The Biology of Branding

February 1, 2020

Why are we attracted to some brands and uninspired with others? Why is it so hard for us to buy another product from a company after we’ve had a bad experience? Why are we attracted to certain people, places, and experiences?

Survival Instinct

It’s all about survival. Survival? Yes, survival. Your mind is always assessing things on whether it will bring a threat or pleasure. It doesn’t need to be as dramatic as death and pleasure, and not as hedonistic as something erotic. A threat could mean an unnecessary use of energy, stress, and not being at peace. And pleasure could mean a feeling of contentment.
I am also talking about survival as it relates to society, community, and belonging. Before countries, nationalities, boundaries, and borders, we had tribes, clans, and families. We would survive if we could surround ourselves with those that we could trust.

What can we learn from the Masai Tribe?

One old, yet a relevant example of this is the Masai African Tribe rite of passage — it marks the coming of age of Masai boys who are 12–25 years old. The ceremony takes two months to both plan and complete. First, the boys must give away everything that they own. Then, on the day of the ceremony, the boys shave their heads and paint their faces with white chalk. They put on black cloaks and ostrich-feather headdresses.

The final stage of the ritual is where the group of boys (future tribe leaders) leave together to hunt a lion. During the hunting phase of this ritual, a community is built, future roles in society are determined by who you can trust when your life depends on it. Naturally, you will be drawn to those that believe what you believe — The greater the trust, the greater your rate of survival. So, that inbred ability to be attracted to those people or groups that will not disappoint has been hardwired into our brains. Whether those entities are companies, products, services, or people, we don’t like to be disappointed. We need to find those we can trust to deliver what they promise.

Trust creates attachment. And when you’re a brand, you want a healthy attachment. Dr. Karl D Lehman, M. D., puts the structure of our brains into levels of attachment.

Levels of Attachment

LEVEL 1: Basal Ganglia and the Thalamus contains the neurological circuitry of moderates attachment.

LEVEL 2: Amygdala contains the neurological circuitry that moderates the connection to an experience.

LEVEL 3: Right-sided Cingulate Cortex contains neurological circuitry that moderates relational connection to others.

LEVEL 4: Right-sided Prefrontal Cortex: Contains the neurological circuitry that is the source of discernment and choices.

LEVEL 5: Left-sided Prefrontal Cortex contains the neurological circuitry that helps us make sense of our experiences, and that helps us interpret the meaning of our experiences.

Levels 1 and 2 are unconscious and involuntary and are immediately available at birth. Level 3 through 5 are conscious and voluntary and trained from infancy. Level 3 is mostly trained during childhood with levels 4 and 5 trained later in childhood and throughout life.

Here’s the kicker, the availability of both structure and function progresses from lower levels to higher levels. So take a moment to let that sink in. We start every thought process at the first attachment level. How attached are we to something. How much does this interaction with a product or company remind us of another attachment we have that is also favorable. The decision to attach and remember somehting is happening in a faction of a second by taking in hundreds of nonverbal queues. Then all the verbal and visual inouts need to align and support your gut reaction to be determined worthy on your brain space.

You could say because this area of our brain has no capacity for rational thought or language (yet determines what we are attracted and attached to) it provides the unspeakable attraction or rejection we have to certain people, places, things, or brands.

Buyology

According Martin Linstrom’s book “Buyology,” we decide to purchase something in a fraction of a second after experiencing it. During his fMRI consumer research, the nucleus accumbens (the area of the brain that plays an important role in reward, pleasure, laughter, addiction, aggression, fear, and the placebo effect) would light up immediately upon a favorable interaction with a product. When the pleasure center lit up they would buy the product, but usually after a period of time and providing a rational explanation of why they were buying it. Remember, this is involuntary and unconscious. You can not control it. It just happens. The experience that someone is having immediately activates their belief center. They are making judgment calls automatically before the rational, voluntary, and conscious parts of your brain haves a chance to process. That’s why Martin describes his lifelong problems with focus groups and receiving unreliable results. People say one thing and do another.

Reinforcement Theory

I know it’s just one small item or purchase, but mentally it comes down to success or failure, value or loss, or true or false. It becomes a record in our minds if we’ve made the right choice. Does this choice reinforce my beliefs about myself, about what I believe about the world I live in? We need security. We need trust, and when that trust is broken, our world falls apart just a little. And who likes is their world falling apart? No one.

A good association with a brand (tribe or clan) or a good purchase (decision) reinforces our belief about our ability to survive, contribute to society, and be good stewards over what we have.

As a living organism, we are either benefiting from our decisions or losing ground. You could say because this area of our brain has no capacity for rational thought or language yet determines what we are attracted and attached to, it provides the unspeakable attraction we have to certain people, places, or things. Our left frontal lobe tries to determine a cause for our present emotion even though it may be rooted in a memory of completely different past events. The emotion of the present circumstance reminds us of past experiences.



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