The psychology that drives resistance to branding change.

head in wall rebranding

A Critical Step in Rebranding Strategy.

Over recent months (and maybe years) we’ve tracked a growing consumer activism speaking out against changes to brand identity. Whether it’s global fashion retailer Zara, U.S. grocery chain Giant Eagle,  The City of Frederick in Maryland or most recently, social networking platform Snapchat, each of these organisations have attracted flack for updating their brand image.

We’ve previously written that brands have a leadership role to play in ensuring their audience understand the good reasons for change, but it’s also worth exploring why it is consumers so often are resistant to this kind of change.

A recent article by Vicky Bullen, CEO of Coley Porter Bell, Ogilvy’s UK brand design agency, highlights the neuroscientific principles that drive the sort of consumer disaproval we’re seeing for seemingly insignificant brand identity updates.

As Bullen explains; “Through picking a brand repeatedly, we encode its identity in our mind, creating a shortcut which, over time, makes the decision to pick that brand virtually automatic. When that identity changes, for whatever reason, it is as if that shortcut is on diversion.

The issue is not that people no longer recognise the brand. Rather, users experienced a visceral and immediate reaction to the change. It’s due to what neuroscientists term ‘thin slicing’, the process of finding patterns in events and interactions with things based only on thin slices of experience.”

By breaking the pattern that facilitates us to operate on autopilot, we create psychological dissonance , which flicks a switch in the brain that turns brand loyalty into annoyance. Call it brand ownership, but the consumer feels their mental order has been shattered without their permission, leading them to complain about the change. The busier our minds become, the more we rely on these encoded short-cuts and the crabbier we get when they are broken.

However, understanding the problem is not the same as solving it. For brand managers, owners and marketers, the strategy required is to prime their audience for change to open up those pathways, so that when the pattern is broken their audience is expecting it and open to what lies ahead.

Dave Ansett
David is the founder of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne branding agency with 25 years experience working with brands to position them for growth. His deep expertise is in the creation of high engagement brands that attract the attention of their audience and stand out from their competitors. David has extensive experience working with corporate, retail, food & beverage and entrepreneurial clients. Find out more here
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You can read the full article by Vicky Bullen here.
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