brand lists

Passikoff: Is Your Brand on the Right List?

People love lists. If that statement seems intuitively obvious, good! Apparently, it should be.

Here’s a list of the 10 reasons people love lists:

  1. Lists are a convenient way people get around information overload. 
  2. People read them as articles-as-numbered-lists.
  3. Lists appeal to our tendency to categorize things. 
  4. Information processing is easier when it’s in list form. 
  5. Lists are a near-instantaneous process. 
  6. Assimilation of list-information is automatic, intuitive, and requires very little effort. 
  7. It’s driven by our instinct and experience. 
  8. Absent a list, rational thinking, information intake, and analytics are required. 
  9. That is always conscious and logical, much slower than a list and requires more effort. 
  10. Top-10 lists are most prevalent and encourage debate within a preexisting category, like “Best Movies,” “Sexiest People,” or “Best (FILL IN THE CATEGORY).” 

So, lists tap into the consumer’s preferred way of receiving and organizing information. Why is that the case? Well, according to Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman, it’s the process of “thinking fast and slow,” which he explained in his 2011 book of the same name. It involves, what he called, System 1 and System 2 thinking. The distinction between automatic and deliberate thought processes. The difference between intuitive and conscious reasoning. 

System 1 thinking is near-instantaneous, happens automatically, and requires virtually no effort. It’s driven by instinct, intuition, experience, and emotion. System 2 thinking is slower and requires more conscious and logical effort and rational evaluation. If it sounds like Descartes’ 17th century mind-body dualism, it is. Just more interestingly explained. Sorry, René, maybe it’s just easier to say that lists tap into 21st century consumers’ preferred ways of receiving, organizing, and applying information. Let’s go with that.

I bring this all up because we’re releasing a list next week. Our 23rd annual Most Patriotic Brands list. It was a System 1 raison d’être that inspired the very first list back in 2001. 

See, after 9/11 I was angry. Really angry. About the evil and the devastation and the lives lost. But also, I was professionally outraged. People came together in the spirit of condolence. And support. And, yes, patriotism. And that was good. Brands did stuff too. In some cases, not so good. 

For many months after the attacks, patriotism became focus #1 for brands. Uncle Sam icons and red-white-and-blue leitmotifs became the underpinning of all their brand marketing. Brands cued marching bands and Sousa marches. And flags. Lots and lots of flags. Brands wrapped themselves in the flag. Some more tightly than others. Even when they had no real history or heritage to do so, they pushed as many patriotic buttons as they could. They held 9/11 holiday sales to sell more stuff!

Too cynical? Derisive? Scornful? System 1? Yeah. But the thing that made my head explode was many, many (many) of the brands positioning themselves at patriotic were, not to put too fine a point on it, not American brands! “Support” is one thing, “pretend patriotism” another. Real and effective brand engagement and loyalty is driven by category and consumer values, with the most effective ones producing positive consumer behavior for a brand. The ones that are most effective are emotional. Oh, and it turns out there aren’t a whole lot more emotional and effective than patriotism.

But it was particularly problematic when foreign brands try to co-opt a value that was, in this instance, principally American. More-particularly just for profit. American brands weren’t blameless either. Some twisted themselves into patriotic pretzels to make that point. So, I decided to do something about it. To really measure which brands consumers saw as “patriotic.” 

You got it. System 2.

Now, you just can’t ask people if a brand is patriotic. It’s a tough value to articulate. And there’s a big difference between a brand saying it’s patriotic and being patriotic, and consumers believing it in a way that matters to them. And whether patriotism can be credibly and profitably leveraged has been shown to be more a question of whether that value is a believable part of the brand’s equity. And whether consumers actually acknowledge it on a deeply emotional and engaging basis. 

So, in the best traditions of System 2, we applied our independently validated psychological measures and higher-order statistical analyses to the problem and did a very rational research “drill-down” to identify the degree to which brands were aligned with the value “patriotism.” This year’s list is derived from assessments by 7,460 consumers, 18 to 65 years of age, balanced for gender and political affiliation, of 1,381 brands in 143 B2C, B2B and D2C categories for the one particular value – “patriotism.” 

So, intellect as opposed to intuition. But, really, it’s a System 2 analysis of a System 1 value. I’m not sure what Dr. Kahneman would say about that but it’s what we’ve done for the past 23 years. And after more than two decades of meticulous, rational, well-considered research, we know absolutely positively the ability for a brand to successfully leverage an individual brand value like “patriotism,” has more to do with believable emotional engagement than rational brand trumpeting via ad budget.

The new list – America’s top 50 Most Patriotic Brands – will be out next week. Come back to theCustomer and see how consumers ranked brands this year. Because – if you’ll allow me a System 2 observation – there’s a high correlation between being seen as “patriotic” and bottom-line profits. 

But from a System 1 perspective, people just have a passion for lists!

Photo by Warren on Unsplash

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