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Creating and Activating Brand Meaning in Consumer Decisions

By: Anthony Grimes, Rob Barker and David Elliott
Posted: November 6, 2012, from the May 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

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It is suggested this may be a result of the way in which marketing research has historically been commissioned and utilized by communications practitioners. In this sense, research has primarily been used to evaluate the effectiveness of separate elements in the chain of communication from consumer awareness to shopper purchasing decisions—e.g., ATL, PR, packaging, promotion, BTL—evaluated separately within one brand’s marketing mix. This is often because one executive is dealing with different specialists and sees their particular contribution to the marketing mix as an individual discipline that needs to be measured separately.

In addition, responsibility for the different channels is usually split between management departments within an organization, such as marketing and sales, marketing and category management, and so on. Thus, current brand research tends to be silo-managed with different objectives, and the way in which market research is commissioned and used tends to:

  • separate the functions of communication into ATL and BTL, and evaluate them individually because of historical procurement protocols;
  • solely research consumer opinion by assuming consumers and shoppers have the same psychological state while consuming and shopping. In this respect, research indicates the retail environment subverts shopping intentions and generates unplanned purchasing behaviors; and
  • predict likely success based only on the conscious recall and perceptions of respondents. In this respect, research indicates shopping, and especially fast-moving consumer goods shopping, is more likely to be based rather on consumers’ shopping schema and subsequently their script or experiential behavior. This tends to involve shoppers’ implicit semantic memory and is not predicted or measured by conventional research.

Although it is true that planners within communication agencies will often construct a brand world, the authors are not aware of any research process that actively seeks to identify the elements of brand visual equity that will cut through from ATL to the shop floor. Addressing this issue, the authors also present a methodological approach that will enable market researchers to investigate the extent to which brand-related stimuli are effective throughout the communications process, both ATL and BTL.

In this sense, it is proposed that, should market researchers be able to distill these critical elements from the overall brand stimuli, this will allow for greater creativity in the design of marketing communications while reducing the risk of core brand mnemonics being lost in this process.

Identifying Key Mnemonics to Activate Brand Meaning

“All cues are not created equal [when] obtaining attitude persistence under low-involvement conditions.”9

Inherent in this quote is a recognition that some mnemonics are stronger than others at activating brand memories and meaning. Here, the authors seek to identify the core visual mnemonics (CVM) that trigger semantic memory networks and predict the likely reaction to exposure among the consumers passing a category display in a store. In the experience of the authors, it would appear very few brand owners identify their brand’s CVM and its relative strength on-shelf. As a result, brands may lose their CVM through redesign, resulting in a decrease in sales.

In a self-selection fast-moving consumer goods retail environment, key mnemonics are usually visual, although memory networks can be triggered by aroma, music and more. These mnemonics prompt recall, which in turn trigger a schema or a script reaction. These concepts may be seen to mirror that of the brand engram: “Cognitive structures termed schema represent the total, integrated network of information, feelings and associated ideas consumers have about products, brands, services, stores etc.”10

“A special type of schema, called a script, is a stereotypical event sequence, describing what a consumer should do in a particular consumption situation.”11

A script reaction to a brand mnemonic can be a physical or a mental process and is largely dependent upon two factors:

  1. a consumer’s disposition toward a brand; and
  2. a consumer’s shopping mission or motivation.