Brand Identity: It’s more complicated than you think

In branding, when it’s obvious, it might not always be right. I recently read an article from the July August 2011 Harvard Business Review, entitled “The Color Pink is Bad for Fighting Breast Cancer“.

According to the research, women are less likely to believe that they will get breast cancer, and less likely to donate to breast cancer research when they are exposed to the colour pink as compared to exposure to neutral colours.

Stefano Puntoni, the lead researcher, believes that this is because the gender cues in pink signal a threat to women.   Breast cancer is threatening to a woman’s self-image as “a woman”, therefore we want to avoid any reminder of this threat.

On the surface, most marketers would believe that Breast Cancer’s “Think Pink” campaign creates a strong emotional bond, improving brand loyalty and increasing the likelihood of action.  But in this case, it doesn’t work, mainly because the emotion is too strong.

What are the lessons here?

First, understand how the consumer relates to the product, service or cause in a deep, empathetic way.  The fact that empathy is on the decline among the millennial generation is of concern to the future of marketing.

Second, test the elements of your brand identity against control concepts to be confident you aren’t accidentally triggering an unexpected response.

Third, question your assumptions about self-evident, common sense ideas.

Brand identities are complicated. They are influenced both by organizations that manage them and by consumer perception. They are not always what they seem. Thinking deeply and carefully about our brands is critical to developing effective brands that achieve our objectives.

So the next time someone proposes the obvious, think carefully before jumping on the band wagon. Just because it’s obvious, doesn’t mean it’s right.


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