Monday, August 24, 2009

Monkey business: Seeing the brand within

In the August 14 issue ofthe journal Science, a report (summary here. Full text requires subscription) on the effect of mimicry between monkeys + humans leads to an interesting conclusion: monkeys prefer exchanging tokens for food with humans who mimic the monkey's behavior.

After exposure to humans acting like monkeys, and to those who acted like, well, humans, the monkeys spent more time looking at their human imitators, spent more time in proximity to them, and interacted more frequently with them than with humans who did not mimic the monkeys.

So What?

While it certainly would be a stretch to read too much into the behavior of humans monkeys, the experiment and protocol tested social interaction based on a phenomenon known as the 'chameleon effect'. The effect is a widely studied phenomenon of unconscious mimicry among--wait for it--people: it can be simple as when a baby returns the smile of a parent or as complicated as when one leaves a bigger tip than they otherwise would because of the example of another person. Sort of like chameleons changing color to mimic their background, but let's limit our posting to two species, shall we?

But what does monkey business have to do with people business?

A general lesson for a company or brand based on the chameleon effect might be as follows: to create a heightened sense of affiliation with a brand, to increase the time spent with a brand, or even, to develop a preference, have the brand mimic the prospect...through insight into their beliefs, aspirations, behaviors or, dare I say it, their personalities?

But don't we already do that as marketers? I'd suggest that we don't often. Generally, we ask the prospect to see themselves in the brand...through a singular personality and positioning. We seek to find a singular insight to drive personality and positioning for a singular, homogenous, idealized group of monkeys humans, aged 25-54, with a gender, a race and an income.

I'm simply suggesting that marketers flip that around. Have multiple insights drive multiple positionings and personalities that conform to the unique microsegments that define our differences. It's how we monkey people behave in the real world...the people with whom we choose to affiliate, spend time and conduct all manner of non-branded interactions. How does a brand personality fly above these human realities?

Some big brands seem to be experimenting with multiple personalities in their traditional marketing: Geico being but one example with its gecko, caveman and wad-o-cash personalities. And though traditional advertising may be an expesnive place to exhibit multiple personalities, customer service, line extensions and loyalty programs seem ripe with possibility for asking questions and listening...and thus enabling the kind of personal, relevant, dialogue-based marketing that sees itself in the customer's eyes.

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