anatomy drawings from Anatomy of a Brand blog post

Anatomy of a Brand

February 21, 2024

Can you hear me now? You’re in good hands. Taste the rainbow. Smell like a man. If these advertising slogans reveal anything, it’s our natural tendency to see human qualities all around us. But when it comes to the anatomy of a brand, which leads the way – the head or the heart?

Data-driven decisions?

Let’s look at the numbers. There is more than enough data to choke any algorithm, and it’s proliferating at a rapid pace. At the same time, we have to make a lot of hard decisions. Counting, measuring, and calculating provides that feeling of objectivity and certainty that we crave. Because we are all rational humans – except when we’re not.

Even with all the new technology and data available, discoveries in neuroscience and psychology have a larger influence on how we think about brands today. Would you be surprised to learn that what we count is just as subjective as everything else we do?

Experts suggest that up to 90 percent of the decisions we make are based on emotion. In the book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains when and why people think intuitively and emotionally; and when a more deliberative and logical approach is used. It turns out intuition – with all its faults and biases – drives most of our thoughts and behavior, and reason is used to justify those decisions after the fact.

Personality prevails

Our brains love to find patterns. Patterns helps us reduce uncertainty and make sense of our experiences and the environment around us. They help us make decisions faster.

Have you ever looked up at the sky and seen a fluffy bunny floating among the clouds? Or maybe you’ve seen a face grinning out of the grain in a piece of wood? Even though brands are nothing but a collection of images, words, sounds, and typefaces, most of us readily see patterns that embody very real human personalities.

Take automobiles, for example:

  • A Volvo is perceived as safety-conscious and family-oriented. They are practical, trustworthy, and responsible.
  • A Jeep is perceived as rugged, independent, and self-reliant. They are free-spirited, and embrace outdoor adventures.
  • A Mercedes is perceived as luxurious and sophisticated. They are elegant, refined, and committed to performance.

All of these cars has an engine, four tires, a steering wheel, and can get you where you’re going. We can compare price, size, fuel economy, turning radius, and dozens of other measurable qualities, but it’s the brand’s distinct personality that is appealing to most drivers.

The heart of a brand

Humans are not naturally statistical thinkers. We like to tell stories. And we gravitate to stories and patterns of behavior that align with our own preferences. Our brains want to find the easiest path to understanding.

The heart of a brand embodies its emotional and human elements, including its personality. A brand’s ability to connect with an audience on a deeper level fosters loyalty and trust – which far outweighs any single transaction.Screen shot from Apple’s Buy a Mac ad campaign – I’m a PC. I’m a Mac.

Few brands capitalized on personality better than the Mac vs PC campaign that launched in 2006. Spurred by customer research that showed people loved their Macs and only tolerated their PCs, the actors personify the computers they represent. In each spot, the young, cool, and casual Mac smartly bests the older, stodgier, and ineffective PC.

Consumers were clearly swayed by the comparison, as Mac sales increased by 39% in 2006 alone, and continued to grow throughout the four-year campaign.

The head of a brand

Does this mean that brands should disregard facts and rely only on intuition? While people are prone to see what they want to see, don’t give up on data just yet. The head is very good at analytical thinking, mapping out strategies, and setting objectives – important components of building any successful brand.

Understanding your target audience is critical to creating products and services that solve real problems. Just remember to approach your research with a little humility. And focus on qualitative measures – the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ more than the ‘what’ or the ‘how many.’

We are all imperfect humans – blind to our mind’s biases. Despite the plethora of data available, you would be hard-pressed to show we are making better decisions because of it. The hard decisions aren’t math problems anyway. And facts don’t matter if they don’t fit the story.

Anatomy of a story

Humans have been sharing stories since the beginning of time. There is a hero with a problem who receives guidance and develops a plan. Taking action results in setbacks initially, but ultimately leads to success. The more simple and predictable, the easier it is for the brain to digest.

Both marketers and consumers believe they are rational decision-makers, but research has proven that assertion wrong. A strong emotional connection with a brand fosters loyalty, advocacy, and trust. And emotions linger in memory, shaping perceptions and influencing choices long after the initial encounter with a brand’s visuals or messaging.

The success of a brand is driven by the same thing that keeps you ticking – your heart.

For more thoughts on the power of branding, read Lessons in Brand Improvisation.

Dan Woychick is a problem solver, creative collaborator, and owner of Woychick Design. He helps purpose-driven organizations raise awareness, inspire donors, and move people to action. Connect here: Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter

Please share:

Make great ideas happen!

Getting a new project off the ground means you’ve got problems to solve. Sign up to receive our FREE project planning toolkit, and get our quarterly newsletter as a bonus.

This toolkit will guide you through a process designed to help you ask better questions, gain fresh insights, and achieve new levels of success.