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How Branding Affects Human Psychology?

There is no doubt that branding affects human psychology. However, the term psychology of branding is still somehow unclear and is mostly used referring to psychology of colour when deciding for a colour palette in building brand identity. The colour blue indeed evokes feelings of trust and security, and the red is associated with passion and action.

Did you know that humans didn’t actually see the colour blue until modern times?
In the Odyssey, Homer describes the ocean as “wine-dark” and other strange hues. However, he never uses the word ‘blue’. One of the theories why states that it makes sense – other than the sky, there isn’t much in nature that is inherently a vibrant blue. Our ancestors, therefore, didn’t need to see this colour.

Still, the psychology of branding goes much deeper than that and in a great deal, answers the question of why branding matters and contributes to understanding the role of psychology in creating a strong brand.

How branding messes with our brain

It is clear without a doubt that great branding adds value to a product, service or a company. But the processes to answer a question of why it is so are a little more complicated.

The brand adds value to a product or a company because of branding’s effect on our brain.

There is much scientific research that supports this statement. Let’s look at some examples.

You have probably heard of the brand Stradivarius, a famous Italian quality brand of violins, created at the end of 17th and the beginning of the 18th century by an Italian crafter Stradivari. Nowadays it is estimated that around 500 to 600 of the violins still exist, and they are very valued and desired among professional violin players. The instruments are sold at auctions for millions of dollars (a violin in pristine condition was sold at an auction in London for 15.9 million dollars!). For sure, as you have read this, you believe that these instruments are truly spectacular and worth their price. But, there is one little detail. Many blind experiments were conducted from 1817 to the present.

They have never found any difference in sound between Stradivari’s violins and other high-quality violins.

Even though famous professional violinists took part in the experiment, they didn’t hear any difference between Stradivari and other quality brands that are selling their instrument for around 10,000 dollars. Even the acoustic analysis did not discover any discrepancies. How can it be possible that the price and even people’s beliefs and perceptions of the Stradivari violins are so much higher?

The answer lies in branding. Stradivari created a strong brand, and the effect of his strong branding is still present three centuries later.

The above is at all not the only example of the power of branding. Many similar studies have been researching this phenomenon. A study from the sixties found that costumers tended to judge their preferred brand of beer better when it was correctly labelled than when the brand was not shown.

Studies also find that consumers falsely assumed a low-quality product to be of a high quality when it was marked with a familiar brand label. Moreover, they mistook a high-quality brand for a low-quality brand when it was tagged with an unknown brand label.

A famous example of a brand that used blind taste tests in its favour as a marketing strategy is Pepsi. In 1975, they started to do blind taste tests comparing Pepsi and Coca Cola at malls and other public locations. The results showed that more people preferred Pepsi taste when they didn’t know which one was which. However, when branded, the majority of the customers prefered Coca Cola. The challenge was widely used in Pepsi’s advertising, and they even relaunched the challenge in 2015, causing the war between the two companies to continue.

So, where is the psychology in branding?

The worth of a brand frequently exceeds the monetary value of other assets of a company, and the reason for it is the effect branding has on human psychology.

Consumers form brand schemas about brands. A brand schema is a structure we create in our mind that includes all associations with a brand. Branding, therefore, evokes many psychological processes, such as attention, activation of positive attributes in memory and decision making. A strong brand can influence consumers’ inferences about the brand product in relation to other available alternatives and shift the choice outcome in favour of the brand product. Scientists observed substantial changes in brain activity when a favourite brand was present in choice options. The effect was immediate and in favour of the desired brand.

A brand serves as the decisive factor in consumer judgments.

The studies have also shown that brand also influences our subconscious. When exposed to a brand, processes outside consumers’ conscious awareness take place. For example, putting on a famous brand of sports shoes can immediately make us feel more powerful and ready to conquer the workout challenges we have set for ourselves.

The perception of a brand logo even without conscious awareness can evoke behaviour that is consistent with the brand schema.

The brand schema is found to be relatively stable. The more positive the schema is, the more likely a person is going to ignore or reappraise new information that is not in line with their overall brand perception. When our favourite brand makes a mistake, we are more likely to ignore it, if our perception of the brand is very positive. That’s another reason why great branding is a tool brands need.

Every brand makes mistakes, but only the strong ones can recover from it.

It is still not going to be easy, but with good branding, the brand will at least stand a chance. Remember Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 controversy in 2016? The mentioned smartphones were catching fire and exploding due to a battery malfunction. Samsung’s sales dropped significantly. How did they manage to solve the problem? The company took full responsibility for their problem and focused on gaining back trust by reminding users why they should love the brand. Samsung also worked on changing its internal culture. And four years later? People barely remember there was ever any problem.

How brands affect our self-perception

A theory from 1986 states that brands can offer at least three different types of benefits: a functional benefit, a symbolic benefit and an experiential benefit.

A brand with experiential benefit can satisfy needs that arise from seeking pleasant sensory experiences – we can, for example, associate a brand of a restaurant with its atmosphere, smell and taste of its food. For sure, you can quite thoroughly imagine how your next visit to McDonald’s would look.

A functional benefit of a brand is related to solving a current problem or preventing a potential problem. An example is engine oil, which possesses a functional benefit of keeping our car engine running and is related to externally generated needs.

On the other hand, brands with a symbolic benefit are the ones that fulfil our internally generated psychological needs. These needs can be, for example:

  • A need for self-enhancement: A person can use a brand to increase his or her status. The most common example is an individual who buys expensive brands to show that he has resources such as money or power.
  • A need for self-verification: It is a person’s need to act in line with his values. Individuals are motivated to perceive themselves as consistent in their values, and they are willing to invest effort, time and money to appear so and verify who they are to themselves and others. A consumer who values sustainability is willing to invest in a sustainable clothing line, even though it will cost much more than fast fashion brands. By choosing such a brand, he will also provide a peek into his personality, so that others will receive a message about who he is. This also allows himself and others to predict his future behaviour easier.
  • Affiliation with a particular group: A brand offers an individual a chance to signal that he belongs to a specific social group. A skater can wear and buy brands that are typical for skaters, which allows everyone to identify him as a skater easily. A brand can therefore be used as a symbol for one’s membership in a certain social group.

Brands provide consumers with a way to express their identity and personality as they would ideally like it. This also allows individuals to reduce a possible conflict between their actual and ideal self.

Branding is not only strategic but a complex psychological process. It is vital for brands to understand these processes so that they can use them in their advance and care for their costumers’ needs. One concept that can be helpful in understanding consumer’s needs is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a psychological theory represented by a pyramid scheme. At the most basic level are the needs that sustain life itself – biological al physiological needs and at the top is the more abstract need of self-actualization. Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.


Psychology of Branding: Maslow's hierarchy of needs


When creating your brand’s product, try to understand the underlying motivation your target audience will have when buying the product and interacting with your brand.

One last thing: many researchers believe consumers actually form relationships with brands similar to how they form relationships with human or groups. Invest in this relationship and nurture it, as you would any other significant relationship.

The psychology of branding is a broad field, consisting of many exciting concepts, such as brand personality, brand loyalty, emotional branding, brand recognition, brand awareness, brand love, consumer psychology and many more. If you are interested in these topics, follow Atlas Authentica’s Instagram and subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter providing exciting content:

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References, sources and further reading:
– Douglas Davis: Creative strategy and the business of design
Arnd Florack and Johanna Palcu: The psychology of branding
– Wikipedia: Stradivarius
– Wikipedia: Pepsi Challenge
Science alert: There’s evidence humans didn’t actually see blue until modern times
Etactics: 7 organizations with negative brand images and how they overcame it

Founder and lead strategist at studio Atlas Authentica. Her mission is to help businesses form agile and strategy-driven brands as well as mentoring young creative enterpreneurs.