We have all heard of brand persona, personality and image. These are perceptions of brands built through multiple touch points between the consumer and the brand. However, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) allows us insight into how the consumer experiences the brand and how to effectively recreate and reinforce the positive aspects of this brand experience in brand communication. ‘Neuro’ recognises that all human behaviour is neurologically based; we experience the world through sight, hearing smell, taste and touch to make sense of information. The ‘Linguistic’ component refers to the fact that we use language to classify and communicate these experiences, whilst ‘Programming’ encapsulates the idea of patterns of behaviour that we use again and again to achieve particular results.

How does NLP have direct application to an understanding of brands and brand communication?
Think of the last time you walked on the beach;

The sound of the waves, the sea breeze against your face, the wet salt on your lips and the sand under your feet, the cry of the sea gulls and the setting sun in the horizon. You pick up the shells and miss the children. The fishermen rowing back to the shore with their fresh catch and the smell of fish remind you of the hot supper and make you feel hungry.

You can probably recreate many of the sensory experiences described here that may be based on actual experience or information from other sources. This description shows that we experience the world through the five senses and subsequently when remembering or thinking about that particular experience, we well recreate the experiences internally.

So it is with brands. We will receive and code our neurologically based experience with the brand through systems based on our senses – Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic( Feeling), Gustatory, Olfactory and Tactile(of touch). NLP allows us to move away from opinions and perceptions to recreating experiences – NLP allows us to understand the essence of a brand. One can use it to map how a particular segment of consumers have stored and coded the brand experience. We call this the brand fingerprint. This essentially means decoding the brand imprint based on our different sensory systems. No two brands, however similar they may appear, could have the same fingerprint.

The Liril fingerprint (hypothetical) among a group of users and non- users could look something like this:

Visual: green, outdoor, nature, water, young girl
Auditory: Liril jingle, lilting music
Kinesthetic: freshness, sense of abandonment
Gustatory: tanginess of lime
Olfactory: smell of fresh lime, citrus fragrance
Tactile: skin tingling, cool

Also by describing the sensory structure of a brand, we can ensure that the newer manifestations of the brand (new products, new packaging or new communications) rest on the same solid foundations as the original brand.

We will often use two or three systems simultaneously when receiving communication but tend to use one, what we call the lead system, in which to bring back the information to conscious thought. While we use all the systems, different people will have different lead systems; some people think in terms of pictures while others can recall an entire experience on the basis of music or snatches of conversation, and still others ‘get a feeling’ about what to do.

It is the same in the case of products. Research on toothpastes suggests that the lead system for the category is Kinesthetic. When asked to think about tooth paste so as to encourage re-experience of the sensory patterns rather than the formation of an opinion, the act of brushing one’s teeth early morning is all about a feeling of renewal and shedding off of yesterday.

Whisky triggers thoughts that are expressed in terms of words like contemplation, relaxing, unwinding, warmth and comfort. By contrast, the lead system for vodka is Visual – blue and silver colours, snowy landscapes, smartly dressed people in modern décor surroundings.

So it is with brands. One might think that food brands would be likely to have Olfactory or Gustatory lead systems yet often they do not. Nescafe coffee is stored as a feeling of starting the day with a ‘feeling’ of new energy and enthusiasm. The brand Maggi is all about ‘feeling’ mother’s love.

In brands where product parity is very high, and the brand persona, image and personality are not good brand discriminators, brand fingerprint helps understand the real differences and, therefore, what needs to be reinforced. Given below are hypothetical fingerprints of Coca Cola and Pepsi.

The Kinesthetics for the two brands are very different and any communication should take cognizance of that.

NLP also helps positive reinforcement of an experience. Think of the ‘walk on the beach’ example – let us say that the walk left you with a relaxed feeling. It is possible for you to ‘programme’ yourself to recreate this feeling every time you wanted to relax by means of what is called an ‘anchor’. The ‘anchor’ is any stimulus (it could be the clap of a hand) that you associate with a feeling or experience. Any replay of the ‘anchor’ will lead you to relive the experience.

The ‘anchor’ can be used effectively in encoding the brand association and brand promise most effectively in an ad. When watching advertising we are not actively seeking information. It only provides a desired brand experience and ensures that brand name and proposition are locked in to consumer memory, to be unlocked at the point of purchase. Part of the ad with the highest recall serves as the ‘anchor’. The ad architecture, then, must be such that the brand name and the proposition are locked in with the ‘anchor’.

NLP can help you decode how consumers experience a brand and how to make your advertising recreate and reinforce that experience.