Monday, December 22, 2008

3 Cognitive Tips to Build Your Brand in 2009

Using tools from the basic science of human cognition can help you differentiate your brand and get it off of the long tail (check out Chris Anderson's excellent Long Tail blog here).

In about 10 days, millions of people will celebrate and then crank out their New Year's resolutions. I say don't wait.

Today is the day to begin anew. Yesterday was the winter solstice, and today begins the best six months of the year: Every day will have more sunshine than the day before. What an exciting time to let science help build your brand and reach its potential.

This blog is about where the mind meets the message. In this case, the message is your brand. For many readers, their blog is their brand and their message. Make your brand effective.

1) Ensure that your brand has a personality

Stanford University professors Byron Reeves (my academic grandfather) and Cilfford Nass eloquently demonstrated in The Media Equation that people treat mediated messages just like they treat real people. That is, social rules apply.

Research in my lab and many others confirms that this extends to brands. We treat brands as if they are real people, and we form especially strong emotional connections when we feel that their personalities matches our own.

Seth Godin does a brilliant job with his blog. The blog has a personality, and that matches the personality of his books. It's a mixture of sagacity and informality (see the picture of half his head).

But Godin cannot simply pretend to be a sage, he must live up to it. He provides excellent insight, and he is a talented writer. If he had everything but writing skills, I assure you his pageloads would be far poorer.

His brand's personality is genuine. You have to mean it. As Lovemarks guru Kevin Roberts says, you must respect your customer.

So do some diagnostics. Ask people. If [my brand] were a person, who would it be. What would that person be like?

It may seem silly, but our data are always telling in this regard. Your consumers know your brand's personality. And if seven different consumers tell you seven different answers, you have an identity crisis.

Decide who you want your brand to be, and then make sure that everything that you do is "on message."

2) Pay attention to attention

I spend a lot of time studying human attention, and it remains one of the great puzzles of my lifetime.

William James said in 1890 that everyone knows what attention is, yet it's incredibly multi-faceted and complex to study.

Importantly, you should keep in mind that attentional capacity is finite. Every bit of your brand is competing with the rest of the world for attention.

You need to make brand communication compelling. Your message has to be the most relevant thing in the room, or you have no chance of keeping attention.

In the blog world, ProBrogger had a brilliant post about three ways to engage readers. Enagagement leads to attention. Find ways to meaninfully engage consumers with your brand.

3) Emotion tells your brain what to do

The overly serious ancient Greeks (and philosophers as recent as Descartes) that emotion and cognition were separate.

They're not. They are inseparable, and they are always working in concert.

You need to know that attention is motivated. Your brain may like to read literature, sip a fine French wine, and listen to Motzart, but it's number one job is to keep you alive.

So it is especially attuned to cues related to survival: food, violence, and potential mates.

Imagine that a naked person or a salivating tiger walked in the room right now. Regardless of how you felt, imagine not paying attention. Now look at standard book page with lines of black serif type against an offwhite background. Not so compelling, eh?

Sadly this is why there's so much sex in advertising.

I'm not urging you to add sex, but I do urge you to generate some excitement within your readers. Excitement leads to physiological arousal, which leads to attention (at moderate levels).

Don't be the News Hour of your product category. Be a little bit exciting. Understand that, for example, we like to look at people. So show people, for example. Find the appropriate emotional connection for your brand.

Just don't be boring. Attention is lost.

But don't forget about personality! Sex for sex's sake is stupid, and it draws attention away from your brand. Find a way to add emotion to your brand that is consistent with the brand itself.

Putting them all together

You still have to have a good brand and a good message. But getting your message noticed and remembered is no simple task.

Your brand needs a personality, and you need to be true to that personality. But if you pick a bad one, you're doomed.

Your personality and your message should be constantly engaging. There's simply too much world competing for limited attentional capacity.

Write from the heart, as Glen advises in an excellent post at PluginID about driving traffic to your blog.

Effective use of emotion will help you engage readers. Look at these human connections phrases in a recent post by eminent social media blogger Chris Brogan: "She remembered my name," "she was a book lover like me," "she loved hand-selling books," "She ...had lots of great conversational information," "I had a beer with him," "That is the feeling I want from social media." And finally:
It’s this thing where people can spend a few extra moments to make a human connection instead of an “off the shelf” connection.
That genuine human connection may be the most basic human emotion. Make those connections in a meaningful, genuine way, and 2009 will be a better year for your brand.

Finally, it's your turn to add to the conversation. How does your brand (or blog) make an emotional connection?

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