In less than half a second, a brand (and its associated colours, imagery and brand components) can trigger emotional responses or even behavioural changes. Remarkably, neuroscientists are pretty confident they know why.
The science behind how our brains perceive a brand
Let’s start with colour. Scientists believe that your eye doesn’t perceive colour directly, it’s created through a neural process along the fusiform gyrus, the hippocampus, and the primary visual cortex located at the back of the brain. Once identified, a signal is sent forward to the ventral stream (the same location where shapes and objects are recognised.)
Once complete, other parts of your brain will assist in processing the information, for example, the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex (and many others). This will help your brain process how you feel about that brand, all without you even realising it!
How does our brain perceive a brand that we like?
Brands that we like, or have positive memories of will elicit activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, pallidum and/or posterior cingulate. This is the section of the brain that plays an important part in regulating our response to emotions. This would suggest that our favourite brands contribute to how we see ourselves as people and this is a concept you are most likely very familiar with. Are you an Android or iPhone person? Bitcoin or Litecoin? What about your favourite sports team? There’s a lot more going on in your brain when you’re thirsty and see a Coca Cola billboard or hungry and see the McDonald’s golden arches.
What about a brand that we are unfamiliar with?
There’s a reason every marketer will tell you the importance of people seeing your logo and branding as often as possible. Unknown, or unfamiliar brands will activate neurons in areas of the brain associated with negative emotions such as the insular cortex. What this suggested, is that we use experience and familiarity to determine what brands we like and want to be associated with. There’s speculation that this is an evolutionary response – see a berry on a tree that you’ve never eaten before? Well, it’s certainly best to be cautious about eating it!
So what does all of this mean?
We don’t think about brands the same way we think about trivial objects. When glancing or evaluating a brand or logo, the same areas of the brain are activated as the ones used when forming relationships or friendships. Biologically speaking, there’s very little difference between how your brain processes your relationship with your friends and with a brand.
Branding can also change behaviour. As we’ve previously discussed in the psychology of colours used in business, different colours can help elicit different responses. Red, for example, is a physical colour that helps to stimulate impulse decisions, which is why brands such as Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Red Bull use it so prominently in their logos and advertising. Red is also prominently used in street signs that require immediate responses, stop signs, red lights, etc.
While aesthetics is always important in every part of the design, it’s just one element of many that help to build a successful brand – never underestimate the power of an effective brand in building a successful business.