With the increased volume of competition that modern businesses face, it’s more important than ever to stand out from the crowd, to develop a unique identity, to create a consumer connection and value proposition through branding. Effective branding can give a major advantage to marketing, advertising, sales performance, customer decision-making, and customer loyalty in increasingly difficult markets.
By examining and understanding the unique elements of branding, we can explore how these elements work together to build strong consumer-to-brand relationships. Some of the factors in the equation that play in to modern branding include New Consumerism, Brand Intimacy, Modernization & Globalization, and High-Cognitive Connections.
defining new consumerism and high-cognitive Connections
Traditional consumerism is defined as "the sale of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts." But changes in modernization, globalization, and economic marketplaces have redefined consumerism: New Consumerism, or "the purchase of brands, goods, services, and experiences that deliver beyond traditional functionality."
New consumerism enables companies and brands to establish Brand Intimacy and create long-lasting relationships with people in ways that traditional branding would have never thought possible. Brand Intimacy is defined as "the relationship between a person and a brand that transcends purchase or functional usage." In other words, brand intimacy is a measure of how well brands connect with their target audience above and beyond the utilitarian offering.
What makes these branding connections unique is that they go beyond an appeal based on usefulness and lifestyle marketing, to an appeal based on High-Cognition: that is, appeals that connect emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, transcendentally and existentially — thus creating intimate ties between a brand and its audience. High-Cognitive Connections create bonds in the areas described previously, as well as links to feelings of self-actualization. High-Cognitive Connections create stronger, more intimate experiences and increase the perceived value between brands and audiences.
Old consumerism focused on fulfilling the low-cognitive needs of 'What' (What can this brand or product do for me?) while marketing and advertising addressed positioning aspects of 'Who' (Who am I when I use this brand, how does this brand or product help define me?). New Consumerism, modern Branding, and Brand Intimacy are aimed at connecting with people in the high-cognitive areas of 'Why & How' (How does this make me feel? How does this enable me? How does this fulfill me?)
What: What can this brand or product do for me? How does this brand or product help me?
(Think: "Bleach can help protect me from germs")
Touches On: Physiological, Safety, and Utility
Provides: Service & Functionality
Fulfills: Functional Wants and Needs
Level: Low-Level Fulfillment
Who: Who am I when I use this brand? How does this brand or product help define me?
(Think: "Choosy Moms Choose Jif")
Touches On: Social, Aesthetic, and Esteem
Provides: Empowerment & Enhancement
Fulfills: Emotional Wants and Needs
Level: Mid-Level Fulfillment
Why & How: How does this fulfill and enable me? How does this brand or product enhance my personal vision?
(Think: "Just Do It" and "Think Different")
Touches On: Cognition, Transcendence, and Actualization
Provides: Realization and Meaning
Fulfills: Psychological Wants and Needs
Level: High-Cognitive Fulfillment
the interconnected system of wants, Needs, and desires
First published in the 1950s using a five-tiered pyramid (then expanded to eight tiers in the 1970s), Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs posits that basic needs must be met before higher needs are fulfilled: we must have food, shelter, and safety before we are ready to meet psychological needs like friendship, and must fulfill psychological needs before we can achieve self-fulfillment and self-actualization. The eight tiers of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs include:
Transcendence Desires: The desire for spiritual and existential meaning in relation to the universe with others, specifically concerned with the act of helping others to self-actualize.
Actualization Desires: The desire to achieve one's full potential through creativity, empowerment, enlightenment, and self-enhancement.
Cognitive Desires: The natural human desire to learn, explore, create, discover, and gain a better understanding of the world.
Aesthetic Wants: The yearning for and appreciation of beauty, balance, and artistic meaning.
Esteem Wants: The yearning for respect, confidence, self-esteem, prestige, accomplishment, and self-confidence.
Social Wants: The yearning for love, belonging, friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance as part of a group, community, or relationship.
Safety Needs: The need for safety, including feelings of security, stability, consistency, living free of fear, and being safe from harm.
Physiological Needs: The essential needs including food, water, and shelter; the basics for human survival.
Both scholarly criticism and a new approach to understanding of Maslow's theory reveals that our wants and needs do not have to be fulfilled independently or in ascending order, and this is where a focus on high-cognitive connections comes into play. Fulfillment levels — wants, needs, and desires — can be dependent, independent, interdependent, or co-dependent. They are not hierarchical or tiered, nor are they the same for everybody; different people give different wants and needs higher weights or values over others.
Wants, Needs, & desires are like most things in nature: Part of an interactive, interconnected, dynamic system.
Analyzing the changing landscape
There are four main factors driving development areas for New Consumerism, Brand Intimacy, and High-Cognitive Branding: Modernization, Globalization, Market Saturation, and Economic Standards of Living.
Modernization is defined as the transition from a 'pre-modern' to 'traditional' to a 'modern' society. Globalization is defined as the movement of goods, capital, services, people, technology and information across markets, borders, and nations. Market Saturation defines the point at which a markets no longer generate new demand for products, goods, or services, due to competition, decreased need, obsolescence, or other factors. Economic Standards of Living is defined as the level of wealth, comfort, material goods and necessities available to a certain socioeconomic class or a certain area.
All four of these factors have helped drive adoption in new societal standards in which many basic needs and wants are fulfilled through everyday means, and — when combined — provide people with an increase in choice, access, and availability of competing brands, products, services, and experiences, which opens the door to New Consumerism. In other words, the shifts caused by modernization, globalization, market saturation, and economic standards of living are changing how people perceive information, connect with brands, engage with products (and ultimately) how people make purchase decisions.
IN RESPONSE TO AN ABUNDANCE OF ACCESS, CHOICE, AND AVAILABILITY, people MAKE MORE AND MORE DECISIONS BASED ON EMOTIONal and HIGH-COGNITIVE LEVELS.
People inherently seek high-cognitive connections that enhance and empower them to become better versions of themselves. By catering to and fulfilling internal desires, brands that offer high-cognitive connections can develop a stronger, more compelling relationship with their target audience.
people don't buy products;
they buy better versions of themselves
Branding will be more important than ever as modernization, globalization, market saturation, and economic standards of living continue to expand and change. The ability of a manufacturer, service, or system to deliver a great product and great customer engagement and be at the right place at the right time will continue to be held in high-regard, but will no longer be considered a competitive advantage — these are expected by people.
As consumer expectations from a product, performance, and service factor stabilize, consumer emotions (rational or irrational) will have a heavier hand in every purchase decision that people make. High-Cognitive connections drive these considerations, which in turn drive emotions and create personal preferences which then become the primary reason(s) as to why people prefer specific brands:
BRANDS THAT HELP EMPOWER, ENABLE, AND ENHANCE People, moving us from "WHO WE ARE" TO "WHO WE WANT TO BE" WILL CONTINUE TO FORM STRONGER, MORE INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS.
The higher the quality and quantity of connections directly influences how people receive and perceive information they are being given. Great brands use High-Cognitive Connections and the allure of High-Cognitive Fulfillment to create a lasting, intimate relationship with their target audience.
the allure of high-cognitive fulfillment
High-Cognitive Fulfillment addresses the ways in which people knowingly or unknowingly search for personal fulfillment by seeking to extend, enhance, or empower themselves through the purchase and use of brands, products, goods, and services. With almost instant access and an overabundance of choice and availability, the main drivers in our decision-making process become emotions and high-cognitive connections.
How people feel is a strong predictor of how they will act and what decisions they will make.
Great brands build intimacy, deliver customer-centric experiences, and create connections by offering us a better version of ourselves. The desire to go beyond ourselves to become something bigger and better is a fundamental human characteristic. This is what High-Cognitive Fulfillment offers: an opportunity to achieve higher meaning or status by enabling people, granting them the ability to achieve (in effect) an extension of their personal identity. This personal identity extension helps elevate brands in the mind of consumers from "want to have" to "can't live without."
For brands to capitalize on high-cognitive fulfillment, the focus should be on both the quality and quantity of high-cognitive connections from a customer-centric standpoint: The more connections that can be established between a brand and the wants, needs, and desires of the target audience, the stronger the relationship and the more intimate the experience will be, further driving perceived value.
branding aimed at high-cognitive connections changes 'perceived value' into 'received value'.
The allure of high-cognitive fulfillment (emotional, psychological, spiritual, transcendental, and existential enhancement) is too powerful to ignore. New Consumerism grants personal gratification to the audience as an extension of their aspirational identity without the consumer having to perform any specific action beyond purchase:
through purchase decisions, branding and new consumerism grant people high-cognitive rewards without individual obligations.
Let's look at some quick examples:
Apple's High-Cognitive Connection Branding: Apple positions itself using the allure of high-cognitive fulfillment; some of Apple's marketing, advertising, and experiences feature content that emanates creativity, spiritualism, self-actualization, and self-transcendence. Apple wants you to “Think Different” and “Dream” with them, encouraging you to reach a higher level of fulfillment.
Nike's High-Cognitive Connection Branding: Nike positions itself using the allure of high-cognitive fulfillment by employing messaging that is intentionally vague, allowing people to make their own connections with the brand while still highlighting Nike’s ability to enable and empower. “Just Do It” could refer to anything, but the experience creates a sense that anything is possible.
The examples above have important branding elements in common, specifically targeting high-cognitive connections to increase perceived/received value:
The experiences target high-cognitive connections: Emotional and Spiritual desires, with a yearning for Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence.
The experiences don't focus on how the brand fits into a person’s lifestyle; the focus is how people are capable of reaching new levels of themselves, enabled by the brand.
The experiences don't promise fulfillment: The brands use the allure and appeal of high-cognitive fulfillment to suggest that they can help enhance and empower people on their journey.
The offering of High-Cognitive Fulfillment is central part of powerful branding and lays the groundwork for building a lasting, intimate connection with the audience. But, in order to influence behavior, people first need to feel motivated to change their behavior. By building in compelling motivators, brands can entice their audience to take action.
creating compelling motivators
Influencing behavioral change is one of the most difficult tasks marketers, advertisers, and brands face. In order to entice people to take action, it's important to create motivation so they feel compelled to act a certain way. When planning how to entice change, it's critical to target high-impact motivators that can influence behavior.
Research shows that there are upwards of 300 universal emotions that can motivate people (some more significant than others). Hundreds of motivators can influence and change behavior, but understanding the right emotion, tied with the right motivator, and leveraging behavioral economics, is what moves the needle from inaction to impact.
Below are ten examples of universal, high-impact, emotional motivators that can inspire people to change behavior:
Much like wants, needs, and desires, motivators are part of a complex, dynamic system. A one-size fits-all approach should not be taken in the creation of compelling motivators:
Motivators can vary across segments and behavioral patterns
Motivators can vary based upon a person's position in their journey
Motivators can vary drastically by product, service, brand, and category
Motivators can vary depending on a person’s internal mindset and the existence of external competition
Crucial to the process of creating motivation is fully understanding the target audience. By using market and consumer segmentation, journey mapping, and mental model mapping, marketers can plug-in the right motivators to influence behavior for the right audience. By placing high-cognitive connections and motivators into experiences and creative messaging, we can help nudge consumers while establishing a relationship with them.
While some themes of branding may seem intangible, the impact of high-cognitive connections and branding is concrete. This approach provides cognitive benefits for consumers while providing massive benefits for the brands.
great branding is great for business
Across a wide array of industries (Retail, Tech, Leisure, Health, Beauty, Fashion, Entertainment, Automotive, Financial Services, Consumer Packaged Goods, Travel, Digital Services, etc.), brands that center their focus on high-cognitive connections in branding typically outperform in revenue, profit, and growth. Because of the relationship these brands have established with people, these brands are capable of commanding a premium price and are more financially resilient than their competitors.
Research into the impact of branding and brand intimacy* revealed that top brands capitalizing on high-cognitive connections have seen:
Increased Revenue: Intimate and high-cognitive connected brands have outperformed both the S&P 500 and Fortune 500 lists in revenue by 80 percent and 200 percent, respectively.
Increased Profit: Intimate and high-cognitive connected brands have outperformed both the S&P 500 and Fortune 500 lists in profit by 200 percent and 65 percent, respectively.
Strong Price Resilience: People are willing to pay up to 20% more for a brand, product, service, or experience with which they have an intimate, ingrained, high-cognitive relationship.
Higher Consumer Lifetime Value: People who form an intimate connection to brands based on the appeal of high-cognitive fulfillment are more valuable to the brand because they are willing to purchase more frequently, are willing to spend more on each purchase, and are willing to advocate more for the brand.
Decreased Cognitive Dissonance: Brands that establish intimacy with people through an appeal to high-cognitive connections create an alignment with their needs and wants, their hearts and minds. People are more likely to look for factors that support their purchase or use of the brand, and to receive confirmation bias throughout the purchase process and their relationship with the brand.
By creating high-cognitive connections with people, brands can move from having a one-time interaction to a long-standing, lifetime relationship. Simply put: Great branding is great for business.
Modernization and globalization are causing shifts in economic and societal standards of living; consumers now have access, availability, and an overabundance of choices at their fingertips. These changes set the groundwork for new consumerism, in which people will make more and more decisions based on emotional, high-cognitive brand relationships, because they offer a higher-level of perceived/received value. Brands that can create these connections with people will achieve a market that is more resilient, dedicated, and valuable.
capitalize on new consumerism by building intimate relationships with your audience and focus branding towards creating high-cognitive connections.
To create a powerful, compelling, intimate, and high-cognitive experience, devote planning, strategy, and creative towards establishing connections, motivations, and relationships from the bottom up:
Create High-Cognitive Connections: Build experiences tailored to establish high-cognitive connections.
Build Powerful Motivators: Create compelling motivators for each want, need, and desire to entice behavioral change.
Understand Wants, Needs, & Desires: Understand where you can fulfill wants, needs, and desires, both in quantity and quality.
Know Your Audience: Know their journey and understand how your brand helps empower and enhance them.
Know Your Offering: Understand your offering to identify what appeals to your audience and how it fits into their lives.
"Don't bunt. Aim out of the park. Aim for the company of immortals."
- David Ogilvy