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Is Branding Nothing More than a Frequency Play?

Whatever happened to frequency, or why do we overcomplicate this thing called brand?

In the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” Daniel Kahneman discusses a theory mooted and proven by psychologist Robert Zajonc that he called the “mere exposure effect”. It’s worth reading all about it (“Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman, Doubleday Canada, page 66), but the gist is quite simple: the more often someone sees a word, the more favourably they rate the word in terms of meaning. In other words, the mere fact that someone sees a word frequently cause them to believe the word “means something good”.

Not only this, but, the person does not have to be aware of having seen the word – the rule holds true for words exposed to people so quickly that they do not consciously notice them.

This all ties into Kahnemann’s demonstration of the two system brain (fast and slow thinking), and the basic default our lazy minds have toward something he calls cognitive ease. Combine this with Kahnemann’s two cognitive illusions, the illusion of truth (the ease with which a thought or conclusion comes to mind biases that conclusion toward the fact being believed as true) and the illusion of remembering (if a word – or name — is consciously or unconsciously familiar to you, you will have the impression that you remember something about it or the person, even if you have never seen anything but the word or simply read the name somewhere).

So here it is: if we see a word repeatedly we will “remember” something about it, that something will be favourable and we will be convinced it is true.

No, really!

This explains what I have often called the “Japanese Theory of Brand Building,” which goes back to the days when Japanese brands (Sanyo, Sony, etc.) were first breaking into the American and European markets. The strategy was always to simply buy high visibility outdoor signs – the bigger and brighter the better – and simply show the name and word-mark or logo. It worked then, and worked subsequently for LG, which has achieved iconic brand status globally without ever having given any meaning to the name itself.

It also explains something much closer to our hearts: in-store brand selection. When faced with an array of unfamiliar products on a supermarket shelf we may well gravitate toward a specific brand name. Lately we have been developing theories about why we gravitate toward a specific brand – often we talk about the brand having made an emotional connection. But could it be quite simply that we have seen the name often, believe we remember having heard something positive about it, think of it more favourably than the other brand-names on the shelf that we have seen less often, and have the confidence that our conclusion is right?

Which brings me back to the question of frequency. One part of brand building is nothing more complicated than exposing people to the brand name, in no specific context, more frequently than the competition expose their brand name.

Filed under: Behavioral Economics, , , , , , ,

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