and stay up to date on happenings at this week's brand summit through the hashtag #iMediaSummit.