Disney's Inside Out poster

The impact of branding

15th January 2016

I recently watched the Pixar animation called Inside Out. It’s a typically brilliant, hilarious and heart-warming tale about the various thoughts and emotions going on inside someone’s head. We the viewer are given the unique insight into the mind of a teenager in terms of the balance of joy, sadness, fear, anger and disgust. Naturally, it is overly simplistic to present human beings as defined by a balance of only five emotions, but as a market researcher, Psychology graduate and inherently nosey individual, the movie has somewhat provoked my interest.

Focus group bingo

I find myself wondering how this balance of emotion is manifest in the average market researcher as, all too often, our job is to repress what’s happening on the inside to ensure the maintenance of impartiality. When undertaking qualitative research, I play a game with my colleagues called ‘focus group bingo’ where points are awarded for phrases participants use and to which we should not react. Some examples include ‘This is rubbish’ (1 point), ‘This sort of thing makes me very angry’ (5 points) and everybody’s favourite, ‘I’m not racist, but …’ (10 points).

Then there’s the phrase ‘branding/advertising has no effect on me’. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have heard this in focus group sessions. Whilst my countenance may remain impartial, inside, there’s a balance of some of the emotions depicted by Inside Out, which begin to try and emerge. My job is to issue neutral platitudes like ‘of course’ and ‘oh that’s interesting’, but the fact is, there is a reason why Coca-Cola spends $565 million every year on advertising. A brand like Coke doesn’t need to tell people what it is, like Cadbury’s doesn’t need to tell you it’s chocolate, or Ford that its products get you from one place to another.

The hidden impact of advertising, design, branding

Advertising, design, branding: the point is, most of us don’t realise just how much impact it has on us all. In 2007 Cadbury’s spent a fortune showing us a Gorilla playing drums to Phil Collins – and it saw a massive sales bump. Why? It had nothing to do with chocolate, but rather produced the representation of what the brand wanted to say about itself. That ad engaged with the right balance of the right emotions for the right type of consumer – the brand was represented as a source of joy, frivolity and pleasure.

Design is defined as: ‘the art or action of producing a plan of something…’. To me however – and yes, I am about to argue with the dictionary – design is much less about what is created and much more about what is experienced; it’s not about the creator but the recipient. Good design evokes feeling in the same way that art tells a story much deeper that what is seen. Design is art and, like art, it evokes feeling often without the need for words. The proof of the pudding isn’t in the baking, it’s in the eating.

One of the mistakes market researchers make when testing branding and advertising design, is to ask ‘which did you like the most’. Design is much more about how something makes us feel than what we think we like.

Impact on your brand

So when you think about your brand, what emotions do you want to trigger in your customers and potential customers? What do you want to say about yourself? That you’re an authority? That you’re professional? Perhaps you want to show that you’re young, vibrant, forward thinking. Good design can take care of this for you and good market research can ensure nothing gets lost in translation.

Like Inside Out, the market researcher’s job is to understand what’s going on underneath the surface of what an individual¬†says about themselves, to understand why people behave¬†in certain ways, and to predict how this behaviour might change in the future. And like Inside Out, it’s fascinating and entertaining in equal measure.

Neil Costley is a Director at Why Research.

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