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The best brands are the ones that customers want to read

Your brand is your book. Every touch-point is the cover. Everyone who picks up your book is judging it based on the cover alone until such time that the cover convinces them to open it and read it.

Never judge a book by its cover. One of the most over-used metaphors in the English language. But there’s a good reason for that. Its prevalence in our vocabulary is perhaps brought about by our innate ability to make a very well-informed judgement just by our instant reaction to and perception of almost anything. This instinctive, subconscious judgement occurs whether we want it to or not. And, most of the time, we’re not even aware that we’re doing it.

As a result of this, we might not always be able to articulate why we’ve had a particular reaction to something. But we do know whether our reactive is positive or negative (or maybe somewhere inbetween). That particular metaphor challenges us to override that instinct, to not be so hasty in passing judgement. But why shouldn’t we be so hasty? It’s a perfectly natural, human instinct and will happen regardless of how much or how little we know about that particular ‘book’.

There’s a great read on this subject, Blink, by journalist Malcolm Gladwell  that seeks to unpick this subconscious behaviour and how it can be harnessed and controlled. The conclusion is that it can be. Indeed, this is becoming more and more evident in how successful businesses and products are adopting this understanding.

To give you a practical example of this, there is no better case than Tinder, the popular dating app. There’s a fundamental reason why this app is so popular. Its simplicity. It leverages our basic human behaviour – that ability to make an instant judgment, based on an image and an individual’s name and age. We will either like or dislike what we see within seconds of viewing that individual. Whether we admit it or not, sexual attraction is instinctive and almost entirely based on physical appearance (and to an extent scent, but Tinder can’t leverage this…yet!). How someone may feel about that individual after three or four dates may alter their initial opinion, as they apply knowledge and cognitive perception to their judgement of that individual. But that’s the reason we ‘date’, to try and reinforce or disprove that initial perception.

In reference to Malcom Gladwell’s writing on the topic, what he also concludes, is that at a surprising rate, our instinctive reaction to something or someone is almost always correct. Is that any different for brands? Why would it be?

This behaviour is sometimes referred to as ‘thin-slicing’, the ability to calculate a small amount of factors subconsciously to come to an instant conclusion. And it can be applied to how an individual views brands as well as anything else. Even from the smallest amount of experience, the minimum of exposure to a brand, an individual will make judgment on that brand whether they’re conscious of it or not. It may be a brand’s logo, it might be an employee that represents that brand, or the brand’s corporate website or it could simply be the name of that brand. An individual’s immediate reaction to that initial exposure is critical. First impressions go an awfully long way.

Initial exposure to a brand can lay the foundations for perceived trust, quality, value, reliability and security. We’ve all experienced this, be it conscious or not.

For example, take the world of insurance, where brand and product differentiation is limited at best. In the UK, the price comparison website (PCW) is king. Over 50% of home and motor insurance policies are bought through a PCW today and yet, when it comes to making that crunch decision on who we hand over our hard-earned cash to, the information we are given on each provider (brand) is extremely limited. As is often the case, when using a PCW, we are faced with choosing between several providers offering a product of near equal price. For this example, I’m removing price from the equation (but not completely) because this is a ‘conscious’ factor. I’m using a price-comparison site, therefore, I’ve already made a conscious decision to base my purchase primarily on price. So, now I’m faced with the following, a name, a logo, maybe a Defaqto rating and some policy add-ons. All I’ve got to go on from a brand perspective is the logo and the name. For most of the providers, this will be the first exposure I’ve had to their brand. This is where I begin to thin-slice. Some of the logos look unprofessional or ugly. Some of the names don’t sound trustworthy or a little ‘budget’. Before I know it, I’ve ruled those ones out. There’s one there that’s £40 cheaper than the rest. But that’s too cheap, it’ll probably be rubbish. For these brands, they’ve lost the chance to attract me as a customer – before I’ve even had a chance to weigh up the benefits of their brand and product. All because I’ve trusted my subconscious reaction to their logo or their name.

If a brand’s website looks unprofessional and poorly maintained, then your perception of that brand is likely to be negative. Based on the small piece of information you’ve acquired from the first few seconds of visiting that brand’s website, your brain has probably calculated the inputs and come to the conclusion that they’re unprofessional, you’ll have a poor customer experience and you should take your business elsewhere.

This type of behaviour is not confined to just names, websites and logos, but every single aspect and touch-point of a brand. Some that can be controlled and some that can’t. Our job at The Team is to make the aspects that can be controlled the best that they can be – from the employees that represent the brand, right through to the tone of voice used in communications put out to their customers. A successful brand is one that justifies that initial, positive judgment by continually delivering positive experiences justifying its customers’ initial perceptions.

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