By Matthew M Gerhold
From a purely physical perspective one can reduce a brand to physical energy in the surrounding environment of the consumer: Physical energy is the fundamental building block of a brand. In visual communication strategies, the brand is primarily composed of light, electromagnetic radiation at varying visible wavelengths. In the instance of multimedia platforms, light may be accompanied by sound—traveling air pressure waves. In below-the-line communications, chemoreception becomes more important—chemical information encoded by the nervous system that we experience as taste and smell. Touch or somatosensory information will also play a major role. Thus, physical energy and its interactions with sensory mechanisms on the periphery of the human nervous system form the basis for brand perception and recognition. Understanding how basic sensory information is transformed by the brain is critically important for structuring a marketing campaign in today’s technologically embedded markets.
This short article covers the fundamentals of brand recognition and perception from a neuroscience perspective. Running in parallel to the processes of perception and recognition discussed herein are the processes that generate the emotional and motivational aspects involved in interacting with a brand—these are the components of marketing and advertising interactions that drive and motivate the individual towards a purchase. I hope to provide an overview of motivational processes in the near future. For now, the focus will be on perception and recognition. Let us look at a basic example of communications in an above-the-line context. Let us think, for example, of a television advertisement.
Unconscious Processing in Above-the-line Communications
The peripheral nervous system (PNS), specifically the eyes and the inner ear, encodes the physical attributes underpinning the brand, product, and creative content of the advertisement: light and sound. This information is delivered to the thalamus, a structure nestled deep within the brain that receives much of the sensory information encoded by the physical senses.
Through various anatomical way-stations, the encoded physical energy is directed from the thalamus to the auditory cortex, a region responsible to processing sound; as well as to the visual cortex, a region responsible for processing light.
This low-level processing creates a primitive representation of the brand within the human brain—at this junction the processes and information being handled by the central nervous system (CNS) would still not have availed themselves to the conscious mind. Based on electrophysiological data, the timeframes for these processes occur within a window of 0-150 milliseconds after encountering the marketing material.
Feature Integration within the Brain
As the visual and auditory features of the brand, sitting within the visual and auditory regions, are situated some distance from each other, the brain has to integrate the separate pieces of information. Feature integration, known to neuroscientists as binding, is the process by which this is achieved. This process is mediated by fibres tracts within the brain—different length fibres connecting different regions within the brain.
Feature integration or binding will lead to a new more sophisticated representation of physically encoded attributes underlying the brand, product, and creative content. This new high-level representation, spanning across different regions of the brain will elicit memories, or cellular imprints, that have encoded/memorised previous encounters with the brand and product.
The Conscious Experience of the Brand
Through the process of brain regions sharing information and elicitation of previous experiences/memories, the encoded physical information activates, modulates, and influences the frontal lobes of our brains. The frontal regions are key to conscious experience. The recruitment of such areas into a dynamically evolving integrated system of distinct brain regions gives rise to conscious experience of brand and product.
Emotional and Motivational Processes
Parallel to the perception and recognition of the brand are the emotional and motivational components. These aspects of brand interaction rely on deep brain structures driving and interacting with the rest of the body via neuro-electric and chemical systems. In my next article, I will provide a sketch of the processes involved in generate motivational states that are the key drivers of human behaviour within the market place.