I’m a child of Descartes. I grew up in a rational world where logical thinking was the best weapon against ignorance, the right way out of dogma, and I still think today that it’s a decent objective.
I had believed in rational behavior when it came to my credit card, too. I had never considered lining up for two hours (let alone two days) for the privilege of buying an expensive phone bearing a fruit logo. At least, not because of the fruit logo. I had believed that specifications, performance, price and ROI should be essential contributors to my buying decisions just as math, physics and other sciences are essential contributors to my understanding of the world.
But as I moved forward in life and in business, I’ve become increasingly sensitive to the power of the intangible, to the realm of the unexplained and to the legitimacy of feelings, myths and impulses to comprehend the world. Although it’s biologically questioned, the conceptual “left vs. right” dichotomy of the brain remains a good proxy to understand our decision processes. And when it comes to business, the shining power of our right, intuitive, emotional brain confirms Tim Sanders’ claim: “Love is the killer app.” Just like everyone else, I’m also irrational (much to my initial dismay), and victim of the power of brands.
In your business world where lawyers and bottom lines have so much power, how much of your decision process is based on love rather than on objective evidence and computable demonstration?
Bansky, the famous street artist, gave us a convincing hint. He offered some of his original artworks for 60 dollars on an anonymous street stall in New York. Buying them would have been quite a smart investment. Bansky is a hot property; his pieces regularly attract anything from $40,000 to north of a million! But the stall was not branded. It exhibited naked, intrinsic value. And…barely sold anything ($420 in a day). Let’s do the math: a $60 investment for a $40,000 market value, that’s less than 0.15% of the price allocated to its intrinsic value (its performance, so to speak); the rest, a hefty 99.85%, lies in the power of the brand. And if I had bought one of this canvas and sold it the same day, I would have made a mighty 67,000% return!
Watch the video here – and enjoy the bonus hug from Bansky:
This example with the street artist Bansky reminded me of a similar experience with Joshua Bell, who played for tips in a metro station in Washington, DC. Joshua is one of today’s most acclaimed violinists. He played Johan Sebastian Bach, arguably one of the strongest long-term brands in music: JSB is the Coca Cola of cantatas, Steve Jobs turned contrapuntist! Joshua played on a Stradivarius, the ultimate violin brand and undisputed worldwide leader for the last 300 years. Joshua, Johan Sebastian and Stradivarius collaborated to create the ultimate musical experience and value. But they delivered it raw, unbranded, naked, and free. It went totally unnoticed. Joshua made $32 for a 45-minute performance, an hourly rate on par with Bansky’s stall, ridiculously below the market value of their relative brand.
Take a break, sooth your soul, enjoy Bach by Joshua:
Joshua and Bansky have, intentionally or not, developed and earned their brand equity through a long and complex process. But we, the unsavvy audience, the serendipitous passers-by, the market, we value these resulting brands more than their talents, more than their intrinsic performances. To such an extent that it’s even reasonable to say that now, we value only their brands.
One could argue that these examples have a limited demonstrative power since they concern art, which is irrational by essence. But we all know this applies to every person, product and brand.
Take motorcycles: there is nothing more mechanical, performance-oriented, physically measurable than a bike: horsepower, torque, power-to-weight ratio, electronic assistance, fuel consumption, braking distance or 0 to 100 mph times – so many objective data points! Yet bikers are the most irrational and dishonest consumers. No seriously, I’m a biker. And I can go to a disturbing extent of pseudo-rational arguments to “demonstrate” how L-shaped twins on red bikes are the best possible engines in the world; and their price-to-performance ratio doesn’t count (yes I’m a Ducati fan).
And no need to talk about the old Apple-Microsoft and the new Apple-Samsung religion wars to make this point any clearer or more universal.
Brands are the irrational power of our supposedly free and rational world.
Our right brain holds the purse strings. We buy stories and emotions, not specifications or functions. Love always wins over performance.
Two interesting evolutions in marketing are trying to leverage the power of love. One is neuromarketing. Sure, this is a science, while love is not. But its purpose is to map, and navigate the decision process of a buyer outside the rational “if then else” analysis. The second one is social media marketing. In social media marketing, sellers try to bypass the rational analysis of buyers and replace it with social value: “If my friend loves this product, then I should love it too”. These sales channels are recent, but they yield results.
How does this impact us as individuals, as professionals, and as people?
I have three takeaways:
Fighting our ways out of dogma is a necessary mission where the enlightening power of rational thinking should never be discounted.
But know it: you, too, are irrational! It’s OK if you ride a Ducati and use an iPhone.
Your community, your users, your customers are just as irrational as you are. Develop your brand: demonstrate your thought leadership, tell your story, give love freely and give good reasons to be loved. The good news is: Social Media has opened this possibility. You too can be part of it! You do not have to accept that Johan Sebastian or Apple will forever be the only brands: define your niche and carve your way. Leverage both brains of your audience: be your brand.