Red C’s shortcuts to brand choice

Richard Colwell on tests to ensure brands are more easily recognised by consumers

It is surprising how often we test ads for brands that simply do not make it that easy for consumers to know which brand it is being advertised. The ads bear little resemblance to the brand that consumers know and unfortunately it is true to say that the money spent is often wasted as the communication does little to help build easier shortcuts to brand choice.

Being able to stand out has been a cornerstone of advertising impact since the practice was first established.  But equally as important is the need to make it easy for consumers to link the message quickly with the brand. If it is not, then the money spent is wasted because even if it is commutating a strong message, it is not linking that message to the brand behind it.

The importance of brand recognition as a key mental shortcut or heuristic to brand choice has been explored in many books, articles and papers in recent years. Behavioural economist Gerd Gigerenzer found that people rarely make decisions following detailed consideration, but instead make “fast and frugal” decisions to arrive at “good enough” choices.

Recalling brands in context: The availability mental shortcut is discussed in Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow. Mental availability is something marketers must measure carefully. If a brand is easily recalled in context, it becomes a good choice for consumers. Jenni Romaniuk, co-author of How Brands Grow Part 2, seen addressing Marketing Society members.

How do we know which choices are good enough? Not by careful comparison. Instead we use heuristics, or mental shortcuts. In 2003, Daniel Kahneman identified “baseline” heuristics involved in nearly every human decision. Of these, three baseline heuristics are particularly useful in explaining brand growth and the three are availability, affect and processing.

Availability: The availability heuristic is much discussed in Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow. Mental availability is something marketers must measure carefully.

Affect: It is all about the impact of positive emotional brand connections. As it has been proved by Binet and Field studies, advertising which promotes long-term emotional engagement with a brand delivers the best growth. The fundamental truth is that if a brand has a better emotional connection with consumers, it becomes an easier choice for them.

Marketers understand the importance of this and much advertising testing includes emotional reaction to copy at its core. At Red C, we are trying to understand this basic emotional connection as a fundamental part of the brand evaluation we conduct for clients.

Processing: The theory behind this mental shortcut is that the most likely choices are those processed with minimum effort. The easier a brand makes it to process choices, the more likely they are to choose that brand. So, the more marketers we can make a brand easily recognised, with clear and well defined and promoted brand collateral, the better.

The processing heuristic seems obvious, but evidence from much of the communication that we test suggests that all too often brands forget the importance of promoting key collateral.

There are two stages for a brand to ensure that consumers easily recognise and identify it.  The first is to understand what collateral is both distinctive and unique. Then make sure to keep that collateral at the forefront of every interaction consumers have with the brand.

A brand’s collateral might include things such as colour, logo, strapline, music, celebrity connection and sponsorship. The importance of each part of a brand collateral is not always clear. Surprisingly, much brand collateral does not appear to make choices easier.

Certainly more needs to be done to ensure it is working harder. A study we conducted for a financial client testing brand collateral saw us examine six shades of blue. As might be expected, consumers were confused which colour belonged to which brand and as such these colours are of low value in signposting both the brand and its marketing communication.

At the same time, often long-established brand cues can be too hurriedly thrown to the wolves when a new marketing manager decides its time for a rebrand. Measuring your brands and your competitor’s collateral is crucial to truly understanding which parts of it are both distinctive and unique. It is as well to start with a review of what collateral you have.

Make sure you throw it all into the mix, even parts that were discarded in previous rebrands. Discarded parts may be more distinctive than any current brand collateral. Hopefully you have assets that are both distinctive and unique. But even learning that you don’t matters, as it allows you to take stock and ensures you create collateral that works harder for your brand.

Once you have a clear picture of what is distinctive and unique about your brand, make sure you ruthlessly use these assets on every piece of communication. Both academic theory and years of experience testing advertising and brand health would strongly suggest that the benefit to both brand consideration and communication impact will be exponential.

Richard Colwell is chief executive of Red C Research



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