Brands, Brains and Feelings

Brand loyalty is one of the primary goals of almost any marketing campaign. When people have moved past knowing what it is your business does and sells to the point of always choosing your products or services when they have a want or need you can fill, you’ve succeeded in achieving brand loyalty, but what is brand loyalty anyway? How does it work? Is it really as simple as producing a quality product or service that people want to keep utilizing, or is something more nefarious sometimes at work?


Whether you create custom promotional pens or you design kitchen and bathroom fixtures, your brand and how it is utilized can affect people’s brains and emotions, which can affect your bottom line, and regardless of how much time you spend marketing to customers, you, too are being marketed to every time you turn on the TV, open a newspaper or surf the web. Here is a closer look at how brands and logos influence the human brain and the complex emotions housed inside it.


When it comes to choosing between a marketer hoping to exploit human emotion via effective branding and advertising or a consumer hoping to make her own decision — a decision uninfluenced by the marketer — it’s important to point out that the consumer’s brain and its attendant emotions are pretty firmly on the marketer’s side. Whether we like it or not, brand names affect us in a way that other words do not. Namely, they connect with the right side, or “emotional” side, of the brain. While most language is processed in the language centers of the brain’s left hemisphere, some parts of the right hemisphere get in on the action, especially in relation to words that have a unique status due to regularly appearing visually.


Because brand names are consistently shown in the same way — the same font, colors, angles and the like — they connect more readily with our left visual field than with our language centers, and due to the neural pathways inside the human brain, the left visual field connects with the emotional side of our brains. That pathway to emotion coupled with the repetition of the brand and the use of the product can actually create a neurological category for brand names that link them to emotions. Both psychologists and advertisers — those masterminds of the human psyche — believe that the human brain’s decision-making is often tied more to the emotional side of our brain than it is to the rational, left side of the brain. Purchasing something, then, isn’t a logical decision reached by a rational balancing of pros and cons alongside a cost-benefit analysis. Instead, the effect of branding on our purchasing decisions makes them emotional, and when we are operating out of our emotions, we are more concerned with how we feel than with how much something costs or whether or not it can be put to good use.


Interestingly, the emotions that are being created and appealed to are not random. Instead, they tend to fit within categories related to our senses of belonging and of self-worth. Specifically, feeling acceptable, competent and responsible seem to be the dominant emotions that drive consumer purchasing, and, because brands have a way of functioning almost like cult objects, they can take on even more emotional weight. In a homogenous culture that increasingly identifies itself as not-religious, branding can create a sense of belonging in a person, and ideas about self, meaning, beliefs, affiliations and more can all be triggered and cultivated simply through brand recognition, association and loyalty. Brands, because of how we store and access them in our brains, are much more than just words. Instead, they function more like emotional promises, and because advertisers recognize this phenomenon, they’re used as emotional promises, too.


It doesn’t take an ethicist or a marketing VP to see the potential failings and successes in regards to how the human brain responds emotionally to branding. That we can be successfully manipulated in response to purchasing decisions is something that affects everyone, regardless of whether or not someone’s day job is finding out how to manipulate human emotions to a more profit-increasing capacity. Whether you view it as a tool in your marketing arsenal or as one more your life’s decisions are out of your hands, the human brain’s response to branding is fascinating and has far-reaching implications.


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