Thinking Fast and Slow: The Psychology that Fuels B2B Branding

Michael Box
Michael Box

Content Creator

b2b branding psychologyWe’re not as rational as we think we are.

B2C marketers have long understood this—desire sells, whereas a list of product features doesn’t. And the fact is that despite all our businessperson rationality, branding works in B2B situations as well. When executed properly, branding can dramatically impact demand for your company and your products. The science of behavioral economics explains how.

“Thinking Fast and Slow”

“All of us, and especially experts, are prone to an exaggerated sense of how well we understand the world,” says Nobel Prize winning behavioral economist and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who has been credited “for bridging economics and psychology.”

His seminal book Thinking Fast and Slow, a New York Times bestseller, applies “psychological insights … [to] judgment and decision-making under uncertainty.” Outlining two types of thinking— System 1 and System 2—he breaks down how all of us are susceptible to non-rational influences.

System 1 is the fast, automatic, effortless thinking that we employ most of the time. For example, complete the phrase “bread and . . .” System 1 is likely to have evolved to help us survive in the wild, where quick decision-making could save your life.

System 2 is the, conscious, effortful thinking needed when new and difficult problems arise and we have the desire and the time to address them analytically.

Kahneman explains that our brains are pre-programmed for speedy System 1-based decision-making, that we have a preference for it, and that we are largely unconscious of its impact on our actions.

The Importance of Marketing to System 1

Whereas System 2 is truly rational and analytical, it is strongly influenced by System 1. And System 1 is suggestible in all kinds of ways. The necessity for brands, therefore, is to make sure you appeal to buyers on both levels. You must present your brand as both an emotionally correct choice and an analytically correct one. If you don’t, you allow System 1 to fill in the gap.

Buying teams may think they choose a vendor based on a purely rational process. They don’t. “Subjectively, it feels like you believe in something because you have the arguments for it,” says Kahneman. “But it works the other way around. You believe in the conclusion, and then you create supporting arguments. That’s .” The reality is that our brains are “lazy,” he explains. In fact, System 1 dominates System 2 much of the time, and slyly convinces us to go along for the ride.

Companies need to tap into System 1 specifically because doing this can lift consideration and CTR rates. Kahneman helpfully breaks down the scientific code for us around how to do this.

Utilize “Priming”

There’s abundant scientific proof that exposure to a stimulus can influence a later action. It’s called “priming” and you have no awareness when it’s happening to you as his simple example shows:

“If you have recently seen or heard the word EAT, you are temporarily more likely to complete the word fragment SO_P as SOUP than as SOAP … Priming phenomena arise in System 1, and you have no conscious access to them.”

Lesson: When your solution category is being researched by a buying team, you need your brand to be top of mind.

Creating Cognitive Ease

The human brain prefers easy decisions. An absence of difficulty creates a state of so-called “cognitive ease.” Making your brand familiar will increase cognitive ease. Explains Kahneman: “You experience greater cognitive ease in perceiving a word you have seen earlier, and it is this sense of ease that gives you the impression of familiarity.” It’s the reason consistent repetition aids brand recall.

Lesson: While on-again/off-again advertising has some effect, it’s not nearly as powerful as a continuous presence.

Leveraging the Halo Effect

The halo effect is a System 1 cognitive bias where an overall impression of something or someone influences the evaluations of specific traits: “George Clooney seems nice. I bet he’s generous.”

Proven by Kahneman’s work, “the halo effect increases the weight of first impressions, sometimes to the point that subsequent information is mostly wasted.”

Lesson: Good first impressions of a brand will color later impressions of it. Good impressions can be created by placing advertising in a relevant, respectable context.

How Digital Branding Drives Demand

Together, these facts of human brain function—priming, cognitive ease, and the halo effect—make digital advertising an essential tool in the B2B marketer’s toolkit. Missing out on your opportunity to influence System 1 thinking will reduce your success in the marketplace. To find out how to lift email response rates by over 20% and increase shortlist consideration by up to 25%, download the e-book How Digital Branding Drives B2B Demand.

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