The Psychology of Brand Awareness

From freeway billboards to soccer team jerseys to Formula 1 racecars and more, the average person sees an estimated 4,000-10,000 ads (and, by extension, brands) per day. 

Brand awareness is one of the main pillars of any good marketing strategy. On the surface, it’s a pretty simple concept: the more people that see your logo, content or engage with your brand, the more likely they ultimately are to buy from you. However, good brand awareness does far more than get your name out there – it taps into our lingering “cave person” instincts to establish an unconscious emotional connection to your brand and ultimately drive more people to purchase your products. In this article, I’m going to walk you through this seemingly simple concept and dive deeper into its roots in social psychology to explain how and why it works. 

To see the power a brand can have, here’s a quick exercise: How many of these logos do you recognize?

brand-psychology-logos

Some of them? All of them? None? 

Even without any words, chances are that most of us out there can recognize many, if not all, of these logos. What’s more, just by looking at each logo, you can probably remember something about each one – how you feel about it, what they sell, who their target audience is, etc. 

Why is this? Well, aside from the fact that these are some of the most popular companies out there today, they have all done a great job of putting their name and logo everywhere they possibly can. Their logos also tap into various psychological principles that make them instantly recognizable and cause unconscious emotional responses that can influence our buying habits.

Social Psychology in Action

It’s no secret that marketing and social psychology go hand in hand. Here are some psychological principles that impact our view of a brand. 

Mere Exposure Effect

The mere-exposure effect (the main principle behind brand awareness) claims that people will gravitate toward familiar things. We can associate the mere exposure effect with pattern recognition. Humans have evolved some of the most effective pattern recognition capabilities out of any living organism, thanks mainly to the development of certain areas in our brains (specifically the cerebral cortex, prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus). Thinking about our caveperson instincts again, early humans had to evolve pattern recognition capabilities to remember where food was stored, what was dangerous, what was edible, etc. 

By this logic, it follows that the more times you can get your name or brand in front of consumers, the more likely they are to purchase from you. The key here is to be consistent with your messaging. It is estimated that it takes consumers 5-7 impressions before they recognize your brand, so it’s essential to have an ongoing messaging strategy that keeps your brand top of mind while reinforcing your core brand values. 

However, this is not to say you should blast consumers with your brand name as many times a day as possible. Numerous studies have shown that the mere exposure effect has its limits, and the optimal number of exposures is around 10-20 before the benefits begin to deteriorate.

Heuristics

In the context of psychology, a heuristic (pronounced heu-ris-tic) is a mental shortcut humans employ to make quick decisions about complex topics or situations by focusing on only the most relevant information. 

Think of a primitive human walking through the jungle who sees something moving in the distance. Is it a tiger ready to pounce? Is it potential food? A friend, or foe? Developing these heuristic shortcuts to determine whether or not something is dangerous or safe quickly would have meant the difference between life or death for our early ancestors. 

While our ancestors may have adapted these heuristic traits, we still employ them today. Human reaction time for visual stimuli is around 180-200 milliseconds (for reference, an average person’s blink is about 100-400 milliseconds). This means that we interact with brands within the blink of an eye and form buying decisions about them. Our ability to quickly recognize and judge visual stimuli is why many of the best brands out there are recognizable without any words or letters to help them. They have done a good job of making their branding as clear and straightforward as possible to help win the battle over the thousands of others we might encounter every day.

Conclusion

When you’re developing a brand awareness strategy, keeping in mind these psychological principles can help you shape your messaging to reflect the traits that will resonate most with your target audience. Building messaging that focuses on simple, immediately recognizable symbols that people see often will result in a message that better engage your target audience. 

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