How customers choose your brand by Yasushi Kusume

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Yasushi Kusume has headed up design and branding for household names like of Philips and Electrolux. He explains what’s really going on in our heads when we decide to choose one brand over another, and how to make sure that customers choose yours.

Shoppers today are overwhelmed with choice. Wherever they go they are overloaded with information, forced to choose between competing offers at almost every hour of the day.

>> Neuroscientists believe that increasing the comparisons available may actually reduce happiness <<

But if vendors are offering all this extra choice to increase buyer satisfaction, they might well be making a mistake. Neuroscientists believe that increasing the comparisons available may actually reduce happiness, for the simple reason that people tend to regret the decision they made because of the additional options they couldn’t pick.

Imagine yourself walking down an aisle in a supermarket. It would be fair, I think, to assume that most of you are in ‘autopilot mode’, just there to pick up items necessary for you and your family in the shortest possible time. Yet everywhere you look you are bombarded by countless similar offers, all of them trying to catch your attention, all of them trying to persuade you to buy them by telling you how much better they are than the competition.

The problem is that almost all market categories are saturated with similar propositions presenting themselves to customers with almost identical ‘touchpoints’ (the term designers use to refer to the points of contact between a customer and a product or service).

However from time to time a company will emerge who introduces a product with an innovative, disruptive proposition, combined with unique and compelling touchpoints for customers. If it’s successful, the way that product presents itself will become the new standard for others to follow.

Companies and brands are constantly battling to claim the leadership in their category. But even though every brand wants to lead, most end up creating touchpoints that are very similar to their competitors. This results in the marketplace perception of many products with similar propositions – and the feeling of supermarket aisle overload.

So are brands just playing it safe by choosing a similar approach to their competitors, or is there something else behind this strategy?

To understand what’s going on, it helps to look at what’s happening from the point of view of cognitive psychology and neuroscience.

Rules of thumb

In their book Welcome to Your Brain, Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang wrote that, ‘Most of the time, your brain favors speed, interpreting events based on rules of thumb that are easy to apply, but not always logical.’

This idea is based on concept in psychology called dual process theory. Its basic idea is that when weighing-up options individuals use both an unconscious (emotional or gut-feeling) process and a conscious (rational and structural) process . Psychologist Daniel Kahneman labels the two processes System 1 (intuition) and System 2 (reasoning).

Our intuition is based on well-established habits and so is very difficult to change or manipulate

System 1 (intuition) thinking is fast and automatic and often relies on emotional cues. Kahneman notes that intuition is based on well-established habits and so is very difficult to change or manipulate. System 2 thinking (reasoning) however, is slower and much more volatile, based on conscious judgments and attitudes.

I would suggest that when choosing a product people tend to make decisions based on intuition and then rationalize those decisions afterwards. They do so because the human brain favors speed: people want to decide as quickly as possible.

This is why I believe it’s so important for all businesses to understand the intuitive rules of thumb people use to choose one product over another.

Follow the code

Let’s go back to the example of walking down a supermarket aisle. There you are, being bombarded with an enormous amount of information by product after product. Each and every one of them is trying to grab your attention and persuade you to buy them by telling you how much better their propositions is than the others. However, because most of us find a visit to the supermarket more of a chore than a pleasure, you don’t want to spend your time evaluating every single piece of information each product offers. The decisions you make are going to be fast and unconscious.

Supermarket shopping relies on a large number of fast unconscious decisions

This is why, in nearly every retail environment, products and their packaging need to attract and persuade potential buyers as fast as possible. They have to, if they are to seize the lead in their category. With that in mind, the following three points are vital for a product’s success.

  1. Stand out: does it grab your audiences’ attention?
  2. Encourage purchase: does it describe a unique proposition with a relevant and meaningful claim in the minimum amount of time?
  3. Fit with brand positioning: have you remained authentic to your brand values and beliefs?

So how can rules of thumb help you achieve these three goals?

When picking a product the human brain tries to speed up its decision making process by applying its existing knowledge of a product’s category (designers often call this the ‘category code’). Let’s take cooking oil as an example. Because you can’t take in the details of every bottle of oil on the shelves, your brain brings your knowledge of the cooking oil category code into play. You look for the familiar bottle shape, type of photograph and application of a specific color. And since you are only looking for cooking oil, you won’t pay much attention to other items – your knowledge of the cooking oil category code will determine what you take note of.

If you want your propositions to be identified, recognized and seriously considered by people looking to purchase a product in your category, then following the category code is vital.




Brand Romance Yasushi Kusume and Neil Gridley, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013
Cognition and the Visual Arts Robert L. Solo, MIT Press, September 1996
Mapping the mind Rita Carter, Phoenix, 2010
Predictably Irrational Dan Ariely, HarperCollins Publishers, 2008
The Human Brain Susan Greenfield, Phoenix, 1997
Rethinking value in a changing landscape Reon Brand and Simona Rocchi, Philips Design, 2011
Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman, Penguin, 2011
Welcome to Your Brain Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang, Rider, April 2008



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