The Psychology of Branding: the importance of understanding consumer behaviour and preferences

Image with a yellow brain as a light bulb demonstrating the power of physchology 1 September 2023

Connecting emotionally with consumers is crucial for a brand to be successful. Brands that focus solely on functional benefits and fail to make emotional connections risk being seen as cold and corporate.

Undoubtedly, the most successful brands connect with consumers on a deeper level, by embodying human traits like empathy, humour and vulnerability. They become ‘heart brands’ that consumers feel passionate about, as opposed to rational ‘head brands’ that are easily replaceable.

At Yellowyoyo we talk to clients about brand strategy charting a course between ‘Use’ and ‘Attraction’.

If you look at the diagram below (inspired by my favourite book on Brand – ‘Lovemarks’ by Kevin Roberts) you’ll see that achieving higher ‘Use’ will result in ‘Appreciation’. If you achieve higher ‘Attraction’ this will result in ‘Possession’.

That’s the difference between brand ‘Need’ and brand ‘Want’. Your brand strategy needs to guide you between the two towards the more emotional ‘Desire’. If you manage that successfully, which can only be done by understanding customer preferences and behaviours in context to current and future conditions in the marketplace, you should achieve ‘Brand Love’.

Being clear on your business values – and publishing them openly – is essential for customers to trust your brand. In our cynical age, brands that profess purpose but act questionably are called out quickly on social media. It’s important to develop a set of core values that genuinely reflect what your brand stands for and to communicate them consistently through your messaging and actions. Business decisions should be made based on upholding your values, even at the cost of short-term gains. Consumers will reward brands they can rely on to act with integrity.

Having clarity on how you want your brand to be perceived is another key pillar of an effective brand strategy. Map out the emotions, personality traits and associations you want people to feel when they encounter your brand. This desired brand image should inform every touchpoint, from logo design to environments to social media interactions. Regular brand audits will be invaluable, revealing gaps between the desired and actual brand image, and enabling refinements to bring the two closer together.

Yellowyoyo has a calibration of perception that we call the Perception Path. The lowest levels are invisibility or worse, irrelevance. The highest is being irresistible (the minimum you should strive for) or even better, being indispensable.

In my 40 years of working with brands I’ve seen only a handful of brands that have achieved indispensability, and of course, all the levels are only temporary. If you do not maintain clarity on your customers’ psychology and preferences in tandem with market conditions.

That’s why you need to keep looking ahead and have clarity on the future evolution of politics, economics, society, technology, law and the environment. This will give insight into emerging consumer behaviours and preferences.

With socio-economic conditions constantly shifting, brands need to continually update their strategies to remain relevant. For example, brands today need an e-commerce strategy suited to the digital era, a sustainability policy fitting the climate change agenda and inclusive messaging reflecting social diversity. Customer needs are highly contextual, so brands must keep a pulse on global forces shaping the current climate of ideas, beliefs and feelings in society.

This is particularly important when seeking to understand the differing behaviours and preferences of Generations Y and Z, versus older cohorts. It’s crucial in order to connect with contemporary consumers. Millennials value personalisation, hybrid online/offline experiences and ethical business practices. Brands must rethink traditional models to provide the authenticity, transparency and digital integration they expect. Meanwhile, Generation Z tends to be pragmatic, globally conscious, independent and financially prudent. Brands will need to appeal to their entrepreneurial spirit and social awareness.

Looking even further ahead, Generation Alpha are today’s youth who will be the dominant consumers of the future. As ‘digital natives’, their default is technology integrated with all aspects of life. They will seek hyper-personalisation and unique brand experiences. Maintaining relevance with Generation Alpha will require truly immersive branding able to grab their fragmented attention across apps, platforms and possibly metaverse environments.

The key is to always view branding through the lens of consumer psychology – their motivations, values and ever-evolving preferences. Brands that rely only on historical data and business conventions will really struggle.

Brands that continually recalibrate their strategies around consumer insights will sustain enduring emotional connections beyond fleeting fads (want) achieve irresistibility and perhaps reach the height of becoming indispensable.

That will get you closer to achieving true brand love.