Celebrate the Primacy of the Creative Marketing Heart

Why Technology Should Be the Servant and Not the Master of Your Brand

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Judy Shapiro
Judy Shapiro
"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." –Albert Einstein

I got a recommendation from someone to read Martin Lindstrom's book, "Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy." It describes the new neuromarketing sciences exploring how the brain's physical reaction to our thoughts, sensory stimulation or even rituals can evoke brand loyalty or apathy. According to Lindstrom, this new understanding of the biology behind our unconscious mind's ability to make "decisions" faster than our conscious mind represents a "historic meeting between science and marketing. A union of apparent opposites."

Now, I deeply respect Mr. Lindstrom's work, but to be honest, these types of branding books are a marketing person's nemesis. They are often recommended to us by CEOs with the implied expectation, "Read this so you know which buttons to push. And tell me what you think in four days. Thanks."

If a CEO were to ask me to summarize the book, it would pretty much boil down to:

1. Our subconscious mind is much, much faster than our conscious mind at taking in stimuli and making "snap" decisions.

2. The line between alternate outcomes (dare I say alternate realities) in a situation is as thin as a single thought. If you believe that a ritual or a treatment is going to work, it probably will. That's a potent principle in marketing when applied to shampoo or shoes or new technology.

3. If understood correctly, there are fundamental mechanisms in the brain that can be used by marketing to evoke immediate and lasting impact in current and future purchase decisions. Highly useful, no doubt.

4. Finally, the book nobly tries to empower us to make better decisions because we are "armed" with information. I must say, this is Mr. Lindstrom's weakest moment. Being armed with "conscious" rational information does not particularly seem efficacious if we are to believe the bulk of the book, which explains in rich detail how driven we are by mechanisms that transcend rational thinking.

But as informative as the book was, I think it misses a big part of the branding story. Mr. Lindstrom, like many others who are drawn to the razzle-dazzle of new mind-mapping technology, often overlook the nuts and bolts of what makes marketing really great.

Concepts were already known
Being great at brand-building, in my humble opinion, does not start with technology, but with the power of a creative heart. Unlike Mr. Lindstrom, who believes that until now marketing and science were "apparent opposites," I can tell you that much of what Mr. Lindstrom described in the book as powerful branding techniques was not new to me. Why? Because great creative minds in the agencies were using these techniques all along; we just didn't have the technology or the fancy names to label what we knew anyway.

Some examples: The book refers to "sensory branding," whereby combining a sight and smell sense to a branding program works a lot better than if only one sense is used. It also noted that if two senses were inconsistent with each other (for example, an image of a lemon has the smell of vanilla), this combination was the least effective in creating a positive brand association. Twenty-five years ago, we simply called this principle "cognitive dissonance," and any good creative mind knew enough to avoid it without any SST brain scan.

Then there's the very cool idea of mirror neurons, where if you just see an experience, it can feel as vivid as though you were doing it. This mechanism explains the deep satisfaction we get from watching spectator sports or theater.

Again, back in the 1980s, we knew about this phenomenon even though we did not know the name for it. We knew about the principle when we created Folgers spots to linger lovingly on the brew process so that you could "almost smell" the freshly brewed coffee. We knew this was a powerful marketing technique even if we didn't have the benefit of science to inform our work.

We also nailed the importance of "rituals" years ago. Duncan Hines focused on the ritual of making cookies with your kids, and Folgers became "the best part of waking up." Again, these principles were masterfully leveraged by creative people doing what do they naturally.

Balanced approach
We must remind ourselves that neuromarketing or, taken further, the latest new digital marketing technology, is a tool for the artists and creators. And the best of these minds were using these "latest" ideas decades ago. There was no tension of "opposites" to which Mr. Lindstrom alludes, but rather we used our talent to intuit the science. The best creative minds already knew what science is now telling us.

I believe Mr. Lindstrom would endorse for a balanced approach. In today's techno-rich, techno-dense marketing world, it is so very easy to let technology blind you into thinking that there are silver-bullet answers in creating powerful brands (could this account for the stupendously low average CMO tenure of about 23 months?).

Instead, let's turn the model around. Rather than promote the new science as the way to brand vitality, let's demote technology to its proper place -- as a means to an end. Let's celebrate the creative mind as the primary force that animates it all. It's about recognizing that for great marketing to live and breathe, even the most amazing new technique won't work if there is no creative expression of it or if that message is inconsistently applied.

In the end, neuromarketing techniques may tell us that yellower yolks make eggs more appealing -- but you've still got to get them to buy the eggs in the first place.

Judy Shapiro is senior VP at Paltalk and has held senior marketing positions at Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Bell Labs. Her blog, Trench Wars, provides insights on how to create business value on the internet.
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