The Pavlovian Brand
You may have heard the expression “Pavlov’s Dog”. Ivan Pavlov was a Russian Scientist most famous for developing the idea of the conditioned reflex. Referred to as Classical Conditioning or Associated Response. In his experiment, Pavlov trained a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell by ringing the bell at the same time he gave them a treat. Thus conditioning the dog to associate the sound of the bell with receiving a treat.
The same can be used to create brand associations through classical conditioning. In advertising, we have a neutral stimulus, which is the brand. The Brand’s Promise appeals to a pre-existing condition you have, such as hunger or happiness. In an advertisement, the brand is paired with its promise (hunger or happiness) in hopes that after you see the pair enough times, the mere mention of the brand will evoke the same response you get from the pre-existing condition; hunger or happiness…
When we hear a brand name, see a logo or enter a store, we are conditioned—based on our previous experiences—to respond in a specific way to those things. We associate brands with a positive or negative set of rewards, which we have been, over time, conditioned to obey.
When I see the Coppertone logo, for example, I think of summers in my youth, family and vacation. All of these thoughts flood into my brain and my conditioned reflex informs my decision-making. As humans, we take in and analyze everything about our environment constantly. Both consciously and unconsciously, we develop associations about everything around us. We learn to predict what experiences, products, service that brands produce.
Branding Lessons From Pavlov
Consistency in Experience
The source of the conditioning never changed, the sound was always a bell. If Pavlov had used a snap or whistle the result wouldn’t have been the same. Pavlov consistently used a bell to condition the dogs to react a certain way.
Consistency in your brand helps your customers remember you and drives positive sentiment and trust. This means the brand’s messaging should be delivered in the same tone, the logo is always used in the same way, a specific typeface is used for all brand communications and typography and colour are consistent.
Consistency in Reward
To ensure the conditioned response, Pavlov followed the ringing with a treat—Every time. Your Brand Promise is the brand’s guarantee to fulfill a specific need or expectation for the consumer. By ensuring a consistent experience, you will eventually condition people to know who you are and what benefits you deliver—a conditioned response to your brand.
Branding is exactly like Pavlov’s dog experiment, it is about developing and delivering upon an expectation. If you want to build a strong brand, you should establish a positive expectation and then consistently fulfill it.