Branding with Brains

Financial Times
Tjaco Walvis  
Total pages
February 2010
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Branding with Brains
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What has neuroscience got to do with branding? The link may not be immediately obvious, but the fact is, our brains select brands in much the same way that Google selects websites. So, just as web marketers play on Google’s algorithm to make sure their site appears as high up the search list as possible, brand marketers should play on the brain’s algorithm to make sure their brand is at the top of their customers’ minds at the moment they choose which brand to buy.


This ground-breaking new book brings the proven effects of hard science to the creative practice of branding. It shows you how to harness this powerful combination to your own advantage by helping you understand how customers’ brains work when they choose brands. A strong brand cannot be build effectively without taking into account the laws of the brain – which, as this book shows, really exist and can be scientifically proven to work. Once you know this, you can apply the familiar branding laws of relevance, coherence and participation more precisely, more confidently and to much greater effect. This means your brand will have a much greater chance of being chosen by customers than your competitors’ brands.


Branding with Brainsshatters the conventional approach to branding, which is based on hunches and intuition, by uncovering the hard, scientific truth about why customers choose some brands over others. Insights into company stories, from Leica to Innocent Drinks, from Starbucks to Schipol International Airport, give you the fascinating truth about how the processes that go on in our brain affect our decisions to buy a particular product or service. All in all, this breathtakingly radical new book from Tjaco Walvis presents a daringly different, state of the art approach to brand strategy that will help you build powerful brands more efficiently, more effectively and more reliably than ever before.


Branding really is all in the mind – and this book proves it!

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Please note that sub-section headings will be worked on. There follows a brief summary of the key message of each chapter.

Chapter 1: Introduction (± 30 pages)

An increasing number of studies show that strong brands are worth more than weak ones. Stock price returns on strong brands are higher and lower risk than stock price returns on weak brands. Given its financial impact, branding is ultimately a CEO issue. The problem is, however, that branding is often seen as a soft and difficult to grasp field, guided mainly by intuition, rules of thumb and creativity. Hence, allocating branding investments is often seen as a fuzzy and largely intuitive exercise – creating uncertainty, frustration and sometimes even fear.

Chapter 2: The chance of being chosen  (± 25 pages)

Brands are networks of associations in people’s minds that influence their behavior. Therefore, a key to making more sensible branding investments lies in a better understanding of the brain. In the last 20 years scientists have made enormous advances in the study of our brain. In 2000, three neuroscientists – Arvid Carlsson, Paul Greengard and Eric Kandel – received the Nobel Prize for their research on the brain. Their work provides vital branding lessons for top executives and marketers that result in a new model of brand choice. Our brain selects brands much the way Google selects websites in response to a key word. The three branding laws highlighted by this book together constitute the brain’s ‘algorithm’ for choosing brands and can be used by branding professionals to maximise the chances of their brand being chosen by the customer.

Chapter 3: The law of relevance  (± 25 pages)

Our brain remembers relevant things better and faster than irrelevant things. Brands that are more strongly associated with things that the customer’s brain finds of key importance at the time and place of choice are thus more likely to be chosen. Brands must obtain deep insight into the drivers of choice at the moments and places their customers decide, for example by using more ‘empathic’ types of research, and associate their brands to these drivers.

Chapter 4: The law of coherence  (± 25 pages)

Our brain remembers specific things better than vague things. It remembers repeated things better than new things. Therefore, only brands that stick to a clear, articulate theme for years can fundamentally increase the likelihood of being chosen. As soon as the brand deviates from the thread, our brain becomes confused and the brand damages its own brand equity. The higher the coherence of branding efforts across time and space, the more likely the brand will be chosen. This means brands must create a long-term strategy that balances two trade-offs: specificity vs. broadness and repetition vs. surprise.

Chapter 5: The law of participation  (± 25 pages)

Our brain remembers things with which we’ve had intense and elaborate interaction better than things that remain peripheral. Brands that can tempt us to try, play, practice, learn, exercises, interact, or socialize with them are the most likely to be chosen. Brands must seek to reach customers with richer media and more intriguing, engaging forms that create interaction, involvement and dialogue. The richer the branding environment that is created, the more likely the brand will be chosen. Brands must develop an interaction strategy that balances richness with reach.

Chapter 6: The process of creating powerful brands  (± 25 pages)

This chapter brings the three laws and the tools and techniques previously discussed together. It outlines a process by which companies can implement the topics in this book in a systematic fashion. Thus, it shows how to develop a long-term plan or ‘roadmap’ for creating growth through branding, giving top management grip on branding.

Chapter 7: Neuromarketing and corporate social responsibility (± 25 pages)

Neuromarketing is challenged for being unethical. Can medical techniques be used in a business context? Can firms who practice corporate social responsibility use neuromarketing? This chapter address these vital issues based on a practical, non-technical application of three main ethical theories. Thus, it provides managers with a sound foundation for answering these questions, for the purpose of providing an internal and external justification/ rejection of neuromarketing.


Back Cover

Think about the last time you bought something. Do you know why you chose that particular product or brand? Probably not. You can rationalise with hindsight, but the fact is our brain makes these decisions without us really thinking about it. This is why the most successful brands appeal to customers on the basis of emotional associations, images and experiences rather than just on the back of their product specifications. As one Harley Davidson executive describes it in one of this book’s convention-shattering case studies: “We don’t sell motorbikes. What we sell is the ability for a 43-year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him”.


Branding with Brains exposes the hard, scientific truth about why customers choose certain brands over others. It gives you the three most powerful laws of branding to make sure your brand is the first in your customers’ minds, every time they buy.


Tjaco Walvisis a partner at THEY, a brand management consulting firm based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Previously, he was a strategy and research director with BBDO. Tjaco is a leading expert on brand strategy issues, including brand positioning, extensions, portfolio management and location branding. He has worked with boards and marketing executives of companies like Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, DaimlerChrysler, Dorito’s, Getronics, Mars, McKinsey & Company, Nutricia, Robeco and Sanoma Publishers. He has served clients in a broad range of industries, including fashion, fast mover consumer goods, financial services, government, insurance, media, pharmaceuticals, private banking, postal services, publishing, retail, telecommunications and world expositions. He has published many articles and lectures regularly on branding and holds two Master degrees, in economics (MSc) and philosophy (MA).


Tjaco Walvis has created a unique book on brand management that will influence the practice and theory of branding and raise the profession to a new and higher level. The book is based on his years of practical, high-level branding experience with strategic, creative and research issues gained in a broad range of companies and industries. He combines this with a strong scientific interest that has resulted in a meticulous one and a half year study of the most fundamental neuroscience research on (brand) memory.


By presenting his findings in a practical, accessible and non-technical style and illustrating them with tools and refreshing new high-calibre case studies, he produces a unique book on branding that will provide even experience professionals with an interesting new understanding of the keys of brand management