100 Things You Should Know About People: #29 – Brand Names Talk To Our "Old" Brains

You are planning on buying a new TV. Will you buy a brand you recognize? Or will you go for the unfamiliar “no name” brand that is less expensive? What if you are buying luggage?

Talking to the “old brain” – In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I write about the “old brain”. This is the part of the brain that developed first from an evolution point of view (sometimes called the reptilian brain because it developed with reptiles). The old brain is continually scanning the environment and asking, “Can I eat it?”, “Will it kill me?”, “Can I have sex with it?”. Basically the old brain is interested in food, survival and sex. This pre-occupation with our well-being also makes the old brain sensitive to the idea of loss. The old brain is therefore more motivated by the fear of losing something than it is by the possibility of gain.

Brands activate “safety” – Brand names talk to the old brain because they activate the idea of safety. A brand name means that the item is not an unknown. And if the brand name is positive to you, then the brand name signals safety to the old brain. (If you have had a negative experience with the brand then it will be the opposite. I had a bad experience with Panasonic once many many years ago, and for over two decades I wouldn’t buy anything made by Panasonic. Recently I’ve reluctantly let go of that “ban”, but I still prefer not to buy Panasonic. I can’t even remember what the product was that upset me so much, but in my head Panasonic = maybe not reliable).

Brands are shortcuts – One of the things our old brains are really good at is making quick “blink” decisions. You can’t consciously process all the information that comes into your brain. The estimate is that 40,000,000 inputs come into your brain from your senses every SECOND. You can only process 40 of those consciously, so it is your unconscious that is processing most of that information, and it uses lots of shortcuts to make the processing go faster. Brands are a shortcut. A brand you have a positive and emotional experience with equals a signal to the old brain that this is safe.

Brands are even more powerful online – I’m currently analyzing some data I’ve collected on people making purchases online. (I’ll be sharing that data in another post shortly). The study I conducted has to do with customer reviews. But an interesting piece of information that emerged along the way was how important brand was to the purchasing decision. Some of the participants in the study were asked to shop for luggage online, and others were asked to shop for TVs. All the participants commented during the study about the brand, saying things like, “I don’t know. This one is a good price, but I’ve never heard of this brand”.  In the absence of being able to see and touch the actual product, the brand becomes the “surrogate” for the experience. This means that brands have even more power and sway when you are making an online purchase.

What has been your experience? Do you go for “name” brands more when you are shopping online?

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Posted in brain, decision-making, neuro web design, psychology, unconscious
2 comments on “100 Things You Should Know About People: #29 – Brand Names Talk To Our "Old" Brains
  1. Walter says:

    Understandably, we go for brands because they have established their authority in terms of quality. It is hard to gamble our hard-earned money for something we are not familiar to, be it better than the leading brands, unless we have more on our pockets. :-)

  2. Bhavinee says:

    I’d think that named brands are important for high-ticket purchases, like TVs, and where durability is important–irrespective of whether we’re shopping online (just looking at pictures and making a purchase decision) or in-store (looking at and touching the real product).

    However, for online shopping, I feel that the brand name is a great influencing factor. For example, even if I were buying something relatively inexpensive, like a memory stick, I’d hesitate to buy a brand that I’m unfamiliar with, even if it cost much less than the brand I have a positive impression about. In fact, the larger the difference in price, the lesser I would trust the ‘unbranded’ product.

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I'm a Ph.D. psychologist and I write and videoblog about how to apply psychology and brain science research to understand how people think, work, and behave. For more information about me and about the Weinschenk Institute, check out the the Team W website.

Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.
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