Branding and the Brain—What We Post On-Line Matters
We’ve been talking about social media and building a platform the past couple of posts. I know this is a topic that makes most of us break out in hives, especially when you don’t yet have a book for sale. Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt. It’s sort of like credit. You can’t get any credit because you don’t yet have any credit but you don’t yet have any credit because no one will give you credit because you don’t have credit.
My head hurts.
Thus, today is for all levels of authors. Yes, even Jane Newbie who hasn’t yet finished the first book. We are going to talk about the bare essence of branding.
In my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World I go into a lot more detail about the science behind branding, but today we are going to talk about why our everyday on-line behaviors collect into a larger pool we call “author brand.”
The thing is, humans have always had a “brand.” Brand in its simplest form is what adjectives we attach to another person. Before the digital age and social media this idea of “branding” simply extended into our social realms in places like school or church or clubs. Why? Humans dig labels. It’s how we make our larger world manageable. Thus, people might be tethered to words like “band geek” “jock” “prep” “gossip” “jerk” “soccer mom” etc.
As we grew older our personal brand included our occupation and this was a good way to do business. I was a member of Rotary for seven years. I was friends with “Ken the Stock Broker,” “Mike the Plastic Surgeon,” “Tom the Orthopedic Surgeon” “Debbie the Realtor” “Kim the Physical Therapist” and on and on and on.
Not one of these people needed to drop a flyer in my lap when we met for lunch. I knew who they were and what they did and I relied on their “brand” when I needed their service(s). It was far preferable for me to go to Dan the Dentist (who I knew and liked from Rotary) than it was to go on-line and hope I scored a dentist I liked.
But why did I “like” these people? Did I really need to get a full resume of their experience to at least give them (their services) a try? Not really. “Gene the Money Manager” was a nice family man and I enjoyed his company and that was good enough. He made the “sale” without ever “selling.” It was probably less about what he did and more what he didn’t do, but this is where we start getting into some neuroscience.
The Neurological Shortcut
Our brains are remarkable organs that have the ability to adapt to our environment. Before the invention of the written word, our memory centers were far larger because we had to pass down information orally. In fact, if you took an MRI of an tribesman from some South American tribe, his brain would look and act very different from yours or mine.
Then, with the advent of the written word, our memory centers shrank but we gained even larger areas for abstract thinking. This is around the time we start seeing major explosions in science and engineering.
Now we are in the Digital Age, and we’re bombarded with stimuli. Internet, television, radio, smart phones, pop-ups, etc. etc. We’ve lost our stellar memory centers and our ability to focus for long periods of time and have gained an unprecedented ability to multitask. We process massive amounts of information faster than ever before.
Think about it. We see ads on Facebook all the time. Or do we? Our brains have literally learned to un-see. We cannot manage all the input. So, if we (authors) are eventually going to advertise our books, how do we make our content visible?
Since our brain is much like a computer processor, it must come up with ways to effectively manage all this input in order to maintain efficiency. To do this, it relies on what are called somatic markers.
Somatic markers are neurological shortcuts and are one of the most primitive functions of the brain because they are uniquely tied to survival and procreation. It’s the same shortcut that tells us the stove is hot. We don’t need to sit and ponder the stove. We likely learned when we were very small not to touch.
To give you an idea of how somatic markers work, let’s do a little exercise. Is there a perfume or cologne you can smell and it instantly transports you back in time? Maybe to that first love or even *cringes* that first heartbreak? A song that makes you cry? Perhaps there is a food you once ate that made you sick and even though there is no logical reason you shouldn’t eat it now, the mere thought of eating it makes you queasy.
These are somatic markers. When it comes to branding, somatic markers are king.
The Pepsi Challenge
If you are around my age or older you can remember The Pepsi Challenge. For years, Pepsi had been trying to gain an edge over Coca Cola who had dominated the soda industry for generations. So, they came up with the idea of setting up a table in stores and shopping malls and encouraging people to take a blind taste test.
The results were astonishing.
In a blind taste test, people preferred the taste of Pepsi. Coke was rattled by this and they did the same test and it turned out, people preferred the taste of Pepsi…and this led to brilliant ideas like “New Coke” which was one of the most epic failures in history.
Why did New Coke fail?
Coke had reformulated to make the drink sweeter. In blind taste tests, New Coke was a clear winner. So then why did it tank so badly?
Years later, neuroscientists decided to see if they could demystify what happened in The Pepsi Challenge so they conducted the exact same experiment, only this time they hooked participants up to an fMRI machine so they could witness what areas of the brain lit up.
So, they held the taste test the same way it was conducted in the 70s. A blind taste test and to their astonishment, people preferred the taste of Pepsi. According to the fMRI the ventral putamen, the area of the brain that tells us something tastes yummy lit up like Christmas.
*Some have speculated that when it is only a sip, people will prefer the sweeter drink.*
The scientists then decided to try something a bit different. They did the test again, only this time they told the participants what they were drinking. This time, Coke won. Ah, but something strange happened in the brain. Not only did the ventral putamen light up, but so did the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with emotion and memory.
See, when it was based on taste alone, Pepsi won. But, when the brands were compared, Coke won. The human brain was in a wrestling match between two very different regions—taste and emotional. Coke had the advantage because of the vast reservoir of fond memories associated with the brand.
Norman Rockwell Americana, cute polar bears, I’d Like to But the World a Coke, every BBQ, summer vacation, rollerskating parties, Friday nights with pizza and on and on all were part of the Coca Cola arsenal. The fond memories (positive somatic markers) associated with the brand literally changed the taste and gave Coca Cola the winning edge.
Every Bit Adds Up
This is why every interaction on social media matters. Right now you might not have a published novel and thus you don’t have 15 hours or more of an emotional memory to link to your name (yet). But you can get on social media and do a little bit every day.
Start building your own Coca Cola experience.
Even authors who are published. Keep the brand strong in between books a little bit every day,
Every time our name floats by on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. what emotional experience are we tethering it to? There are two types of somatic markers—positive and negative.
Last time I mentioned that it was possible to have a belief system without giving everyone else indigestion. I have people on Facebook who I actually agree with politically and I have had to unfriend because I don’t feel like being hysterical all the time. If I wanted doom and gloom and panic attacks I would watch the news. I don’t like feeling hopeless and powerless. I don’t enjoy being attacked.
This holds true for how we act in person. Would we want to hang out with someone who just ranted and raged and complained all the time? Who called other people names and became belligerent when anyone dared to disagree? And I am not suggesting anything that wouldn’t be prudent in a regular workplace. Social media is simply an extension of the social realm. There is no “magic” to it other than be kind and treat others the way we’d like to be treated. Somatic markers are what make us “likable” in person or “on-line.”
Somatic markers also have the power to give us an edge when it comes to sales.
We see ads all over. More than ever before in human history. But when we have a positive experience, we notice the ad. For instance, I never realized there were so many red Hondas until I bought one. Now, I don’t believe the overall sale of red Hondas changed any, but I noticed them because I had one.
If we see an ad for a book, we may or may not notice. But what about an ad for a book written by someone we know? Someone perhaps we talked to and liked? The ad practically leaps from the page. We might even buy it because we SAW her ad and OMG! I know her!
Ads alone have very little power to compel a purchase. But, couple them with a brand, and the odds greatly improve. We can use some simple understanding of how the human brain works to better guide us in what we should (or should not) post on-line.
Remember last time we talked about kitten memes. Don’t underestimate them. Think about it. If every time my name floats by on Facebook it is attached to something that makes you SMILE, that has an impact. We might not be aware of it, but our brain is attaching somatic markers to a name.
When I see X, it is a good thing.
When I see X, I want to punch things and I feel sick.
At the end of the day, this is a long way to say that brands are simply what we learned in Kindergarten. Every interaction matters and it all adds up. With some planning, discipline and intent, we can better guide what it adds up to 😉 . We will talk more about simple ways to start building a brand. This can be an enjoyable experience.
What are your thoughts? Do you have a perfume you used to love, but then someone you despised wore it and you no longer could stand the smell? Have you had a bad experience with a food and to this day can’t eat it? Do you think of summer vacation whenever you smell Coppertone, too?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.