Part of a marketing strategist’s function is to justify plans and strategy. One area of the marketing discipline, which seems to elude logical explanation, is the question, “Why should I brand?”. As a profession our rationalisation has, until now, been esoteric at best. Recently certain research and a new way of measuring brain response has allowed students of buyer behaviour to offer real proof about branding – proof which we can all relate to.

Let’s agree that all businesses want to be remembered and trusted. That is an uncontested objective. So the question is how do we as marketers, accurately create organisations in the mind of consumers? We have always maintained without real proof that by branding an organisation we can create a ‘positioning’ in the mind of consumers. Let us therefore deal with the consumer’s mind – yours and mine.

Research by eminent Nobel Prize Winner, Daniel Kahnamen has now opened the door to a greater understanding of how our mind works in decision making.

There are two decision making systems at work in any decision we make – an implicit system, working like an ‘auto pilot’, and an explicit system operating like a ‘pilot’. The ‘auto pilot’ processes every single bit of information that is perceived by our senses (vision, audio, touch, taste and smell). It has a huge processing capacity of 11 million bits per second (roughly 1.4 megabytes). Each second our senses deliver 11 million bits to the ‘autopilot’ – no matter whether we are aware of this input or not. Every piece of input influences our behaviour. One study showed that when visiting a website, the consumer’s ‘auto pilot‘ derived a first impression within less than one second and that impression strongly influenced the subsequent behaviour.

Compare this with the limited capacity of the ‘pilot’ system and one soon begins to see the power of the ‘autopilot’. A standard understanding of cognitive psychology is that the upper limit of our working memory, which is the basis of the ‘pilot’ system to do its thinking, is 7 plus or minus chunks of information, which roughly amounts to 40-50 bits per second (in the case of numbers and letters). The limited capacity of the ‘pilot’ is the reason we have problems remembering numbers which exceed seven digits.

What’s more, the typical duration of the average contact with an advertising medium shows that most consumers do not use their ‘pilot’ to receive information.

Advert in a popular magazine: 1.7 seconds.

Advertising in Trade Journals: 3.2 seconds.

Poster: 1.5 seconds.

Mailing (first reference check): 2 seconds.

Banner Adverts: 1 second.

So why are brands vital, and just as importantly why are brand designs a priority? Because a brand should deliver your positioning, your quality and dependability – in essence, your story. Therefore your consumer’s ‘auto pilot’ with its high band width and its ability to process information very rapidly, provides you with the opportunity to convey messages in a minimal time span. Bombard the consumer with information? They use their ‘pilot’. Brand, and their auto pilot receives and influences their decision

What’s in a brand? Plenty.

My sincere thanks to Daniel Kahnamen and Phil Barden for their excellent research work on this matter.