The psychology of consumer perception is fundamental to creating strong brands. It should be the basis for designing brands. To design a brand, marketers must make a number of critical decisions regarding the use of names, colors, symbols, and the like to help consumers perceive a product in a way that is consistent with the intentions of the brand. Often thisprocess is referred to as packaging, but this term does not do justice to the marketing importance of these. It is better to think of this activity as “designing the brand.” It is a key step in transforming a brand’s internal marketing description into something tangible that consumers can relate to marketing communication activities and to their larger experience with the product. To illustratethis process, it will be helpful to begin by defining the word “brand” in psychological terms, helping us understand why the psychology of perception is fundamental to creating strong brands.
BRANDS AS CONCEPTS Suppose that a friend at a party suggests you try a new dip for chips and crackers. You like it. It’s light and creamy, with a satisfying rich taste. Later you see an ad reinforcing therichness and dairy heritage of the product. Through these combined experiences with this product, you’ve just formed a concept. Consumers experience a brand or a product as a concept, which is a set of properties and associations that give that product a specific meaning. In our example above, the concept of the new chip dip is that it is light and associated with dairy richness. A concept is theway in which we differentiate a certain item among all the things we experience. In psychological terms, a chair is not a chair — a chair is a concept that we apply to a piece of wood or plastic based on its fit with the properties and associations that make up our idea of what a chair should be. Your kitchen chair probably fits this concept very well. Conversely, a tree stump on a camping tripmight not fit your concept of a chair quite as well, but out of necessity it serves the purpose. As humans, if we did not think in terms of concepts, everything we encountered would need to be thought of anew each time we experienced it. Our minds would be quickly overloaded, and we would go crazy merely finding a place to sit.
As marketers we want our product to be meaningful and differentfrom other things. In the language of psychology, we want consumers to have a well-developed and positive concept of the product. The word marketers give to this process is brand. But if you ask what a brand is, the answer is most often long (sometimes book-length!), and it usually varies greatly across companies, consultants, and different writers. Some define the word “brand” as a positioningthat relates the product to a particular category of products while differentiating it from other products in that category. Others define a brand as a promise by the company to consumers about what the product will do for them. Others refer to the abstract personal and emotional essence of the brand. Still others point to a brand as the value the brand provides relative to its cost. All of thesedefinitions can be useful ways of describing a given brand, but they are not very good answers to the question of what a brand actually is. Fundamentally, a brand is a concept. Consumers form concepts of products just as they do with anything else they experience. But with products, marketers attempt to influence the properties and associations that go into a consumer’s concept of a given product.For this reason, I find it useful to refer to brand concepts as a way of reinforcing the nature of brands. Positioning, promise, essence and the like are best thought of as formats for describing brand concepts. Defining a brand as a concept helps us understand a critical aspect of branding that deals with perceptions. Consumers are constantly forming and using concepts. The consumer is actively...