Discovering the hidden processes behind why certain brands command our loyalty, trust and (ultimately) our disposable income, we gathered together a panel of experts on brand psychology and neuroscience for an evening of fascinating discussion and networking.

Why is it that we trust some brands more than others? And why do we even use the word trust to describe our relationship with a brand? So much of our attachment to a company, product or brand is about emotional ties —yet few organisations really consider the way our minds respond to the messages they transmit as we interact with them or buy products. Enter neuroscience and brand psychology.

Neuroscience studies the way in which the brain behaves, and there is a growing body of research that bridges the gap between pure science and its application in the real world. The people working to close that gap and strengthen the relationship between science and the commercial world, appeared on our panel for the latest Workspace Business Insights Dinner, hosted at Barley Mow in Chiswick.

As well as insightful and engaging, Galina Kurdova of Fab Staff Hospitality based at Cargo Works found the event to be a great networking opportunity: “It was a great gathering — bright minds, kindred souls sharing common interests for making their companies grow and develop positively. Networking also occurred very naturally, maybe because of belonging to the same Workspace group environment. It was fantastic!”

The evening brought together leading authorities from both the academic and commercial worlds, for a night of thought provoking discussion that is relevant to businesses and can help develop their understanding of what their customers need and expect from them.

What is Brand Psychology and how can it impact your business?

Kicking off the evening and chairing the panel was Joseph Devlin, Head of Experimental Psychology at UCL. Fascinated by how the brain works, after training in neuroimaging at Cambridge and Oxford, he established a reputation as a leading researcher in how the human brain processes language before taking up his current position.

Instantly allaying our fears that the topic of the evening might be difficult to understand, Joe put everyone at rest by saying something that we’ve all thought at some point: “Brands are kinda funny, aren’t they? They’re an abstract thing that get treated like a person. We use words like trust and loyalty, integrity and personality and I think it’s important to understand some of the psychology behind that.”

So how can we begin to understand how we relate to a brand and what can businesses do with that information? James Turner, Creative Director at Moonpig since January 2017, explained how getting to know what customers thought of the brand and its offerings has led to the complete rebrand of this beloved household name. Combining thorough research and a robust strategy with open engagement and winning support across the business, James and his team successfully modernised not just the look and feel, but also the organising principles of the brand (and even said goodbye to the famous pig mascot).

James Naylor, Senior Manager of Learning at McKinsey & Company has over 25 years’ experience of retail and consumer consulting and has both an under and postgraduate degree in psychology. He stressed the importance of brand psychology for getting products to market. He said: "The difference between what customers say and what they actually do has been a vexing problem for a long time.  In fact, the solutions we're using now are dependent on cheaper storage and processing power for all the data we can collect now, but they are not themselves always that new.  Meanwhile, it's true that we all leave a cloud of digital exhaust wherever we go on the Internet, but apps on phones make it much easier to ask subjects to record diary data than before."  James believes that using machine learning to interrogate data comprehensively will help move brand psychology forward. 

“Sparkler gets approached by companies who are looking to go a little bit beyond what people say (about a company) and what sorts of tools we can use that are inspired by neuroscience to apply them to our customers challenges,” Andy Goll explains. His role as Associate Partner and Quantitative Specialist at Sparkler finds him applying innovative methods including neuro-imaging, biometrics and passive monitoring to discover the implicit and subconscious drivers of behaviour. Andy is keen to find more ways that businesses can work out what customers really want and how to give it to them.

“what we’re interested in, particularly when customers are shopping, are where are the points of delight for a customer? and where is there something difficult to manage, that we can smooth out. Those are the two main areas that we want to apply neuroscience techniques to.” 

Is neuroscience relevant for your business, and how you can apply it?

All our panellists agree that having an awareness of what your customer thinks and feels about your company and/or brand is vital to providing them with a service that they want and solves their issues. Neuroscientific techniques might not always be an option, especially if you’re looking at it from a budget perspective, but as Joe points out “academic research is available for free from many online services” and he encourages companies to stay abreast of this accessible information: “As a business you must decide what information you need to move forward and improve, which could be as simple as providing a fantastic customer service team that truly listens to and responds to client’s needs. You may not need to utilise neuroscience for that, but you can certainly research what other brands are up to and see what current academic studies into behaviour have to say, in order to build a picture of what your company needs or wants to work on.”

Digital MR, another Workspace client, would certainly agree that companies need to be aware of the bottom line when they are looking into discovering what a customer says about a brand. James Turner concurred, adding: “neuroscience is a great way for us to build a bigger picture…it’s a great base to build from, but to really understand and to build something from a brand perspective that’s going to be useful for say, a rebrand (in our case), or just trying to connect to an audience, it feels like brand psychology is a richer area, particularly for a small or medium-sized business.”

James Naylor offered a number of sources he would recommend for anyone interested in the psychology underlying behaviour.  As well as Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman he suggested The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis as engaging sources for understanding how behavioural economics had actually come about.  How we made decisions about product selection, and how to invest our time, were typically based on both emotion and a set of heuristics (or decision-making rules) which were far from the logical, rational approach we liked to think we used.

How can businesses better utilise leading research in Neuroscience?

After a delicious dinner and some lively conversation, there was time for a Q&A portion. One of the primary concerns for many of the audience members was how the information from the evening’s talk could be applied to everyday business. The panel all had useful tips for how a business could make use of the research out there, but Andy Goll made a particularly insightful point; businesses need to reach out to the people conducting and involved in the research to create better working relationships.

When asked about how businesses could find out about quantifying trust to see how customers feel about a company Goll explained that it can be a difficult thing to measure: “I think it depends on context, trust is often built up over a number of iterations, how many times has a company delivered something … Measurung trust might be about placing people in a scenario, for example if there was a big data breach, how would you feel about X, would you trust them to look after your data or make it right?” Rather than looking for a neuroscientific way to tell how our brains formulate trust, Andy feels it would be better to conduct research around scenarios that trust might be involved in between a company and customer.

Joe agreed that there is no exact part of the brain that measures trust, but did explain something neuromarketing companies attempt to find called a ‘bio marker’ which can measure reactions in your body or your brain. He cited a study conducted in the U.S which found that whether they were drinking Coke or Pepsi that they were told was Coke, you still saw the same part of participant’s brains light up. This part is responsible for the way you make decisions and it’s important for integrating information from lots of different places including emotional information. It showed that giving participants specific brand details gives a bio marker, demonstrating their emotional connection to that brand. “brand is in to a large extent an emotional connection that you have” he explained.

It was reiterated that the data that is collected in the commercial world and the studies done for academia, more often in labs and non ‘real world’ conditions, needs to come together to really help push the boundaries forward for a business around how they understand their customers and give them what they want. Joe reminded the audience that they sit upon “a large amount of data taken from lots of real life scenarios” and this can be extremely helpful for academics who are studying behaviour. “So often the studies we conduct in the lab don’t work once you put them in the real world” he explained.

To get more academic information out there in a way that everyone can understand, Joe encourages his students to write a blog about their work as well as publish the academic study details. The panel agreed that making all the information clearer for everyone will be beneficial for everyone. Brand psychology and neuroscience won’t be scary topics that businesses are afraid of misusing, but powerful tools they can use to grow their company and strengthen their brand’s identity and purpose.

Discover more

To see the full discussion, here's a video of the evening for you to enjoy: 

Workspace hold exciting events like this one all the time. They are a fantastic opportunity to learn new things, meet other businesses in your field and outside of it – hopefully giving you the chance to network and share ideas. Check out our calendar of events and sign up to as many as you like. Don’t forget we also interview lots of our amazing customers and share their thoughts on everything from the latest advances in tech to how to make the most of your location in London, read from our community section to discover more.