Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience can empower (and inspire) marketing by Douglas Van Praet

By using this or that brand we signal the world our beliefs, what we stand for, and who we want to be, or how do we want to be perceived as. Now some of you may not agree that the brand of drink you drink, or the clothes you wear, or what kind of phone or computer you have is because of the image you want to project to others. You simply have them because they are the best quality for that amount of money, or something like that. But, is that really so? I belive there is a connection between the brands we choose and the lifestyle we live, more importantly the lifestyle we want to live. As you will read in the notes or even better in the book we are genetically programmed to connect with like-minded people, to build communities and to better our social status. You will also read about how emotions are important in interactions with people and brands, and how most of our actions and decision-making is dependent on our emotions, feelings, and a little bit of logic. We pride ourselves on being logical, and reasonable and that our decisions are mostly made based on reason. But… well look at it like this, when you are said or angry you make different decisions then when you are happy or joyful. Even though you have the same facts based on which you make your “reasonable” decision. The point I am trying to make and what the book is about, is that we are emotional creatures and marketers/companies/brands should approach us like that. They need to build a connection, and the most effective way to do so is to show us they (brands) are the same as us. That they have the same passion, same goals, same fears, same want and needs as us, and that together we can achieve or beat them. And most importantly, brands need to “walk the walk, not just talk the talk”. They need to enable and engage people they want to influence with interactive actions, such as free trials, samples, concerts, marathons, games, events and so on. It all depends on with who and how the brand wants to connect to.

My notes from the book:

  • Before marketers develop strategies, they need to first recognize that consumers have strategies too… human strategies, not consumer strategies.
  • Think of the human mind as if it were an iceberg. Just the tip is visible “conscious”, while the vast majority lies concealed from perception or “unconscious”. Most of our thoughts, beliefs, and our decisions occur without our own awareness.
  • When someone is presented with the option of two different brands that he knows, autobiographical memories and culturally learned associations are being fired deep within the brain – outside the awareness of the buyer. These associations link a present brand stimulus with experiences from the past. This personal data is summarized in consciousness as a feeling.
  • When asked about preference in market research surveys, the respondents most often post-rationalize and make up evidence, offering up some logical reasoning that seems plausible.
  • Our conscious minds are designed to think up stories to try to explain and make meaning of our behavior.
  • Influence is born by appealing to the emotions while overcoming rational restraints.
  • Our beliefs distort our realities.
  • The processing power of our unconscious mind is immensely more powerful than that of our conscious mind.
  • Our learned (in the past many times repeated) behavior overrides our conscious effort. More often than not we defer to our autopilot learned responses, instead of adapting to a new process or pattern.
  • Even though our unconscious mind dominates, the conscious mind is actually the gateway to our unconscious.
  • Think of the unconscious mind as a vast repository of all our past experiences and lessons learned, as well as the natural instincts encoded in our DNA.
  • Much of what is ingrained in our unconscious mind began life in the conscious mind.
  • Repeated conscious activities and experiences are eventually turned into capable, hardwired intelligence deep within our brain beyond our awareness.
  • The unconscious is the domain of our emotions – the feeling of good or bad that we assign to things.
  • Emotions not only make judgments, they also generate automatic physical reactions.
  • We are always making largely unconscious comparisons to our past in order to predict what will happen in the future.
  • The best ways to reach the unconscious parts of our minds often involve embedding the message in structural devices that evoke emotions and require internal, personal, and divergent interpretation. This is why we use stories, poems, songs, jokes, pictures, symbols, characters and metaphors.
  • Brands are expectations based on memories.
  • Decision making is about making predictions, and our brain does this largely through the release of dopamine. The way we plan future behavior is based upon present feelings – the more rewarding it feels, the more likely we are to engage in that activity.
  • Marketers are in the business of selling what it means to “feel good”.
  • Brands are learned behaviors, which are conditioned responses that have been internalized. They simplify our lives by generating choices and actions without requiring us to think.
  • People are hardwired to avoid pain more than to seek pleasure.
  • We do not like to stray from the safety of our daily routine (so marketers need to find a way how to position their brand in their potential consumers routine).
  • As our lives become busier and more complex, we are more likely to blindly obey stereotypical rules of thumb that make our decisions for us.
  • Throughout evolution, people bond with or reject people, not companies. Based on their past interactions with the representative of the goods and services they wish to obtain, they will reward the good and punish the bad.
  • The human mind is a lot like a smart phone preloaded with many discrete apps with narrow specific functions that run simultaneously, often without our awareness and at times in conflict with each other. These mental apps are designed to drive us to do things like seek food, strive for status, stay fit, avoid predators, be honest or trick people. To ignore these universal mental programs is to overlook some of the most fundamental ways to understand and change behavior.
  • Mirror neurons give humans the capacity for shared experiences by enabling us to project ourselves into the minds, feelings and action of others.
  • Our purchase affiliations with brands are not just a reflection of our interest in a product or service, but are also an identification with a group of like-minded people bound by a common sense of purpose.
  • It is the amygdala, that  imbues experiences with emotions.
  • The emotional brain determines what we choose to pay attention to. Emotional arousal occurs when our brain creates vivid memories of a particular experience.
  • The neocortex makes rational meaning of the feelings and emotions generated by the deeper unconscious brain structures, attempting to explain the reasons and implications of why we feel a certain way.
  • The prefrontal cortex is where the perception of self and identity is located, our conscious awareness of who we are.
  • Our beliefs are formed largely on the basis of our past experiences, because of this we can compartmentalize these dimensions of experience as threefold.
  • Marketers need to create engaging emotionally and physically stimulating brands that also satisfy our rational concerns of resistance.
  • We are all stopped dead in our tracks by messages of death because our number one goal is to live.
  • When you cleverly execute great ads on evolutionary pillars, such as safety, security, children and sex, you have the power to commandeer minds and persistently move people because they are steeped in primordial emotion.
  • All humans have a dark side, an unconscious reservoir of negativity that deepens without and outlet. Like it or not, violence sells because it’s in our DNA and our biology.
  • The amygdala can literally hijack our mind and body, causing us to respond while completely bypassing our cerebral cortex (the seat of our conscious awareness).
  • Our emotions influence our thinking, much more than our thinking influences our emotions.
  • Emotional memories are stored more vividly than other kinds of memories, but they can be highly inaccurate. What we remember is not necessarily what we experienced originally. The accuracy of those memories changes over time, but their strength in terms of your subjective feelings that it was a really powerful experience is there.
  • Good emotions help erase bad memories – free gifts as an apology.
  • Emotions win out over the visual perceptions.
  • Awareness of our surroundings occurs only when the things we experience violate our expectations.
  • Our brains look to organize information into familiar patterns that fit our preconceived or learned notions of the world. seeking connections to things that we already know.
  • Because brands are learned behaviors, the first step in the branding process is the same as the first step in the learning process. And that is focused attention. Nothing focuses our mind better than surprise and novelty.
  • When we introduce completely new facts to the mind, it has a better chance of remembering the experience.
  • Our brains only pay attention to what is around us when our predictions fail, when we experience something that defies our expectations. By paying attention to these mistakes, the brain learns and refines its model of reality.
  • We not only perceive the world in patterns, we live our lives in patterns. We can’t stop the flow of the automatic routines of our daily lives.
  • When a shopper is in a state of heightened arousal and stress, he or she is more likely to focus on the rational, concrete components of the sales pitch – details like cost, product specifications, hard facts and potential limitations. But when shoppers are more relaxed and any outstanding threats subside, they are more apt to open their minds to abstract thinking, enabling them to envision possible benefits.
  • We are not only programmed to detect deception, we are also made to challenge it. We have evolved to posses both an acute sense of feeling wronged and also a drive to articulate that threat in the form of public outrage.
  • It’s becoming increasingly less about what you say and more about what others say about you.
  • Trust is a feeling generated at deeper levels, often in reaction to our physical environment but also induced by our internal thoughts and imagination.
  • Treating others as you would your own family is not just good for humanity it’s good for business and the economy.
  • The essence of branding is to create comfort, which stems directly from familiarity.
  • The number one drive in human behavior and biology is the seeking of the same stable, balanced, predictable state. Although we are excited by what is new and different, we also seek certainty and stability in our lives. Familiarity breeds affection.
  • The conscious mind thinks “I”, while the unconscious feels “we”.
  • People don’t just buy products, the buy into values. When these beliefs and aspirations closely mirror their own, companies can achieve brand fans for life.
  • People quickly pass judgment when given incomplete information, or when it appears that competence or reputation is lacking.
  • In the absence of trust indicators like voice intonation, emotional expression, and body language in the text-messages the speed of response is a key marker of trustworthiness.
  • Bear in mind the power of triggering laughter as a force that bonds consumers to brands.
  • We live our lives in patterns and we find meaning in pattern recognition. The more routine, identical, and scalable your business practices are, the more recognizable the pattern is, the more you magnify the effect of that familiarity.
  • We are programmed to pay attention to what is different but we move toward the familiar. Adding a twist to a familiar idea is a great way to gain attention and receptivity.
  • The brain doesn’t always clearly differentiate between something real and something imagined. Our imagination and our perceptions of the real world are closely linked since both functions engage the same neural circuitry.
  • Advertising that fires up people’s imagination allows them to go inside their own minds, and to use their imaginations to transform the message from a universal one to a uniquely personal concept.
  • The more people feel and relate to the experience on a personal level, the greater their commitment is to buy the brand.
  • Imagination is the primary device of all great persuaders and inspirational leaders.
  • The goal of marketing communication should be to transport people to a destination of their own making, which in turn should lead them to the destination of the brand itself.
  • When the mind has the chance to fill in the blank, it does so in uniquely stimulating and evocative ways, taking with it a personalized message that allows the individual’s personality to shine.
  • The best songs, the best movies, the best ads let you see yourself in them somehow.
  • A research by Martin Lindstrom discovered that when people viewed images associated with strong brands, their brains exhibited the exact same patterns of responses as they did when viewing religious images.
  • Use metaphors to inspire creativity. Metaphors encourage the overlapping of ideas, which are the engines of imagination.
  • Employ stories to uncover and communicate. Use storytelling not only in your brand communications but also as a tool to gather information in market research.
  • While our imagination creates the vision of our intentions, our emotions move us in the direction of making them real.
  • In advertising, the most important thing is to get the receiver to feel the experience and perceive the message a real, which can happen by generating tears, laughter, chills, or goose bumps.
  • The goal of every marketing program should be to infuse products emotions so strong that consumers become loyal not just to the brands but to the brand missions, instilling devotion and uniting people and marketers with common causes and shared values.
  • Brands may play a similar role as religion, providing people with a measure of a self-worth and everyday tangible ways to create meaning, identity and sense of belonging to something greater than themselves.
  • Marketers need to shift their focus toward the sources of real power and feelings, concentrating their efforts where unconscious branding occurs most, that is on the higher cause, the vision, mission, and meaning to people and humanity. That is how they can instill the sense of purpose and personal identity in the prospect that will command loyalty and dedications to the brand.
  • Develop and share your emotionally charged mission, that you have as a brand.
  • Emotions, not words, are the universal language of humans.
  • Rituals are some of the most powerful ways to brand because they often involve multiple sensory experiences and repetitive acts, driving information into the unconscious mind.
  • We are always picking up unconsciously on the emotions of those around us, so we need to be careful about what suggestions we are sending to others.
  • Much of conscious thinking is actually just a series of reflections and interpretations about how we are feeling.
  • We are designed to imagine every possible scenario of what might go wrong to help us plan how to protect ourselves from danger. Losses are typically weighed about twice as much as are gains.
  • Our rational mind is always looking for evidence to support our dominant beliefs… the stronger the emotion, the stronger the belief and the greater is the tendency to seek out supporting evidence. We focus our attention on the positive qualities of the brand while ignoring the deficiencies.
  • When marketers structure a request for people to choose their brand, they benefit from including a reason, as long as it has just a bit logic in it. If you don’t give a reason, you are ignoring a very important component of how our emotional mind and rational mind work together, and, in turn, you are failing to address a key barrier to sealing a deal.
  • Brand names and their associations live in the world of perception not reality.
  • Often the choices we make in buying a certain brand are based primarily on its ability to help us show off to our social groups.
  • Once the brand associations are set in the memories of people, they are not easily changed.
  • With unconscious advertising consumers are often aware of the message in the advertising – what they are unaware of is how the message influences them.
  • Branding does not simply occur by staring at the TV, nor by surfing the internet. It happens in the tangible interactions of authentic human experiences.
  • Repetitive positive experiences over time can help us to overcome our instincts.
  • The real role of unconscious branding is to connect people to other people, not to the company that sells stuff.
  • Think of all your customer experiences not only as business opportunities but also as additional forms of messaging and media. What you do speaks volumes because it ultimately determines the experiences and impressions that your brand leaves with your prospects.

The goal of this book is to uncover patterns in our nature and our cultures so that we all can leverage them, and are not leveraged by them – Douglas Van Praet


“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate” – Carl Jung

“The brain is built to ignore the old and focus on the new” – Russell Poldrack

“The secret to life is to inject it with new experiences and scare yourself a little” – Mike Sheldon

“We treat our employees like family and our customers like guests in our home” – Gary Kelly

“More and more money will go into making a great customer experience, and less will go into shouting about the service” – Jeff Bezos

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live and the unlived lfie within us” – Steven Pressfield

“Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand” – Chinese proverb

Final thought:

In conclusion  I enjoyed reading this book and I recommend it to all who are looking for ideas and ways  to create, develop or reshape their brand to best connect with and represent its consumers. There will never be a brand that everyone will like, so stop trying to become one. Figure out what your company / brand wants to stand up for and do everything possible to show the people who have the same beliefs as your brand that you are there  for them and want to be a part of there lives, and together build a better community. Some brands are already doing this and are the leaders in their fields. While brands that may be better than the market leaders, are struggling or even worse are closing down. Like the book says, for people to buy from you, you need to establish that human connection we are always searching for.

Feel free to comment about the book. I would also appreciate your input about the post and the blog. If you have any suggestions what you found good, what you would like to see different, or simply any advice on what would you like to read as a review of a book let me know.

Thank you for your time. I hope you have found this post helpful. Talk to you in the comment section.



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