Better Marketing


The Science of Branding: How Brands Make Us “Think Different”

Brand exposure could have a profound effect on our behavior

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Photo by Ben Kolde on Unsplash

In marketing, we talk a lot about brand. We all want to build brands that people connect with. Not just companies that sell things, but brands that move people to act—whether that be to vote, donate, buy, or support our cause in some way.

And we’ve seen some of the world’s most admired companies do exactly that:

  • Since 1911, IBM has been encouraging people to “Think.”
  • When Apple developed a slogan to accompany its new campaigns in 1997, it said to “Think Different.
  • Adidas tells us that “Impossible is Nothing.”
  • And Nike urges us all to “Just Do It.”

Each of these statements affects how we see the company. And not only that, each of them gives us something to connect and align with. So then, it’s no wonder these brands have grown a loyal following of people who identify with those values. Because they offer more than just a product. They offer affinity — a chance to connect.

But the Effect Doesn’t Stop There

Is it possible that brand exposure could have benefits for consumers and fans beyond simple alignment? To find out, a group of researchers conducted a study to explore to what extent brand exposure could alter our behavior. [1]

In the study, researchers invited 341 university students to complete a test, without ever mentioning the true nature of their experiment.

On a screen in the front of the room, a series of numbers each flashed for somewhere between 1 second and 2.5 seconds. The students were asked to keep a running sum of the numbers. Between the numbers, the researchers also subliminally flashed either an Apple logo or an IBM logo.

Once all the numbers had flashed and gone away, the researchers then had the students complete a series of written and verbal tests, one of which was a creativity test asking them to list as many uses for a brick as they could think of, other than building a wall (a variation on the unusual uses test).

After completing all the tests, they tallied up the results and found that the Apple group came up with an average of 26% more uses for a brick than the IBM group.

Not only that, but independent judges also rated the suggestions from the Apple group as more creative.

With a statistically significant difference like that, I think it’s safe to say that it worked! Brand exposure does, in fact, make you act like the brand.

In this case, seeing the Apple logo really does make you think different.

But, there’s an important nuance. And it makes all the difference.

Before you go and cover your office wall-to-wall with classic Apple posters (which, creative effects or not, would be pretty sweet), there’s an important nuance to keep in mind, because it’s key in determining how effective of a boost you’ll get.

Following that initial experiment, the researchers did another, to test a different angle and related hypothesis. The results of this subsequent experiment showed that brands only affect people who share the brand’s identity or goals.

  • So you’ll only be inspired to achieve the impossible if you have an impossible goal that you want to achieve.
  • And you’ll only be able to think differently if you already want to be creative.

Given that detail, the predisposition of the individual is as important as proper brand exposure.

How to “Think Different”

If you want to think differently, look to Apple. And if you want to think smart and responsible rather than creative, look to IBM (one example would be if you were an accountant, where creative is synonymous with illegal).

The best part is that you can customize this effect by opening yourself to targeted brand exposure, based on whatever you’re trying to achieve. Immerse yourself with the logos of brands associated with your current goals — brands whose message you identify with.

Written by

Passionate about Marketing, Startups, & VC. Full-Stack Marketer. Ambivert. Millennial.

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