How do Implicit Associations Make us Buy Without Knowing Why?
Some choices just feel right, without us truly knowing why.
Whether it’s which country to go on holiday, which potential partner to date or which brand of soft drink to buy – these choices are mostly made up unconsciously. Interestingly, rationalization kicks in immediately after this autopilot choice has been made. This causes us to grossly overestimate the number of rational decisions. Truth is, very few decisions are rational.
Unconscious choices are often drives by habit, environmental triggers and – especially in the realm of consumer behavior – unconscious associations that linger in the brain. These associations make up a brand’s identity is the customer’s mind. Some brands are adventurous, others are safe. Some brands are green, others are blue. Some brands denote high quality, others… well, not so much. When quantitatively measured, these neural networks are called implicit associations.
Succesful Associations link brand identity to Consumer Goals
So, how do these implicit associations make a particular purchase feel right?
To a large extend, this boils down to the degree with which a brand’s identity fits the consumer’s goals. Consumers hold conscious goals (e.g., high quality, low price, speed, health) as well as unconscious goals (e.g. feeling superior, joy, love, social bonding, preventing shame). Brands that subtly tap into the unconscious are the ones that flourish. Successful brands are able to shape their identity to fit both the conscious and unconscious goals of their target market. This is what makes a consumption choice feel right.
Example? Let’s say you’re planning a party and decide to buy a few cases of beer. The brand that owns the association of togetherness is likely to feel like the best choice. Even though the entire underlying thought process connecting the brand to friendship never reaches conscious awareness, it has a profound influence on sales.
How to build and reinforce implicit associations?
Imagine you are in Paris, drinking a tasty glass of red wine and gazing at the beautiful sunset. The temperature is lovely. You are mesmerized by the city’s warm romantic colors. As the sun slowly sinks under the horizon, you wish this moment would last forever.
Back in the reality of your own home, you would love to experience that feeling of Parisian harmony once more. Good news, by the magic of implicit associations, you can. Because this one-time event may have left a strong lasting impression on the wine brand you have been drinking. It is now thoroughly associated with your experience in Paris; the brand is capable of transforming you back.
Advertising, packaging and product experience operate in very similar ways to shape brand identity. While not as unforgettable as Paris at sunset, marketing communication are very powerful in arranging how a brand is represented in the customer’s mind. AmsterBrand offers research tools that predict the degree to which an ad, packaging or product design reinforces brand identity. It enables you to select the most effective creative options.
How to measure associations?
Since most decisions are made unconsciously, it bears little value to just ask consumers what they think about brands. Often, consumers either cannot or will not share their true thoughts.
Research in cognitive and social psychology has now developed a core method that reliably measures the associative strength between thought concepts (e.g. a brand and a specific personality trait). The method is based on reaction times during a categorization task, as processing time is found to validly represent the amount of processing and thus the degree of association. This strength ranges from -200 to 200, thus also specifying when a brand is either associated or disassociated with a specific construct.
AmsterBrand has applied this methodology for use in branding, positioning, advertising and product/packaging design. Click here for an overview of our research tools.