I’ve written before about the two kinds of knowledge that we have about brands – the pragmatic, factual knowledge and the emotional knowledge, but I am fast coming to the opinion that our emotional knowledge is more important and even allows us to over-ride much of the factual knowledge.
The key to this is attribution – two people can perform exactly the same action, but because of our emotional attachment status we can give very different attributions to that action. Sometimes we can even give the opposite meaning to the same act.
Let’s look at an example: you have started a new job and in your team are Miss A and Miss B. You take an immediate liking to Miss A and an instant dislike of Miss B.
You are working hard on a difficult task and Miss A looks over your shoulder and points something out and says; ‘I think you have gone wrong there. The result should be X’. You think to yourself; ‘Thank goodness she pointed that out, or I might have got into trouble there. She is a useful friend to have.’
Alternatively, Miss B may come over and say; ‘I think you have gone wrong there. The result should be X’. You think to yourself; ‘Damn her! She has just been waiting for me to make a mistake so she could show me up!’ Both said the same thing and made precisely the same action, but you gave each a different attribution.
The same goes for brands – the same action by two brands can have very different attributions, dependent upon the judgement that you made in your earliest encounters with the brand. An innovative recycling scheme that may be seen as sensitive and pioneering by one brand, may be attributed as being a cynical smokescreen by another.
It is little wonder that brands that appear in ‘most loved’ brand lists (Microsoft, Google, British Airways, Tesco, for example) also appear in ‘most hated lists’. Think of the recent BP disaster: if your emotional attachment to the brand is negative, you attribution to their clean-up operation might be one of, ‘Serves them right! They are only doing it because of government pressure’. However, if you have a positive attachment to the brand you may attribute their action as, ‘Good for them! That disaster could not have been foreseen but they jumped in to fix it without a second thought about the cost’.
It is the same phenomenon that sometimes leads us to buy items that are impractical, against the advice of friends and family, because emotion is such a powerful driver and we fell in love with the purchase.
What does this mean for branding professionals? Well, perhaps you could spend a little less time on the pragmatics of planning and forecasting: put the charts and predictions to one side and step away from the spreadsheet. Shift your focus onto people, emotion, psychology and creativity. Stop trying to convince the market that you have a great case for your brand… just get them to love it.