A Cognitive Approach to Your Brand Portfolio

If You Get the Consumer to Think, You Get Him to Feel. Then, Not Only Will He Buy Your Brand, He'll Buy Into It

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Note to brand managers: Your job is about to change. It is going the way of the Morse-code operator, the file clerk and the mechanical artist with a T square. Put your resume up on Monster ASAP. Or, shift your company's selfish perspective from its everyday concerns about what is good for its brand and take on a more generous attitude about what is best for consumers. Propose a new, innovative title such as consumer-experience enabler, and you and your company will create a whole new area of opportunity.

Today's world is consumer-centric, and meaningful brands exist to provide those consumers with the associations, experiences and community in which they desire to participate. Consumers have become the managers of their own personal brands. What they buy, participate in and seek in terms of experiences helps define for themselves and the world the brands of people they are. Known for drinking bottled water? Then you're a health-and-wellness brand. Wearing that new Product Red tank from Bono? Then you're a social-conscience brand. This is a world where the next best thing to doing the right thing is being seen doing the right thing.

One of the biggest mistakes in brand-portfolio management happens when brands are over-managed, over-thought and over-extended in isolation to consumer desire and need. If brands are, in actuality, extensions of consumer desire, then why don't we focus on buyers' behaviors instead of brands?

The key to confident portfolio and brand management lies in leadership's ability to manage consumers' thought processes in order to link their desires with their actions. The seemingly best-thought-through portfolio of brands will only be successful in a fishbowl if it does not provide consumers with experiences and connections they desire.

Rationalizing a brand's architecture is a great exercise in pitting one brand against another in a portfolio approach. What's strong? What's weak? What stays to fill a market gap? Ideally, a with-it CMO should ask the insights team for research on cognitive models that map consumer bias with the external world to determine the next meaningful interaction a brand could help enable. Without a consumer-experience dimension, a good portfolio remains an abstract, idealized model.

So here's how it works. Inspire consumers to think about your brand. Figure out what products in your portfolio have the most intellectual value to consumer audiences. This intellectual capital becomes a mirror to your consumers' interests, knowledge base, affinity and needs. Learn what emotions result from this knowledge. How does "knowing" make your customers "feel"? Heighten this emotional response and empower it through products that have a high aesthetic component in terms of design and engineering. Aesthetic engineering and ergonomic design of primary and secondary packaging inspire usage and connectivity. They are a generous "gift" to your customers-a nice-to-have benefit that gets them thinking. Thinking causes them to feel. Emotion inspires action and behavior. The result? Consumers not only buy your products, they buy into them.

When you apply this cognitive approach to brand-portfolio management, you allow yourself to assess what fits and what does not fit from a consumer perspective. If your portfolio becomes a mirror to your consumers' lifestyles, a driver of purchase and a personal-brand definer, then you have the perfect mix of products, targets, segments and goals. Think of it as creating a wardrobe for your consumers. You provide a suite of products they can "wear." In this model, it is OK to have some duplication of category with differentiation through mood or emotion. After all, do you feel like wearing the same shirt every day?

About the Author

Peter Arnell is chairman and chief creative officer at Arnell Group.
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