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Alex Genov

User Research and Innovation, SOFTWARE INDUSTRY

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The power of a brand to turn us into puppets.

I am a staunch individualist! I have never been one to follow trends, the crowd, or allow myself to be brainwashed by advertising. At least that’s how I see myself. This makes the following story all that more interesting.

One morning in the recent past, I was to meet a friend for coffee early at Pete’s Coffee. I got there a bit before my friend and was eager to get some strong coffee in me. We have a toddler and an infant at home and the lack of sleep has turned my wife and I into zombies who function on strong coffee. I approached the counter and ordered a tall latte with an extra shot of espresso. The barista looked funny at me and repeated my order back to me – “a medium latte with extra shot.” I repeated back to him – “yes … a tall latte” He corrected me again, “you mean MEDIUM.”

At this point my mind cleared up a bit and I realized, much to my amazement, that I was not at Starbucks but at Pete’s. It must have felt insulting to the Pete’s barista that I was confusing their establishment with the competition. I was slightly embarrassed and motivated to figure out what had just gone on.

The Psychologist in me figured things out. You see, extensive research in Behavioral Science has shown that many times we move around the world on auto pilot, driven by habit. For example, have you ever headed for place A, fell deep in thought about something, and ended up at place B, just because place B is the one you usually go to? A recent study reported by David Rock, shows that “humans are on autopilot nearly half of the time.”

What had happened to me was that during one of my (sleep deprived) autopilot mode episodes, I was under the influence of a powerful brand – Starbucks. I had used the Starbucks lingo at Pete’s Coffee! Moreover, this was the lingo that I had stubbornly refused to use during my first visits to Starbucks!

To me, that is an excellent example of how effective brands get under our skin – they pull he strings while we are asleep at the wheel … Scary?

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  • Oct 29 2012: It's not brand puppetry, I think it may be to strong. How about "brand goggles". We speak like the brand we know, we use their lingo, their words, their style. We surround ourselves with people who appreciate the brands we love. Brands say to the rest of the world who we are and what we represent (depending on your loyalty to it)

    I think simply put, we've become an assiocation of the things that surround us. Just as we're culture bound listeners, we're brand-bound individuals. It may be easier to switch brands due to conflicting or changing values, but generally we love to speak like the brands we (know)/love.
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      Oct 29 2012: I really like the "brand goggles" analogy, Kyle! That was my whole point - brands that employ people who understand human nature, can exploit it by creating this holistic experience - product design, store designs, colors, lingo, etc.

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