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Intuitive linkage with a brand influences choice, strengthens loyalty

Intuitive linkage with a brand influences choice, strengthens loyalty

Infuse your brand with instant

meaning to recite a tale of success

Martin Guerrieria

Global Head of Research, BrandZ



Intuition: the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning.

I’ve recently been teaching my six-year-old daughters to read, which has been great fun for us all and brought back many happy memories of early books from my own childhood. From conversations with friends with children of a similar age, we’ve been surprised at how quickly they’ve all acquired an ability to recognize complex words, begin to decipher full sentences, and read for themselves. Soon they will be able to read in a far less effortful way by instantly recognizing words and phrases in context and infer their meaning. We all know from experience that the written word has the power to impart large amounts of information, as in an instruction manual for example, but also to elicit a wide range of emotions, perhaps those enlivened by a Shakespearian sonnet or particularly compelling Dickensian prose.

All of this got me thinking about how we often instinctively deduce diverse meaning from very different stimuli and the implications for how brands can most effectively imbue themselves with a sense of immediate positivity to best influence purchase decisions. Though the value of intuition and instant meaning in reading is obvious—by investing the time to train our brains to immediately recognize words and phrases we are able to understand large amounts of information and nuanced messages quickly—up until recently the benefit to brands has been less far conspicuous.

However, of late there have been advances in our understanding of human decision making and in applying this to how brands are chosen. The latest thinking in behavioral science describes the way consumers choose brands, when prompted by a relevant need, as being influenced not only by initial recognition but rather the extent to which a brand can conjure positive, instant meaning and convey a feeling of rightness about the choice.

The Instant Meaning advantage

Brands best equipped to intensify this feeling are more likely to influence a decision. We now know they do so by aligning a combination of two brain systems and ways of thinking: Type 1 (fast, intuitive, automatic) and Type 2 (slow, reflective, conscious). The two are now thought to work alongside each other throughout the decision process, rather than in sequence. Greater harmony leads to a heightened Feeling of rightness and a more automatic, less reflective final choice. Every decision and resulting experience shape our memory structures, which then in turn influence future decisions accordingly.

To quantify the advantages of instant meaning at scale for the first time, the BrandZ team applied a combined survey approach employing Kantar’s proprietary Intuitive Associations method alongside BrandZ’s Meaningfully Different Framework of brand equity. This allowed the team to understand both automatic and considered responses for a given brand and to discern any relationships between the two.

The Intuitive Associations technique used “speed of response” (i.e. engaging the Type 1 system only) to illustrate which of a fixed combination of 18 positive and negative concepts were most intuitively associated with each brand, along with a summary score for the intensity of instant meaning overall. The survey covered a total of 3,453 respondents and 70 brands across eight categories in the UK. Here are our key findings.

  • Clear instant meaning and strong brand equity (Brand Power) are connected. Brands with clear instant meaning are more likely to have strong brand equity and vice versa.
  • Brands with clear instant meaning are more salient, have deeper emotional connections and are better differentiated than their peers.
  • Clear instant meaning is underpinned by strong brand assets, which make a telling contribution in (1) making a brand stand out and be recognized; and (2) helping decision making become more effortless and habitual. Cadbury Dairy Milk, Simple skincare, and Coca-Cola are three examples of brands in the UK with strong brand assets and strongly positive instant meaning.

Typically, FMCG brands conjure instant meaning more effectively than non-FMCG brands.

So, what’s the real moral of the story? To build a brand with decisive instant meaning marketers, brands should consistently seek to instill the main quality of any good book—a clearly recognizable, fluent and compelling narrative, to inspire initial selection and keep consumers coming back for more. Are your target audience well equipped to “speak” your brand?


  1. Recognition alone is not enough—establishing a positive emotional connection matters and influences decision making via a feeling of rightness alongside more reflective associations.
  2. Brands need to invest the time and effort to instill a sense of consumer brand fluency i.e. maximize instant meaning, smooth the decision-making process and represent the conspicuous option to select
  3. Consumer expectations must be delivered upon to minimize any future disruption in choosing the brand again. A disjointed delivery will have an impact at the next decision moment
  4. Brand assets (logos, colors, slogans, sounds etc.) play a clear part in enhancing instant meaning and must be fit for this specific purpose

Maximize instant meaning and fluency with the 3 Cs

Previously I wrote about the “3 Cs” of building strong brand assets to best influence choice (Please see pages 48-to-54 in the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands 2018 report), but given the role of brand assets is clearly intertwined with rousing instant meaning, these three pillars are equally relevant here. To boost instant meaning brands should strive to deliver:

Clarity A crystal clear, well differentiated identity is key. Brand assets, including design, colors, phrasing and more all have a role to play alongside advertising content.

Consistency Ensure uniformity of core messaging, assets and tonality over time, across product formats and purchase channels—drawing on heritage where relevant.

Communication All consumer interactions should be viewed as an opportunity to communicate and reinforce relevant messaging, leaving consumers with a lasting impression of what the brand stands for.