Have you smashed your brand? Lessons from a conference in Lima, Peru


In a famous example, we see that one might prefer Pepsi over Coke in a blind taste test, but after seeing which brand is which, their whole perception of which of the two is better can change. The emotional ties to this brand are stronger than the rational decision of choosing Pepsi over Coke because it tastes better. How powerful is the brand in the choices we make? And how is it that we make these choices?

These are questions that Martin Lindstrom wanted to answer and that needed to be investigated at the source: the human brain.

Lindstrom is a brand futurist. He was named one of Time Magazine´s “World’s Most Influential People” in 2009, has published many books on branding and serves as an adviser to some of the world’s largest companies. In his latest book, Buy-ology, he presents results from one of the most interesting marketing studies ever conducted. This $7 million, three-year long study used the latest brain scanners to test over 2,000 volunteers from around the world, exposing them to images, sounds, smells and other senses related to products and companies. Through these tests, Martin and his team have gained valuable insights into why we buy.

Martin Lindstrom at the marketing conference in Lima, Peru.
The conference, Lo Que Se Viene, or What’s Up Ahead, was August 23 and 24 in Lima, Peru.

At the daylong conference on Monday in the Country Club Hotel in Lima, Lindstrom covered most of the information from his book with illustrative examples and practical advice. Some of the most important concepts and trends that you can apply to your brand are summarized here:

  • Use Somatic Markers. Lindstrom gave the example of Socrates and how he slapped his students the moment he taught them something important that they needed to remember. This is a Somatic Marker. Another example is the September 11 attacks. Everyone remembers where they were at that moment and who they were with; some might even remember smells, noises and tastes. An event like this can defiantly create a marker in the brain. Every brand must find a way to call attention at the point where the important message is being delivered. Has your brand slapped someone on the face lately?
  • Leverage our senses. One of the most interesting results from the study showed that using senses more dramatically improved results. In fact, using sound and vision together for example, created a synergy to increase attention, memory and eventually consumer preference. In an experiment at a wine shop, the store sold more German wine when they played German background music and more French when they played, yes, French background music. Does your brand have a sound? Color? Smell?
  • Hand over the ownership. This means handing over control of your brand to the consumers. Today, and even more so in the future, the power is moving toward the consumer that has access to the media and expresses his or her own messages. Although Lindstrom acknowledges the risks involved with doing this, he assures us that the risks of trying to keep total control of the brand are even greater.
  • Smash your brand. The term comes from 1915, when Coca-Cola asked the bottle designer to make a bottle that could be recognized even if was smashed into tiny pieces. When you think of your brand, how many pieces can be recognized to be yours that don’t include the logo? Marlboro has 32. And this is why they can sponsor a Formula 1 car without their name or logo. This migration away from the logo, according to Lindstrom, is the future for brands, and he gives us a formula for reaching this state: Iconic Symbols and Sensory + Somatic Marker = Smashable Brand.
  • Contextual Branding. Lindstrom stressed the importance of making sure your message is in the correct context so that it actually sticks in people’s minds. This means having the right message get to the right audience at the right time.
  • Holistic brands and similarities with religion.  Lindstrom makes an interesting comparison of the world´s most successful brands with religion. Brands should evolve through time to provoke stronger engagement and emotions from the consumers. This means starting with a symbol, then adding smashable links, senses and ending with a Holistic Selling Proposition. Holistic brands like Apple, Harley-Davidson, and Guinness for example, share a similar kind of following as religions and share 10 characteristics: a sense of belonging, a clear vision, power from the enemies, sensory appeal, storytelling, grandeur, evangelism, symbols, mystery and rituals. Which ones does your brand have?

In a world in which nine out of 10 new product releases flop, it is increasingly important for companies to manage and balance their brands between the conscious and non-conscious areas of the brain. Lindstrom’s research has given us an inside view to how our brains work as consumers and a preview to what is coming in the future.

To learn more about Buy-ology, visit Martin Lindstrom’s web where you can see a video and read a summary chapter by chapter. This is a book that can be useful for any brand.