Friday, August 14

Understanding Emotion: Branding Beats Banners

There are several studies related to neuroscience (not marketing) being conducted that marketing professionals and other communicators might consider following anyway. Both of these studies touch on long-standing advertising rules; Rule 3 and Rule 7, specifically.

Study 1: How Emotions Connect To Memory.

The first study is being conducted by researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. The intent is to develop treatments to prevent and treat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, but the findings may also be important to understanding communication, emotions, and memories.

Specifically, the study is finding that Protein Kinase C (PKC) is activated through the release of norepinephrine. When norepinephrine and glutamate arrive together, PKC gives them permission to create stronger memories.

As Ashok Hegde, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy and the lead investigator on the study, explains: when memory is stored in the brain, the connections between nerve cells, called synapses, change. Strong memories are formed when synapses become stronger through structural changes that occur at the synapse.

Where this may connect with communication is it helps demonstrate why some messages connect and others do not. A large amount of advertising, especially push marketing, never penetrates our natural filters because those messages never touch our emotional triggers (e.g., well-developed synapses), which represent some of our strongest memories.

Simply put, we tend to react to messages that are capable of piggybacking on established memories that help shape our emotions OR messages from a source (via a brand connection) that we already have an emotional attachment to. The latter exemplifies why social media works because our interaction with select people and companies creates emotional experiences (good, bad, or indifferent) and reinforces these synapses.

In the case of a banner ad, which generally doesn't have any emotional connection, for example, we mostly ignore it unless the person or company already has established a brand connection. Who knows? It might pinpoint why a company like McDonald's has such a powerful brand as it establishes and strengthens synapses throughout childhood.

Study 2: Why Interruption Advertising Is Losing Its Luster.

Meanwhile, neuroscientists at New York University are conducting some interesting studies on a group of monks and secular meditators to understand how our brains work. While the study is being conducted to better understand brain disorders such as stress, depression, Alzheimer’s, and autism, it may also unlock some practical applications for marketers and communicators.

Specifically, they are finding that average people are either conscious of the external world or their personal world (self-awareness), and alternate between the two. Scienceline describes the phenomenon by asking we "Imagine how concentrating on a situation in the present, like listening to a friend’s story or solving a math problem, can make you less self-aware — that is the pull of the external world. But then a lapse of focus creeps in, and you begin to wonder if you missed your doctor’s appointment this morning, or what you want to do on vacation next week — and you have felt the push into your inner world."

For marketers and communicators, the lesson to be learned is that if the goal is to reach the inner world then attempting to compete with an increasingly loud external world is much less effective. Using Scienceline's analogy, imagine several external world experiences competing for your attention. Some advertisers have come to believe that the only means to reach people is to create advertising that demands attention and some public relations professionals think that hyped news releases sell.

However, we know those tactics are not sustainable over the long term and, in general, do not reinforce a brand relationship. They cannot because they generally never reach people on an emotional level or break into the inner world. Specifically, the messages are being pushed at them.

This might also explain why social media tends to work well as a communication tool. People often search and find content because they begin with an inner world problem — they want to learn something, need to know something, etc. When they find the content, it tends to be more reflective and has a greater chance to establish an emotional bond. In a sense, that is the pull.

What do you think? Does communication that connects via the inner world have a much greater chance of creating an emotional experience that, in turn, stays in our memories much longer than interruption that commands our attention for a few moments of time? It seems to be.


Kelli Matthews on 8/14/09, 10:50 AM said...

Great post, Rich. It seems that if you can meet people at their "point of need" (connect with that inner world), you can build a much more powerful relationship.

I wonder if it makes a difference whether the need is filled by discovering the answer oneself (maybe finding a blog post with the desired info) vs. tweeting a question that a brand/organization responds to.


Rich on 8/14/09, 11:52 AM said...


Thank you. And what a great question.

It would seem to me that responding to questions (and how the company responds to those questions) creates mini experiences that will eventually develop into an expectation. Whether or not people have an emotional connection too depends on many factors.

(e.g., some companies seems to be void of emotion in their answers while others seem more personal connected even if they are not representing themselves as people).

But more specific to the question in terms of interactions, I think directing someone to content might be more powerful than answering their questions direct in some cases. It is sort of the difference between being told where to eat (external) ... or being given a map, offered menu recommendations, and having someone place the reservation too. One gives you an answer; the other all the tools you need to have a great dinner.

Or something like that. ;)



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