I don’t know about you but most of the time I make decisions about which brand to purchase I am completely unaware of the decision I am making. So what happened to me to make a brand stick in my memory. According Daniel Kahneman’s model its System 1 thinking - this is the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach as opposed to System 2, ‘the mind’s slower, analytical mode’, where reason dominates. The brain uses a range of techniques and short cuts to make these decisions and its these shortcuts that we can leverage to build a more memorable brand. Here’s how and why we should.

A simple definition


In case you haven’t Googled the word yet, here’s a definition of “heuristics”. Derived from a Greek word that means ‘to discover,’ heuristic describes a rule or a method that comes from experience and helps you think through things, like the process of elimination, or the process of trial and error. The simplest way to think about it is as a shortcut.

What do we mean by brand heuristics


So when we talk about brand heuristics we’re talking about the visual and verbal assets of a brand – Logos, graphic devices, colour, type, illustrations, photography, music, sonic devices. Arguably the most powerful assets of a  brand and one that marketers and companies often disrespect.

Heuristic examples in branding


Headspace – the clever people at Headspace created these beautiful illustrations to depict the mind and our surroundings. The style has made the brand instantly recognisable across all of its channels.

Coca Cola Red – One of the  most powerful associations we have with brand and colour.

Nurofen – The powercircle – look how effectively the circle device is a delivering familiarity across categories.

How do brand heuristics work


As always with behavioural economics its complex. But our belief is that there are a number of key biases at play when we start to make associations with brands. If we understand these creating powerful shortcuts becomes a must do not a nice to do.

The first bias at play is Familiarity bias – The tendency to make decisions based on the lens of  being familiar with a place, thing or situation. It’s particularly useful in branding as it increases the likelihood that customers will repeatedly buy products of the same brand. Due to the familiarity heuristic, the customers use a short cut that their past behaviour of buying this specific brand’s product was most likely correct and should be repeated. It’s why brands like Neurofen use such powerful design devices across there categories as it allows customers to quickly recognise the familiar brand.  

Associated with the familiarity bias is Mere exposure effect which states that merely because we see something more often we like it more. It’s why we recommend amplification and simplification of assets – we want to maximising exposure to the brand not dilute by 100’s of variations and nuances.

If you’re building a brand from scratch perhaps consider this – the more bizarre an item the more we recall it. Known as  Bizarreness bias it can be leveraged to create true distinction and disruption in a category. Apply it to naming or design it enables quick cut through and association – generally the tricky thing is getting past the c-suite though!

How do you apply this thinking to your brand


    1. Define the unifying behaviour you are looking to demonstrate as a brand. What’s the one thing you want to demonstrate eg if you’re all about a frictionless experience – the behaviour could be articulated as “the simplifiers’  – see our Simply Paving case study.  
    2. Review your visual and verbal assets against this behaviour to create your heuristics. There are a range of research techniques you can use to understand brand associations, but at a minimum we would recommend simple focus groups to understand how each asset performs and why.
    3. Then get tough on yourself. Limit yourself to the key assets, the ones that work, the ones that truly differentiate yourself from the competition.
    4. Amplify & exaggerate. Having selected the key assets now it’s time to really exaggerate them. If its a colour that’s the shortcut – where else can you use it along the customer journey to trigger recall.
    5. Refine. Doing this once is only the start of the journey, we recommend an annual brand check in to ensure that you are constantly giving customers short cuts to you brand.

To find out more about biases & heuristics in action take a look at our new report – Applying behavioural economics to marketing – 7 cognitive biases you can leverage today. 

By Sue Benson

Managing Director