The New Marketing Is a Cognitive Process

Savvy marketers are turning to cognitive sciences to better understand how the brain works and then leveraging that knowledge to forge conscious and subconscious connections with consumers. This enables marketers to engage consumers more viscerally, according to Sandeep Dayal, a seasoned marketing and strategy leader at Cerenti Marketing Group, in his book Branding Between the Ears: Using Cognitive Science to Build Lasting Consumer Connections. As marketers look to recode consumers’ brains, CRM editor Leonard Klie spoke with Dayal to see how this would work.

CRM: Cognitive science sounds complicated. Is it worth the effort for marketers?

Dayal: Absolutely. No one said marketing is a piece of cake. However, it only seems complicated because it’s different from what we learned in the past, a lot of which was flawed.

What can the cognitive sciences bring to marketing?

Cognitive science is changing a lot in marketing, even its foundation. We thought attention spans are getting shorter and ad messages need to be pithy. Attention spans are not getting shorter, but marketers need new cognitive methods to get noticed. We used to think branding was just about functional and emotional equities. It’s not. Branding needs to forge new connections with consumers.

Branding is all about understanding how consumers choose products and services. Cognitive science is all about understanding how our brain works and makes decisions. It encompasses learnings from cognitive psychology, social anthropology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics. Marketers need to understand and apply these new principles to marketing and branding or they might be left behind.

Why is this information needed now? What’s wrong with the traditional ways marketers have worked?

In the past marketers artificially attached emotions to the functional benefits of their products. If people like creaminess in ice cream and seem happy while eating it, a marketer would make a tag line like “Sheer Creaminess, Sheer Happiness.” It sounds good, but no evidence suggests that our brains associate creaminess with happiness. Rather, our brains make choices by relating things to past learnings, connections, and experiences. Ice cream might be more associated with past celebrations. People work hard, and a dollop of ice cream can be a nice way to reward oneself. Hence, a tag line like “a little reward for your victories today” might resonate a lot better.

How is this different from traditional methods or approaches to branding?

In the book I present a new framework for designing brand proposals and customer communications. It is based on cognitive science and says effective messaging must answer three types of questions:

  1. vibe. Does this company understand how I feel? Does it share my values?
  2. Sense. Does what the company says make good sense instinctively or upon deliberation?
  3. Resolve. If I buy this brand, will I be happy?

While these questions look simple, there is cognitive science behind how marketers need to answer these questions when positioning their brands and designing their messaging.

How can businesses get and use this information?

Marketers need to spend time with consumers, talking to and observing them. Despite advances in data science and artificial intelligence, there is no substitute for one human engaging with another. With that new understanding, marketers can embed new types of questions in their surveys and different filters in their AI-based web scrapers.

Some consumers might be scared by companies probing their minds and deepest thoughts. How can companies overcome that fear?

Two competing forces are at play. On the one hand, consumer power is growing exponentially. On the other, marketer power is also growing rapidly, given all of the new knowledge we have about influencing consumers.

Marketers have to self-regulate and play the game ethically. I give marketers three imperatives:

  1. Canonical imperative. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  2. Categorically imperative. Do only that which, if everyone else also does it, will be a net positive for society.
  3. Sunshine imperative. Do only that which, if made public, will not be embarrassing to you.

What is the one message you want readers to take away from this book?

The world of the future belongs to the thinking marketer. We’re learning a lot about how the human brain works. As a marketer, you can and should forge new paths for yourself and others who will follow. It is the most exciting time to be a marketer.

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