Brand Magic

by Rob Wicker

A friend of mine is an avid Diet Pepsi drinker and bet me that she could tell the difference between Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke. I took the bet because I know there isn’t much difference in the how diet colas taste—the difference is in her head. We set up the test in our office at lunch with an audience of a dozen, and Sheri could not believe that she picked Diet Coke over Diet Pepsi.

This story brings to mind the famous test at Baylor University using an MRI to measure how branding influences the preference for one soda over another.

In the Baylor test, different people received tiny squirts of Pepsi and Coke as the MRI machine scanned brain activity. Sometimes both drinks were anonymous. Sometimes only one of the drinks was labeled, but the label was used as a trick because both drinks were secretly the same.

When people didn’t know what either drink was, they were equally likely to pick Pepsi or Coke. But when one cup was labeled Coke, participants preferred it to the unlabeled drink, even though the unlabeled drink was Coke too. This wasn’t true for Pepsi.

Now for the really interesting part: As expected, the part of the brain that responds to rewards lit up for Coke and Pepsi, as they are both a treat containing sugar. However, when the cup was labeled Coke, other parts of the brain lit up too—areas of the brain dealing with memory and cognitive control. When what you taste is identified, you not only respond to the flavor, your brain gets excited about additional things it knows about the product too.

Branding is difficult in our information cluttered society, but it can yield rewards when properly executed. Strong, repetitive branding can give your prospects the opportunity to remember and respond to you before they even meet you – making your job of closing the deal easier.

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