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How The Mind Decodes Brand Communication (and guards against it)

Updated: Aug 18, 2022

A major obstacle for brand communication effectiveness is the target audience's own biases and cognitive guards against deception. We all have a 'Shit Detector' installed in our minds (courtesy Hemingway).

It’s an instinct that kicks in as soon as we recognize ‘advertising’, as soon as we get on Taobao, JD, Amazon or any other platform to view videos and information in search of a good deal.

Remember what I wrote in my recent WARC 'China Series' article on brand narrative: 'The Message is not as Important as the Target's Interpretation of it'.

Perception and Deception are twin siblings which directly impact the way we look at information. How to manage that fine line between the two - and either earn your audience's trust or bee seen as deceptive - is a critical skill for marketers and brand content creators.

Here's how it works:

I. The Audience wants to know: 'What's Your Intention?'

Product-centered communication makes people focus on the brand’s commercial intentions - and on possible deception.

Brand communication that focuses on people’s lives and feelings directs their minds to themselves and their own goals – fueling the idea that the product is just what they need.

IMPLICATION: when communicating product (functional) benefits, it's best to do so against the context of people's self-identity-related perceptions and emotional needs.

How to achieve this: decode people's self-narratives which provide insights into their emotional tensions, needs and goals. With those, you can narratively integrate brand and product experience along ‘cause-and-effect patterns’ into their personal life contexts.

II. The Audience wants you to stay consistent

A small, regular flow of consistent brand information is much more convincing than numerous little fractured messages.

IMPLICATION: do not use a flurry of communication formats & channels (because some digitial marketing agency recommends "new hot trends"), instead focus on a consistent theme and story across a few carefully chosen channels.

How to achieve this: always align brand theme with people's emotional tensions and needs. Choose channels and formats that are suitable carriers for the brand theme (format does amplify the core message). III. The Audience wants to draw their own conclusions!

A brand story that supplies a ton of detailed information about product and brand, and with a spoon-feeding list of benefits actually decreases its ability to persuade. Why is that?

Because the conclusion is perceived as exclusively provided by someone else, leaving no room for me, the customer, to imagine product and brand within the context of my life - thus emotionally preventing from reaching my own conclusion!

IMPLICATION: leave strategic ‘holes’ in your brand & product messages to allow your audience to project their own specific situations and needs onto it.

This creates a much stronger sense of personal relevance – precisely because people will draw the conclusion ‘this is perfect for me!’ by themselves. Conclusions that people deduce by themselves is worth a thousand times than what they are told (by an ad).

How to achieve this: decode people's internal tensions, needs and drivers first, to then anticipate the inferences they will draw from your brand message. Structure your message, shuffle elements. Repeat.

IV. Do you know how to talk to your audiences?

Consumers always instinctively question an ad or product video’s credibility, no matter how beautifully done – and user comments ain't trustworthy either, as we all know.

IMPLICATION: the most effective way to avoid credibility doubts is to reinforce what people believe about themselves, what they want in life – brand communication should make them feel that with your brand they're ‘on the right track’.

How to achieve this: decode people's Self-Identity, their Emotional Tensions and Needs, and within their life contexts. Brand communication that blends thier own narraties with the brand story (ie sharing similar life goals, POVs, etc) makes audiences perceive the commuicated information as highly relevant to themselves. Here's a sort of Cheat Sheet that helps create more effective brand communication:

Consider 1:

  • What is the Shift in Perception you want to create?

  • How to integrate your message into people's self-narrative, and at the same time overcome their biases, doubts and guards?

Consider 2:

  • What Emotional Reaction do you want to elicit ?

  • How do you want people to rationally think about your Brand & Product (to justify purchase?)

Consider 3:

  • Which 'Negative 'Frames' in people's Minds (that potentially reject your message) do you need to silence, and how?

  • Which Emotional Needs must your Brand Narrative address?

As I mentioned above: ‘The Message is not as Important as People’s Interpretation of it’.

Let's keep this in mind, always. There is a thin, fragile line between consumers buying into the ‘truth’ of your brand message and doubting its relevance and credibility.

Make sure to stay in charge of your TA’s perceptions and cognitive guards to make sure the message is perceived as credible, attractive and relevant.

That means we need to decode them first, using most cutting-edge approaches.

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