"I think there's a trend [among marketers] to be more interested in brands as assets and building and preserving those assets," said Max Blackston, president of the product and communications division at Research International, New York.
"The old tools of brand image don't seem to work anymore ... you have to go beyond the literal and really hear what the consumer means," he said.
Although psychology and anthropology have been used in advertising for decades, current research methods are proving to be valuable tools to uncover subconscious attitudes that some say could lead to increased brand loyalty.
"A lot of brands are claiming they are having a hard time, and it's because a lot of the brand imagery has been left around from the '60s, '70s or '80s," said Gene Shore, a clinical psychologist and president of Gene Shore Associates, Philadelphia. "Those brands that remain popular, like Coca-Cola, have made small, subtle changes in their imagery that still connect to the values people have today."
Psychological specialists use a variety of techniques that can go beyond the traditional qualitative and quantitative research methods to articulate a consumer's emotional needs. Among those used are projective methods that allow people to reveal things about themselves in a less painful manner, and brand equity trade-off analysis, where consumers are tested to see how much more they would pay for a brand they like.
"Twenty years ago, a consumer was only thought of as a rational human being who would respond on the basis of rational reasons," Mr. Shore said. "Today, a consumer is a person with a total personality ... and if you could reach more of their personality, you can make them more involved in the product you are selling."
Judy Harrigan, president of the Harrigan Boddick research company in New York, said marketers and agencies need to make brands more relevant to consumers. Ms. Harrigan, who holds a doctorate in psychology, has done several projects in the past year for corporations concerned about private labels. Her clients include Quaker Oats Co., Johnson & Johnson, Wendy's International and Hasbro.
"I find that more and more people are coming to me to try to re-establish their brand and leverage whatever equity the brand already has," said Wendy Basch, a partner at the B/R/S Group, a Mill Valley, Ca lif.-based consultancy.
Ms. Basch uses a technique created by Mr. Blackston called Brand Relationships Added Value Equities. The method "lets consumers project a personality onto the brand to find out how they feel about the brand and conversely what a brand feels about them," Mr. Blackston said.
Audrey Fuskey-Sederouch, associate professor of marketing at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, said marketers need to use new techniques to understand the mind of the consumer.
"The use of psychoanalysis ... hasn't been as prevalent as it is right now," she said. "You want to create some kind of match between the product itself and the psyche or personality of the consumer."
At least one agency-Hal Riney & Partners' Chicago office-last year hired Marie-Eve Kielson, a psychotherapist and president of Kielson Media Consulting in Winnetka, Ill., to aid a new-business pitch. The marketer wanted to broaden its appeal to younger consumers.
"We were trying to think outside the box," said VP-Creative Director Patrick Hanlon. Although the agency didn't win the business, "we were able to get an understanding of how change impacts an organization internally and externally, he said.
Cultural anthropologists, who use direct observation to understand consumer behavior, are being employed in greater numbers than ever before, observers say.
Among their techniques are ethnographic studies offering an in-depth look at how a product or brand fits consumers' lives.
Allison Cohen, owner of a consultancy called Peopletalk in New York, did an ethnographic study for a frozen food marketer trying to determine if its brand should expand into new categories. Ms. Cohen asked 20 study participants to keep a diary of all meals prepared at home for a week, and then videotaped them at home preparing a meal.
Ms. Cohen said the marketer learned it should keep its brand focused on basic food lines.