The AFLAC Duck and the Power of Neuro-Marketing in Branding
By Thomas Denegre
Ducks are laughing all the way to the banks to cash their checks. Meanwhile serious minded business leaders are scratching their heads.
Two companies, both positioned to market commodity products in highly competitive industries, have realized significant revenue gains by deploying Neuro-marketing in their branding to achieve high name awareness, fan loyalty, premium pricing, and sustainable growth. In this short article, you will understand the basics of Neuro-marketing and how you can immediately make improvements to your branding.
Companies such as AFLAC (American Family and Life Assurance Company) and DuckBrand are using a duck as their mascot as part of their branding strategy. In a recent reported article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), AFLAC saw their sales doubled in three years after the introduction of their duck in 2003. Almost immediately their name recognition increased to 67%. Brand awareness spending increased from $1 Million in 2003 to $65 Million today. As a result, AFLAC is the personal insurance category leader in Japan with 25% market share representing 70% of their global $16.6 billion revenue. Not bad work for a duck!
We all heard of duct tape. During World War II, The Johnson and Johnson Permacel Division introduced a military green tape to keep ammo boxes waterproof. It was later nicknamed, "Duck Tape," because it repelled water. After the war the product morphed into a silver tape used in HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning). Duct tape became a commodity product with no customer loyalty or premium pricing.
Fifteen years ago a duct tape manufacturer named DuckBrand engaged a Disney executive who understood the magic in branding to convert a commodity into a branded product. Some of the key lessons learned were;
o Have your product engage as many human senses as possible.
o Develop a character that people will like and accept.
o Develop a story for the product and an exclusive community to join.
o Make the experience a delight and exceed the customer's expectations with attention to detail.
Duct tape became Duck Tape and a cute duck mascot was adorned on all the packaging and marketing. Duck Tape was packaged to give the perception and tactile feel of higher quality while offering a practical use of stacking and storing. Duck Tape became a new story that quickly gained a higher perceived value and increased market share. No longer a commodity, Duck Tape drew a strong base of fans and most importantly, greater profits. As the fan base grew, DuckBrand challenged their fans to use Duck Tape in new and innovative ways. A club was born. Brand loyalty grew and fans adored the cute duck mascot.
What few people realize is the impact of neuro marketing. Intuitively the Disney executive knew from experience that using the five human senses with a product will engage the customer on multiple levels of emotions, experiences, mental associations with past experiences and values, and the use of the child's imagination that still lives within us all.
Traditional versus Neuro-marketing Research
In Martin Lindstrom's book "Buyology", the author explained that each year $12 Billion is spent on primary marketing research whilet 80% of new products fail. In traditional consumer research surveys, people responded to questions in writing. Since consumers had little awareness and understanding of why they made the purchase, companies did not have the proper information to understand true buying behavior.
By studying people's brain activity using MRI and other scanning devices, Mr. Lindstrom discovered that 85% of our brain runs on autopilot whereby most people are not aware of their emotions nor how they make decisions accordingly.
By using brain scanning devices it was discovered that different areas of the brain that were stimulated evoke different responses and behavior. Consequentially, if you want an accurate consumer response, then don't believe what the person states, rather understand how their brain responds.
A brief view of Neuro-marketing
So let's take a quick look at the brain and how it affects our behavior.
In simplistic terms there are three levels of the brain. First, there's the largest section called the frontal cortex which handles matters such as reasoning, philosophy, math, and other high levels of thought. I'll call him Mr. Spock for he is all reason and no passion.
The second level of the brain is the limbic system which is the seat of our emotions which I'll call Doctor McCoy (remember Star Trek), where we find love, joy, peace, confidence, hope, anger, bitterness, and hatred. When our reasons and thoughts of the frontal cortex are merged with the emotions of the limbic brain then we solidify beliefs, loyalty, faith, and devotion, etc.
Lastly, near the base on the brain is our reptilian brain that runs most of our body functions on autopilot. It's also the center of our self-preservation where the raw and powerful emotions of fear and sex reside. When we identify danger, our reptilian brain will take over and will either do one of three things; fight, flee, or freeze. Or, when it's stimulated sexually, it will lust for its mate. The reptilian brain forms the basis that drives self-preservation. Many times self-preservation is driven by fear; sometimes it's the fear of not having enough; called greed. Take a look at fallen companies such as Enron, whereby the best and brightest of the executive team was obsessively (fear and greed) driven by meeting quarterly profits. It's amazing to see how the primitive reptilian brain took over the power frontal cortex to take down a powerful company.
Here's an important rule of thumb. The greater the emotional stimuli to the brain (fear or lust), then the more likely that the lower part of the brain will take over. For example, when a lion is chasing you, you don't have time to smell the roses. Fear takes over.
Understanding fear can work for you. For example, it's difficult to sell to a prospect when they feel everything is okay and it's more fearful to change the status quo. However, when properly motivated and reasoned, a prospect can realize that there's greater fear in remaining status quo. To paraphrase an old movie quote from The Godfather, "you need to make them an offer they can't refuse."
The Power of Association in Neuro-marketing
The power of Neuro-marketing starts with the engagement of our seven senses; (1) Taste, (2) Smell, (3) Hearing (4) Touch, (5) Sight, (6) Humor, and (7) Intuition. To make it all work one must understand the power of association that directly impacts our emotional brain and how past experiences are recalled when we encounter a brand experience. Walk into a Whole Foods Store and you're bombarded with a cornucopia of beautiful food, fresh baked bread, brewed coffee, and desserts turned into art. You're flooded with emotions of mom, home, security, abundance, and happiness. The experience is frequently joyful and you're willing to pay premium prices for their products.
The power of association will engage our senses to recall positive experiences that we will tie to the brand. Called somatic markers, they represent a total compilation of emotions, negative associations, and positive associations. When a woman is given a light blue box with a white ribbon, the Tiffany brand and blue color evoke strong feminine emotions. When we think of a well branded produc t, such as, Coke, Coach, Chanel, Harley Davidson and Tiffany, many of us experience an emotional and somewhat sensual positive response. A good brand tied to Neuro-marketing should offer:
o A great experience that exceeds customer's expectations
o A clarification of the value of the product
o A decision by the prospect to consider purchasing it
How we associate products with past experiences can determine our purchasing considerations. Mr Lindstrom in Buyology highlighted a few examples such as;
o Light blue for a woman can be associated with engagement, marriage, babies, and fertility. Pink is associated with luxury, sensuality, and being feminine.
o Color will increase brand recognition by 80% and represents up to 50% in the decision making process to choose a brand product.
o People will buy more out of love (53%) versus sex (26%).
o Be authentic, transparent, and real. We buy from people we can relate to.
The sense of smell is one of the strongest and most motivating senses. One whiff will immediately stimulate both the limbic and reptilian brains. How many times have we walked into a store smelling fresh baked bread making us hungry? Like Pavlov's dog we respond immediately without thinking. Mr. Lindstrom explained that in Samsung stores, they discretely aerate the store with honey dew melon that invokes the sense of relaxation while lowering your purchasing tolerance. Clever!
Ever notice how people like the sense of belonging to an exclusive group? It offers a sense of security and comfort which can create a sense of mission. We can think of Harley Davidson, Apple, and fans of music rock groups. Other examples include an exclusive offer to join the millionaire's poker club at Harrah's in Las Vegas; at DuckBrand, loyal fans can join the "Duck Tape Club" and share their stories of DuckTape innovations and fun adventures.
What lessons can we take to make our branding and marketing more effective?
By knowing your target audience, its needs and wants, develop your brand to engage as much of the human senses as possible. Brands can develop a higher appeal and bond us emotionally when we can identify with them. Personalizing your brands with a mascot can add depth, character, and appeal to our childhood imaginations. We prefer to buy from someone we like and we all like the duck at AFLAC, Snoopy at MetLife, Mickey Mouse, and all the others. By nature people are tribal and want to belong to the community. Like the "Duck Tape Club" think of ways for your fans to become involved with a brand that is surprising, exciting, and engaging.
Here are a few other take-aways to build your brand.
Using Neuro-marketing in your Branding
o Clearly define your key target audiences and learn about them and their lives.
o Engage as many of the human senses in your brand to stimulate both the areas of thought and emotions together.
o Make your brand personal and engaging. Give it a story and a personality that your target audience can identify.
o For a significant product launch consider using a Neuro-marketing agency for accurate responses.
o Consider the way your brand will invoke past associations to common human experiences.
o Create unique experiences, somewhat based on your products and services, that let people experience your brand as often as possible, throughout their lives. These experiences should also be accompanied with branded visuals, descriptive vocabulary and cool memorabilia.
o Your messaging and branding go hand in hand. Let your words create images and stories in people's minds.
o Use the Power of WOW. Surprise is a story-inspiring emotion. It demands to be shared. How could you add surprise to your marketing mix?
Branding and Communications
o Keep your messaging simple and deliver a vision for an extraordinary experience that would make people believe in the magic.
o Clearly determine your brand experience. Is it bringing magic into people's lives? It must have emotion and feeling!
o Remember the essence of a brand, especially a corporate brand, is the communication of the company's positive and unique attributes expressed through the company's" personality" to significant stakeholders.
o Messaging - using words and graphics and any other sensory stimuli available - is the verb used to convey the action of developing the integrated communication of brand. It is also the process of crystallizing the essence of the brand, of developing the "brand story" and expressing it uniquely
o People want to escape and find happiness. Disney offers a journey into the imagination of children turned real. They pay close attention to details and ensure the brand experience will exceed most expectations.
Sometimes it pays to be a duck or a mouse!