People Buy From People
Why Your Customer’s Brain Thinks You’re Company Is A Human, and How to Leverage This In Your Marketing
I’ve been listening to an excellent podcast called “Inner Cosmos” by a prominent author and neuroscientist at Stanford University, David Eagleman. In recent episodes he’s been describing the different mechanisms in our brain that allow us to make decisions, which usually involves conflicting opinions within our own brains.
In part two of the series he describes three distinct processes our brain uses to make buying decisions. The first two processes, what David termed as price comparison and emotional decision making, I’ve already studied in great detail, and won’t go into in this article. But the third brain apparatus, a study of the brain called social cognitive neuroscience, was largely new to me.
Social Cognitive Neuroscience for Marketers
David described the social activity in our brain as a network of relationships and connections, like a spreadsheet a thousand columns deep and a thousand rows long, allowing us to recall thousands of people we’ve met and how they relate to each other. Social cognitive neuroscience seeks to understand and explain the behavioral, cognitive, and neural brain mechanisms for how we evaluate and interact socially. This includes understanding things like reputation, trust, likability and relatability. Our brains use these measures to build relationships and make social decisions. But it turns out, our brains use these exact same mechanisms to make buying decisions. Our brains actually can’t tell the difference between a corporation and an actual person.
Our brains evaluate the companies we buy from using the exact same brain systems we use when evaluating other humans.
As marketers, we understand this intuitively, but it’s usually because in order to appeal to our buyers on an emotional level, we seek to create a human experience in our marketing. We often personify our brand through the use of mascots, affiliates, influencers or by highlighting personalities within the company. But the theory that our brains can’t actually tell the difference between a corporation and a human when making socially based buying decisions, suggests to me we can take this personality based marketing a step farther, and develop a personality, build trust, likability and a positive reputation through personifying the brand itself, without needing to associate these aspects with a real live person.
In my work writing for and consulting SaaS companies with a personality based marketing strategy, I’ve developed a system, called VIVID, for creating a dynamic, relatable brand personality. My system involves fleshing out five distinct company/brand qualities: Voice, Identity, Values, Individuality and Dreams (VIVID). When companies figure out who their brand is according to these five categories, they have an incredibly useful and valuable asset for not only their marketing department, but also to use in sales outreach, onboarding new customers and employees, and even when looking to woo investors and secure funding.
The V.I.V.I.D. System for Finding Your Unique Brand Personality
Many companies already have a branding “voice guide” developed before I begin working with them. Which is a great place for me to start, however, most of these voice guides brands give me seem copy and pasted from each other. Words like, “friendly,” “not too much jargon,” and “professional” are way overused, and are so obvious they don’t give your brand any sense of personality apart from the bland basics of corporate culture.
When I seek to learn and synthesize a company’s voice I’m looking deeply at how people in the company actually talk. I evaluate conversations within the company, sales call transcripts, meeting dynamics, and public facing speeches given by department heads. From all this data I can develop a much more nuanced voice profile for the brand, one that will be consistent when a prospect moves from interfacing with a brand’s personality online, to in-person conversations.
Corporate Identity is a synthesis of different factors, and ultimately is determined by all of the factors in the VIVID process. But specifically I look internally at how the founders, managers and customers talk about the company as if it were a person. Some companies have an easily recognizable gender, or age, or even an ethnic background that are closely associated with the company history. I seek out these obvious identifying characteristics and give them a name. Often the brand identity is closely linked to the mascot, but sometimes this process reveals a huge discrepancy between the mascot identity and the true brand identity, which is helpful to know when making branding choices in the future.
Every company has values they communicate regularly during company retreats, in their company literature and on their website. However, when I look at values, I’m looking primarily at the product(s) or service(s) the company provides and translating values out of what they actually deliver.
For example, a SaaS company that delivers design templates, something like Canva, might say on their website that they value empowerment, accessibility and functionality. But when I look more deeply at their products I may find their brand personality actually places higher value on things like aesthetic, community and trends.
Having a clear set of values that align with the products or services you deliver is probably the single biggest factor missing from most brand marketing profiles. And defining these values and utilizing their meaning and influence also makes the biggest difference in communicating stories that feel personal and human, vs stale and templated.
This is the most fun part of the VIVID process because finding a company’s individuality often means looking into their quirks and idiosyncrasies. Fallibility is one of the biggest factors in helping us relate to other humans, which is why a brand personality must display these qualities in order to feel relatable. I look at words the company uses, perhaps in a way that’s slightly different from the wider use of that word. I also look at activities within the company that stand out. Often in the search for individuality I find things the company values deeply, things that aren’t typical for the industry, or that might seem odd to an outsider. Those oddities often lead me to juicy details that I use to fill out and create a relatable, likable and sincere brand personality.
The dreams portion of the VIVID system is all about looking into the future. It’s the answer to the question, “who does this company want to be when it grows up?” I usually ask this question when interviewing my clients at the beginning of my process, and I get funny answers. But those off the cuff answers give me a clue to how people within this company talk and think about the future. And unlike the other four personality aspects in the VIVID process, dreams change as time goes on. The key here is to share those visions for the future openly when communicating with outsiders. Incorporating dreams into the full picture helps the brand feel not only relatable and trustworthy, but also aspirational.
What I, and many marketers around me, know intuitively, that people buy from people, turns out is backed up by neuroscience. Companies usually leverage this reality by aligning their brand with well respected people, historically through sponsorships and ad campaigns, and more recently through the use of affiliates and influencers.
My process, called the VIVID System for finding your unique brand personality, takes advantage of the fact that the human brain cannot tell the difference between a person and a company when making socially based buying decisions. The clearer your own understanding is of your company and brand personality, the better you will be at communicating those qualities in your marketing, helping you to build a stand out brand that’s irresistible, with scores of loyal customers.
Hi! I’m Annie Aaroe, a b2b marketing strategist. To find out more about story-driven, conversion copy and strategy that’s tailored for tech and SaaS brands, visit my website, aaroewriting.com, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.