What’s Your Brand Schema?
Chances are, you don’t know what I’m talking about and creating your brand schema has never been a line item on your marketing to-do list. Yet in today’s cluttered word of information overload, understanding schema is more critical than polishing your content, engagement and customer service strategies. True, because if you don’t understand the schema that drives the attitudes, beliefs and interest in your brand, your other programs simply won’t work.
So what is schema? Simply put, psychologists define our collective preconceived ideas about just about anything as schema or our mental framework of thoughts, attitudes, beliefs that drive our values and behavior. Our schemas produce automatic thoughts on which our opinions and beliefs are built, and no amount of evidence can change our minds. Just like Facebook posts, political speeches and debates don’t change our voting choices, brands’ promises, messages and claims don’t change our attitudes or propensity to engage if they don’t meet our “reality,” which is based upon what we choose to believe vs. what brands want us to believe. As mentioned in last month’s post on marketing messages falling on deaf ears, we even choose which scientific evidence to believe and what not to believe.
For marketing purposes, schema is your customers’ “reality” vs. your own. And when the two don’t twine, you spend a lot of time effort and money on marketing that just doesn’t produce results that will reach your company’s goals and advance your individual career. Not good either way.
Let’s take a look at what schemata does to brands vs. the best marketing intentions.
Harris Poll does a survey every year on brands’ reputations to assess what consumers really think of some of the world’s biggest brands. This year, Volkswagen took the unenviable honor of being dead-last in a list of the 100 most-visible brands whose reputations among the general public were evaluated. People don’t like cheaters, and the recent scandal about its emissions test cheating plummeted sales by 25 percent in the U.S. and Russia, and as much as 50 percent in Brazil. No matter the amount of apologies, explanations or paybacks Volkswagen executes, the damage to consumers’ reality or schema about their brand is forever damaged.
When we have negative thoughts about a brand or anything or anyone, our psychological DNA starts to produce hormones that make us feel anxious, uneasy, and we more often fly away from a threat than stick around to fight back to the bitter end. As these negative thoughts permeate our survival DNA, they become key drivers in our decision process to choose one brand over another.
In 2015, Goldman Sachs got the honor of having the worst brand reputation in the world, according to that year’s Harris Poll. As the author of a related article on Bloomberg.com, Akane Otani mentioned Goldman Sachs was more hated than companies causing oil spills or the Koch Brothers. And if you look at the list, it’s even more hated than Monsanto, the GMO perpetrator; or Comcast, which has some of the lowest customer service ratings ever.
Yes, reputation matters — regardless of your brand size. Harris shows that 36 percent of U.S. adults won’t support a brand whose conduct on issues or values that matter to them is questionable. And that’s despite what brands say, and what they choose to believe is reality.
Back to Volkswagen
While the slogan on its website says, “The new up! Live every moment,” consumers who’ve lost their trust for the brand “see” a message they don’t believe and a brand that is down in their opinion. And no one follows a loser in any category — especially business and politics.
When it comes to Goldman Sachs, there’s a lot of content that fails. The guiding principles and standards listed on its website start with “Our clients’ interests always come first,” however its reputation for misleading counsel and financial reports, shaky securities, and suspicious transactions that put customers’ investments at stake block out this message and frame how most consumers really feel and think about the brand.
And of course, consumers have the last word. That year’s earnings growth dropped by more than 28 percent and its stock price dropped from around $220 to around $140, which alone shows the huge impact from how consumers perceive a brand vs. what that brand says.
Your Brand Schema
So what is your brand schema? You don’t really know if you only frame your own thoughts. You need to continuously stay in touch with your customers and strive to learn what they believe about you today, in six months, 12 months and so on. Beliefs change, so you must continuously monitor customers’ attitudes through ongoing surveys, meaningful dialogues and feedback mechanisms.
Know the following consumer schemata about your brand:
- How do they feel about your category? If you’re in financial services, you’re in the least-trusted industry of all. How can you create engagement, transparency, and service protocols that build trust and set you apart from and above the category’s reputation?
- What do they believe about your brand? Do they believe your promises and claims? Ask, and ask often.
- What is the foundation of trust associated with your brand? Do they trust you will follow through on promises, quality claims and that you will take care of them of them if things go wrong? And do they trust you enough to refer you to others?
Understanding the above helps you understand what goes on in your consumers’ conscious and unconscious minds when considering your category and brand. And this understanding enables you to frame how consumers feel about you, which more than anything enables you to capture their trust, sales and referrals.
Jeanette McMurtry is a psychology-based marketing expert providing strategy, campaign development, and sales and marketing training to brands in all industries on how to achieve psychological relevance for all aspects of a customer's experience. She is the author of the recently released edition of “Marketing for Dummies” (Fifth Edition, Wiley) and “Big Business Marketing for Small Business Budgets” (McGraw Hill). She is a popular and engaging keynote speaker and workshop instructor on marketing psychology worldwide. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging B2B and B2C purchasers' unconscious minds which drive 90 percent of our thoughts, attitudes and behavior, and provide actionable and affordable tips for upping sales and ROI through emotional selling propositions. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging consumers' unconscious minds, which drive 90 percent of our thoughts and purchasing attitudes and behavior. She'll explore how color, images and social influences like scarcity, peer pressure and even religion affect consumers' interest in engaging with your brand, your message and buying from you. Reach her at Jeanette@e4marketingco.com.