Reflexive memory and brands

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I change the PIN on one of my cards recently and I can remember the number but my fingers always orientate towards typing my old number when I go to pay for something, its like there is a lot of pattern in my head to be overwritten. This has been going on for the past six weeks.

So the chain of thought got me going, what does this mean for brands?

Firstly it takes a lot of work to get a brand to ‘stick’ with consumers. When I was at Yahoo! I was told a number of times that if we can get people to use Yahoo! Search for 21 consecutive days they will build up a habit similar to the Google habit we were trying fight against. In technology terms this also explains Bob Cringely’s 1o times rule: something has to be ten times better (which I realise is subjective) in order to get someone to move to it.

Clearly the Android phones of Samsung aren’t 10 times better than the iPhone in terms of physical product characteristics or software; but if you factor in device cost / financial opportunity cost, the network effect of being on the same eco-system as your friends and probably more favourable monthly bills you start to see a similar benefit. Which explains the success of Android in the economically challenged parts of Europe.

So this gives incumbents a higher barrier of protection than economists would have one  believe in order to overthrow a leading brand.

What does this memory mean in the case of re-branding an existing product?

Outside the technology sphere, things are different again. It has been 22 years since Mars re-branded the Marathon bar to Snickers in order to match its brand elsewhere in the world. However amongst my friends and shop assistants young enough to not remember Marathon  the words are still interchangeable.

Is this is a successful re-brand for Snickers or has the brand transcended a name and is it more dependent on its visual identity so people could call it what they like so long as there was a common framework that said words X & Y are likely to mean brand A?

There must be some aspect of truth to this otherwise why would:

  • United Biscuits go after Asda’s Puffin biscuits because they considered them to be passed off versions of its Penguin bar?
  • Supermarkets deliberately alternate rows of own brand and similar branded products so that ‘drive by’ shoppers would buy the own brand by mistake and give them a greater margin? (Check it out next time you are in a large supermarket, where they have room to carry lots of SKUs (different products)
  • Apple go to court with Microsoft (Windows) and two decades later Samsung (smartphones) over intellectual property court cases that were similar to passing off?

Which begs the question what does this mean for search, given that brand language may not be that important in many product categories?