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Marketing Insights for Entrepreneurs

Why Brands Are Lovable: A Crash Course in the Psychology of Branding

The Pepsi Challenge started in 1975 when their marketing team realized that people preferred the taste of Pepsi over Coca Cola in blind taste tests. So, why not give people more blind taste tests? They set up booths in malls and supermarkets, and the Pepsi Challenge was born.

If people realized they liked the taste of Pepsi better, they’d start buying Pepsi, right?

Not exactly. Customers (that’s us!) aren’t always rational, and psychology plays a bigger part in choices than we think.

So why weren’t people buying more Pepsi? That’s what researchers wanted to know. If people really did like Pepsi better, why were they still buying Coke?

The research team took a look inside customers’ heads using brain scans during blind taste tests of both Coca Cola and Pepsi. Then, they repeated the scans when people knew which one they were drinking. When people knew they were drinking Coke, a specific area of the brain lit up, which is associated with positive memories.

That’s a lovable brand – and one people are clearly willing to buy again and again. It’s also why you need to consider the psychology behind your brand.

You’re probably not marketing on the scale of Pepsi vs. Coke, but there are still ways you can use psychology to your advantage when you’re dealing with branding.

What’s Involved in Branding?

There are as many definitions of “brand” as there are marketing teams trying to build them, but here’s one that we can work with for now.

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” – Seth Godin

Your brand is more than just the design of your marketing materials, and there’s only so much of it you can control. Psychology can help you make the most of the aspects you do control – and build a great brand in the process.

Personality Psychology

“Tell me about yourself.” It’s not just a question for the psychologist’s couch or job interviews anymore. Your customers want to know who you are too. According to the research, there are only five different brand personalities.

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Use that as a starting point. Which of these resonates most with your business, and your customers? This will help you guide and shape your brand’s personality as a whole, which impacts everything from your website to the order confirmation letters you send.

A great example of “excitement” is Photojojo. They have a clear understanding that their brand is fun and playful, and it influences everything from their product descriptions to the invoices they send out.

They use playful language in their product descriptions, and you can tell that they’ve chosen brand guidelines that don’t scream “We take this way too seriously!”

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It’s all in line with the products they sell: fun cellphone camera accessories. Nothing too serious, but you can get a coffee mug that looks like a camera lens. See? Fun.branding2Which personality is the best fit for your business?

The Psychology of Color

Colors are a huge part of your brand, which explains why there are millions of articles about the psychology of color bouncing around online. What does orange means – versus green? Are you accidentally making customers angry with the wrong color choice?

Don’t worry. The short answer is probably not. There are some general trends you can look at to guide you, like this infographic from The Logo Company:

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It would be much easier if each color had its own meaning, but research shows that a color’s meaning depends a whole lot on each person’s experiences and cultural background. There really isn’t one right answer.

Color selection still matters, though. In fact, the most important part of color selection is whether customers think it feels consistent with your brand’s image and personality .

So if you’re going for “fun and playful,” bright colors would do the trick. If your brand personality is “rugged”, darker, more traditionally masculine colors might be a better fit.

The Psychology of Fonts

Now that you’ve chosen a color that matches your brand’s personality, it turns out you’ll need to put the same amount of thought into your font selection.

Research shows that different font families were broadly associated with different personality traits. However, when it comes down to the differences between two fonts, if they’re in the same font family (serif, sans serif or any other) you’re probably not going to make-or-break your brand with the choice.

The team at CrazyEgg have put together a visual guide to what different fonts communicate about your brand:

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But remember: the most important thing is that your brand personality, brand colors and font choice all make sense together and tell a clear story.  Why? Well…

Pattern Recognition

Our brains prefer things we recognize, and that goes for brands as well. One of the best ways to build recognition (and trust!) is to be consistent. To build a strong brand, make sure that customers know what to expect from you – and then deliver it every time.

This applies generally to all of the interactions you have with your customers, but it’s especially important for the visual elements of your brand.

Brand guidelines are a great way to build this kind of consistency and trust. Things like consistent font choices, image formatting, tone of voice, colors and more are all core to helping consumers identify your brand and reinforce a positive, consistent message.

Want to see consistency in action? Take this quick test and see how many brands you can identify – just by the shade of blue they use. I bet you do better than you expect, because these brands have done a great job of reinforcing their consistent brand elements – especially color.

Social Groups and Belonging

After you’ve got your brand personality figured out, fonts and all, the next important question to ask is “Who are our customers?”

Above all of the decisions you can make for your brand, one of the most powerful psychological effects you can use when building your brand is the need to belong. People are naturally driven to identify and belong to a group.

There are lots of big, iconic brands that do this well. Apple has consistently created great content that helps their ideal customer connect with them, and as a result they all understand what it means to identify with other Mac users.

The same goes for Harley Davidson. A completely different definition of what it means to belong to the group, but for those who identify with the brand, they’re incredibly loyal. They’ve even taken it a step further with the official Harley Owners’ Group, making that sense of belonging even stronger.

To help your customers identify themselves, make sure you understand who your ideal customer is, and how your brand fits into their concept of themselves. If you can create branded experiences and content that reinforces the positive traits they already think about themselves, it’ll go a long way towards building your brand.

Get Branding

Your brand is made up of a lot of moving parts. With this crash course in the psychology behind why people love brands, you’re well on your way to making sure your brand is next on the most-loved list.