A study states that brands can influence our brains far beyond the point of sale. What this means is during the process of branding, companies, entities, and people, have a deep and lasting impact on their target audience in a way that is much more profound than just making consumers out of them.

A common definition of brands is that it is a “gut feeling” that people have toward a product, service or company. If a brand is more than just a name, a slogan, or a logo, and is in fact the sum total of how customers think, feel, and behave in relation to a company, then it stands to reason that a brand can become an embodiment of belief for people. 

In this article, we will explore how brands actually get under our skin to change our behavior and make us loyal, even addicted, customers.

Why Do Brands Affect How We Think?

When a brand occupies a “special place” in our brain, it can often drive us to do things we might not ordinarily do. That’s because the emotional part of our brain takes over and we become irrational. We’re not thinking straight because we’re not using the rational part of our brain. We’re not thinking, “Hmm, I wonder if that’s a good idea?” We’re thinking, “I have to have that!”

Well, why is that?

The study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management found that when we see a brand, it can affect how we process information and make decisions. In other words, brands not only change what we buy, but they also change how we think. The study was published in the journal “Nature Neuroscience” in which researchers say that when we see a brand, it can affect the way we process information and make decisions.

When you see a Nike swoosh or the golden arches of McDonald’s, your brain immediately begins to process information about those brands that you have stored in your long-term memory. This is because your brain has been conditioned to respond to certain cues (like logos) that are associated with specific brands.

The researchers found that when participants were shown a series of images that included brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s, they were more likely to make decisions that were in line with the goals of those brands. 

This research has important implications for marketing and advertising. It suggests that when brands are trying to influence consumers, it may be more effective to focus on the goals that the consumers are trying to achieve, rather than the features of the product.

Brands and Identity

There are many reasons why people form attachments to brands. In some cases, it may be because the brand represents something that they identify with. For example, a luxury car brand might represent success and status. 

In other cases, it may be because the brand has been associated with positive experiences in the past. For example, a particular brand of coffee might remind someone of a pleasant morning routine.


We often find that among the same demographic, and even among the same interest group, brands often divide people into various subgroups depending on how they identify with the brand. It is much more complex than just simply liking or disliking a brand. Often, brands give us an outlet to express ourselves or find that they conform to our views and taste. 

Brands often give us a sense of community and belonging. They can be a source of comfort and stability in an ever-changing world. The way we interact with brands says a lot about who we are as people. It can be a reflection of our values, our interests, and our identity. And, while some people might see this as a bad thing, the truth is that it’s just another way for us to express ourselves. Ultimately, the brands we choose to associate with are a reflection of who we are as individuals. 

So, what does this mean for businesses?

It means that businesses can create something that people can believe in and can identify with, which provides an outlet for their emotion and provides a bridge for people to connect and interact with each other. For example, Coca Cola’s  “Open Happiness” campaign was about more than just selling soda. It was about creating a moment of happiness and connection between people. They tapped into  the emotion of happiness and created a campaign that was about sharing happiness with others.

The campaign was successful because it tapped into an emotion that is universally understood and desired. When people saw the ads, they could immediately connect with the sentiment and feel good about Coca Cola as a brand. And that’s something that people could really get behind.

Relating to (The familial nature of brands)

Think about the brands that you love and why you love them. What do they represent for you? How do they make you feel? Chances are, there are some emotional reasons behind your choice of brand loyalty. And, while you might not realize it, those emotions are powerful motivators.

A study showed that when talking about brands or receiving news about their favored brands, people had the same empathy response as they would have when talking about their family. This response is significant as it is the area of the brain that is linked with stress relief. In other words, people tend to feel good when they think or talk about their favorite brands in the same way they do when they think about their family.

So, what does this mean for businesses?

Simply put, it means that brands have allowed businesses to create relationships that extend beyond just emotion and into the realm of family-like bonds is what will really set a business apart.

Thinking about it – if your customers feel like they are part of your family, they are much more likely to be loyal to your brand and continue doing business with you, even when times are tough. For example, businesses have created ad campaigns, products, and even just social media content that celebrate special moments like festivals, or gifting you vouchers on your birthday, or even just a personalized message. These personalized  touches have allowed businesses to feel like  they are part of their customers’ lives, and in turn, the customers feel like the businesses care about them.

For example, sometimes even the smallest of gestures have made the biggest impact. Addressing customers by name – whether it’s in an email , on a social media post, or even in person – has made customers feel appreciated and valued. Similarly, social media influencers have taken the effort to shout out his top 10 fans by name on Instagram and YouTube to thank them for their support. This has allowed the fans in question to feel valued and for other fans and followers to feel like this  could be them one day too.

Embodiment (of human emotions)

Humans are complex creatures. The actual range of emotion we feel is much greater than what we can express. Feelings like aspirations, cathartic changes, achieving goals, or even simple things like a smile, can all be categorized as emotions.

For example, everyone has people who they admire, respect, and emulate. This feeling molds them, subconsciously influences their decision-making, changes them, and even determines aspects of their personality. The people we choose to associate with have a strong impact on our emotional state.

When brands tap into these emotions, they are able to create a much deeper connection with their audience, especially certain demographics. And as we all know, a deeper connection often leads to loyalty and brand evangelism. This connection with their customers goes beyond logic and reason. In essence you are allowing your audience to use your brand as an embodiment of their aspirations, achievements, desires, and even fulfillment.

So, what does this mean for businesses?

For business, simply speaking, they have the potential to allow brands to become significant milestones in people’s lives. For example, a successful entrepreneur who started from nothing might look at buying a brand like Rolex or Armani as  a significant marker that they’ve “made it”. Similarly, a young professional who just landed their first job might also see this as an opportunity to invest in a higher quality brand as a way to reward themselves for all their hard work.

In both of these cases, the brands are being used as a way to signify an achievement or success. They act as a visible representation of how far the person has come and act as motivation to continue doing well. For businesses, this means that there is potential to create a lot of loyalty and good will among customers by becoming a part of their success story.

The popular adage “Show me your friends and I’ll show you who you are” can take on a whole new meaning when applied to brands: “Show me the brands you use and I’ll tell you who you are.”  In reverse,  it could also be said that if I want to know what kind of person you are, I’ll look at the brands you use. This is due to the fact that brands often take on the individual identity of their users. We become what we consume, and what we consume says a lot about us.

Brands and neuromarketing

Neuromarketing is a cutting-edge field that uses neuroscientific techniques to study consumer behavior. This type of research can provide insights into what consumers really want and how they make decisions. As neuromarketing becomes more widespread, we’re likely to see more brands using it to create marketing campaigns that resonate with consumers on a deeper level.

According to a mass market retail study, customers were fitted with technology that tracked their eye movement as they browsed through the several essential sections of a grocery store. These studies found that humans are not as rational as we like to think we are. In fact, emotional reactions play a much bigger role in our decision-making than we realize. And when it comes to marketing, this can be leveraged to create more effective campaigns.

McDonald’s ad campaign “I’m Lovin’ It” was all about making people feel good, and it was incredibly successful. This is much more impactful when we realize that even 5-year-old children could recognize the McDonald’s brand after just seeing the logo or looking at a commercial.

It’s not just about making people feel good, though. In many cases, marketers use fear to get people to take action. For example, car insurance companies often use scare tactics in their advertising, showing what could happen if you’re in an accident without insurance. This type of marketing works because it taps into our natural fear of losing something important, like our health or our possessions.

The effect on decision-making

Decisions to focus on quality over quantity, choices to  support local businesses, or to go green and buy organic, or even the decision to take a chance on the long term rather than be content with the short term has all come down to the way a brand has marketed itself to us.

For example, say we have a choice between two products. One is a brand that we know of but is currently not in stock, but the other is an unknown or lesser known brand but it is available. Which would we choose? For the ones who have heard of the known brand might choose to wait for the product to be restocked before purchasing it whereas those who have not heard of either of the brands might choose the one that is in stock simply because it is available.

Studies have shown that when we are presented with too many choices, we are more likely to make a decision based on impulse rather than logic. Brands have an influence on that very impulse . A study done by Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia Business School, found that when faced with a larger array of choices, people are more likely to make a purchase based on brand name alone.

In another study conducted by Iyengar, it was shown that when given the choice between two similar products, one of which was a brand name and the other was not, people were more likely to choose the branded product. A strong brand carries with it a certain level of trust. We are more likely to believe that a branded product will live up to its promises than a non-branded product.

In the case of personal brands, we see people becoming brands themselves. In the case of influencers endorsing a product or service, we choose to avail of it not because it is being endorsed by someone we value or trust or also because we believe subconsciously that we get closer to the subject of our trust, in this case the personal brand of the influencer, by availing of what they are endorsing.

People crave familiarity and want to be given a reason to  believe what they are doing is correct. This is where personal brands come in to give us that sense of security. We see people we trust using a product or service and because of that, we are more likely to use it as well.

It’s not just about the products or services though – even our political choices can be swayed by personal brands. If we see somebody we trust and admire voicing their support for a certain candidate, we are more likely to vote for that candidate too.

Brands and self expressive value

Some brands take things a step further and allow consumers to express their own values and identities through their products. For example, consider the popular fashion brand Supreme. The brand has built a cult following by catering to young, hip consumers who see the brand as an extension of their own style and identity.

According to Simon Sinek, “people trust those who believe what they believe.” In a competitive marketplace, these types of brands can be incredibly appealing to consumers who are looking for ways to express themselves.

The power of meaning and purpose

When it comes to marketing, one of the most important things that brands can do is tap into what we call “the power of meaning.” This refers to the ability of brands to connect with consumers on a deeper level by offering products or services that have a higher purpose.

For example, consider the popular fitness brand SoulCycle. The brand’s mission is not just to sell workout classes, but to empower its customers and help them lead healthier, more fulfilling lives. This type of deeper connection can be incredibly powerful for brands, as it allows them to create a loyal following of customers who are not just interested in what they’re selling, but also in the brand itself.

In order to tap into the power of meaning, brands are clear about what their purpose is and make sure that this purpose is reflected in everything they do. From the way they market themselves to the way they treat their employees, everything aligns with the brand’s purpose. When customers see that a brand is living its values, it can create a strong emotional connection that goes beyond simply liking the product or service.

As a support system, brands can also help people feel connected to something larger than themselves. We all have a need to belong, and brands can provide a sense of community for people who might not otherwise have one.

Brands are personality markers

Personality markers are the things that we use to signal to others who we are and what we’re about. They help us stand out from the crowd and make it easier for people to understand us.

Brands can serve as personality markers in two ways: by helping us signal our own individual personalities, and by helping us identify with a larger group.

  • The former is pretty self-explanatory: if you like a certain brand, it says something about you. For example, people who wear a lot of black might be seen as more serious or edgy, while people who wear bright colors might be seen as more fun-loving and outgoing.
  • The latter is a bit more complicated. When we identify with a certain brand, we are also identifying with the values and ideas that that brand represents. For example, someone who buys a lot of luxury brands might be seen as materialistic or status-conscious, while someone who buys mostly eco-friendly brands might be seen as environmentally conscious or down-to-earth.

Brands have proven to have the power to establish as well as blur these personality markers in the minds of consumers. We see someone decked in Gucci and our first thought might be that they’re pretentious; however,  if we see someone wearing an “I Heart NY” t-shirt, we might think instead they’re friendly and approachable. 

Of course, this applies not only products, but to pretty much anything else that can be branded. The way you style your hair, the kind of car you drive, or even an ideal that you propagate – all of these things send out a message about who you are and what you’re like. And while we might not always be aware of it, the brands we choose to associate with often say a lot about us.

Think about it – when you see someone driving a Porsche, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Chances are, you’re not thinking “Oh, that person is probably really down to earth and approachable.” Instead, you’re probably thinking that person is successful, wealthy, and probably a little bit arrogant. Or, if you see someone wearing a designer suit, you might think they’re professional and put-together.

Now, this isn’t to say that all Porsche drivers are arrogant or that all people who wear suits are professional. But, the brands we choose to associate with often give others a glimpse into our personalities.

A similar instance is true for the food we eat. When you see someone eating a burger from McDonald’s, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Chances are, you’re not thinking, “That person is health-conscious and probably has a good sense of humor.” Instead, you might think that person is unhealthy, lazy, or doesn’t have much money.

Of course, exceptions to the rule always exist. However, brands target these “markers” to establish a vague message that over time may become part of our cultural subconscious.

Competition between social media platforms has been a boost to brands?

Social media has been a boost to brands because it allows them to connect with their customers on a more personal level. People are fast-forwarding through commercials and ignoring ads in magazines and newspapers.

For example, Instagram has given brands a platform to share behind-the-scenes photos and videos, which humanizes them and makes them more relatable. Customers are also more likely to engage with a brand on social media if they feel like they have a personal connection to it. In the case of personal brands, the following option has allowed people to curate their own content and get a more intimate look into the lives of others. 

Whereas, on a platform like TikTok, which is all about trends and creativity, brands have to be constantly on the lookout for new and innovative ways to stand out. For example, Nike was one of the first brands to jump on the TikTok bandwagon, and they did so by creating short, engaging videos that showcased their products in a creative way. The attention span is quick, short, and fast-paced, allowing for brands to make quick and lasting impressions. 

While personal brands can be built on both Instagram and TikTok, the latter presents more opportunities for creativity and innovation. On Instagram, users are more likely to consume content that is polished and perfect, which doesn’t always lend itself well to personal brands. TikTok allows for a level of authenticity that can be hard to come by on other social media platforms. 

This competition for attention is one of the main reasons why brands are active across multiple social media platforms. Some brands choose to focus on one platform, whereas others maintain a presence on multiple platforms. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to social media marketing, and the platform that’s right for your brand will depend on your goals and objectives.

What are some of the challenges that brands face when using social media?

The biggest challenge for brands is staying relevant. With so much content being created and shared every day, it can be difficult to make sure that your brand is being seen by the right people. Additionally, social media platforms are constantly changing. This can make it extremely tedious to keep up with the latest trends and best practices. Finally, negative comments and reviews can spread quickly on social media, so brands need to be prepared to respond quickly and effectively to any negative sentiment.


Brands have had an inestimable impact on not just marketing but also culture. In a world that is increasingly interconnected, brands have the opportunity to reach a global audience with their message. And through these efforts, consciously or otherwise, brands have tapped into something fundamental about what it means to be human: the need to belong. In a world that is increasingly fragmented, brands provide a sense of connection for people. They give us a shared identity and a common purpose.

So, while there will always be challenges associated with managing a brand, the rewards can be great. For brands that get it right, the result is not just commercial success but also the ability to make a real difference in people’s lives.

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Khurshid Alam

Khurshid Alam is the founder of Pixel Street, a web design company. He aspires to solve business problems by communicating effectively digitally. In his leisure, he reads, writes, and occasionally plays a game of table tennis.