Sandeep Dayal of Cerenti Marketing Discusses Cognitive Branding and Next Generation Marketing

By Nicholas Say Nicholas Say has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on February 10, 2022

Sandeep Dayal, Managing Director and EVP at Cerenti Marketing Group, has some interesting ideas about how brands can be far more effective with their marketing programs. He specializes in cognitive branding, which taps the unconscious mind to help brands tap consumers where it matters – their habitual mind.

Unlike traditional marketing, cognitive branding seeks to help brands become a habit for consumers. When a person is in the habit of doing something, they are likely to do it regularly – whether or not it is logical. From the perspective of a brand, becoming a habit will help boost sales. It can also help a brand to cement itself as a long-term part of a consumer’s life.

Grit Daily asked Sandeep Dayal to explain the finer points of cognitive branding, and why he thinks it is a driving force in marketing.

GD: Can you tell us more about how cognitive branding is used today in the market?

Sandeep Dayal: Look, marketing is all about getting customers to prefer and buy your brand. The idea behind cognitive branding is simple. Why not align the brand messaging to work with the way that our brains do. After all, all decisions are being made, guess where? Right between your ears – in your brain!

That is why, firstly, what your brand says must make sense to the consumer’s brain. I call that Brand Sense. And secondly, it must make them feel like it will help them achieve their goals and make them happier. I call that Brand Resolve. That’s when they buy.

By the way, this whole thing around “making sense” and “making you happy” can be conscious or subconscious.

GD: How can accessing the subconscious mind help marketers be more effective?

Sandeep Dayal: Here’s the real crazy thing. Cognitive science researchers have found that 95% of all choices we make are done subconsciously. It means we do things instinctively. without thinking much about it at all. We drive cars, play tennis, and yes, even buy toilet paper without thinking intricately about every step in the process.

How does this happen? Here’s how.

Over our lives, as we go through various experiences, and make rules (lots of them) around what works for us and doesn’t. When we must make similar decisions in the future, we use these same rules over again – 95% of the time.

Say you find that generally when you buy cheap stuff, you end paying more in the long run. That becomes a rule (cognitive wisdom) in your mind and you will use it across a lot of product categories. Yes, even toilet paper – where there may not be a “long run.” But it’s your rule and you use it.

If I am brand, I have to roll (pun) with your rules, not mine. The art of marketing therefore becomes discovering those rules that consumers have and working with them. By the way, it is not just rules that are in your head, but also beliefs, values, angst, purpose, fantasies and goals.

Accordingly, you can do brands with beliefs, brands with values, brands with empathy, brands with purpose and brands with resolve. Each of those is different animal, and I cover them in depth in my book.

GD: Can you contrast the differences between traditional branding and cognitive branding?

Sandeep Dayal: Traditional branding is basically “product differentiation.” You figure out how your product is different from everybody else’s and make your brand message about the top 2-3 differences. Add a layer of emotions on it and that is it.

The problem is our brain doesn’t do well with lists. No, it actually hates them. If I give you a list of 3 things to get me from the grocery store, you’re going to forget a couple by the time you get there and come back with some vegetable that I didn’t ask for. If I give you a list of brand benefits, you are not going to remember everything either. And that is not helpful.

In cognitive branding, I wrap my message around your wisdom and values. For example, when ACT II packages its microwavable kernels as “Movie Theater Butter Popcorn” and puts design cues reminiscent of Hollywood incandescent bulb signs and the letters on a roll of film, what are they doing?

Well, they are making the experience of eating their popcorn align with that same amazing experience you have already had many times over at movie theaters. Subconsciously, you reach for that pack versus anything else.

GD: Can you give us an example of other cognitive brands, and why they are successful?

Sandeep Dayal: Yes, I can. Here’s a doozy. People easily pay $50-100,000 for a Patek Philippe watch! What’s that all about? They can read the time on their iPhones, can’t they?

But here’s what Patek Philippe says in the tagline about their watch, that the arguably superior timekeeper, iPhone, can’t: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”

The slogan makes your brain think of the watch as an investment that will be cherished by your future generations and be a legacy they can remember you by. That little seed of a thought has kept the company flourishing for over 75 years, even when they sell something that has not a reason to exist anymore.

In my book, I probably have 20-30 examples of cognitive for those that want practical knowledge that they can use in their business and brands.

GD: Can you give us a few examples of how you use cognitive branding in your day-to-day life?

Sandeep Dayal: The science behind all of this is rooted in the latest findings in behavioral economics, social anthropology, and cognitive psychology. This knowledge is remarkably versatile in its application. By understanding how your brain works, you can understand people and your relationship with them better.

Brands are the soul of a product. They are an invisible wrapper that makes the combination of the two, irresistible sometimes. We have relationships with our brands just like we have relationships with people. When you understand what is going on right between your ears, you will also understand better your own relationships with them and be a better consumer.

For marketers like me, brand knowledge is applied in everything we do. Next time, you’re in a Starbucks, you can be sure that there was someone making sure that the air had the aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans, that someone had written your name on the coffee cup to make it yours, that the bit of stale coffee in the pot had been tossed out and refreshed in no more than 30 minutes, that the temperature of the cup in your hand was just the right 170-180oF between your hands, … that you were happy and on top of the world!

There is no doubt that Sandeep Dayal has been a visionary in the marketing space, and his ideas have impacted how marketing happens today. In addition to being the managing director at Cerenti, he is also an accomplished author. His latest book is Branding Between the Ears: Using Cognitive Science to Build Lasting Customer Connections, which was published in late 2021.

By Nicholas Say Nicholas Say has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Nicholas Ross Say is a news desk editor at Grit Daily. An award-winning journalist, he covers the daily startup beat. He grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and has lived in South America and South East Asia. At present, Nicholas lives in Southern Vietnam where the Sun shines, and the noodles flow like wine. He's written for Blockonomi and Coin Journal, among others.

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