Unlocking Brand Meaning from Big Data

The promise of Big Data will remain just that until we approach it with ideas rooted in human psychology. Recently, we took an extensive data set on 24,000 consumers and 790 brands across 13 markets and added 1 psychological model to explore brand meaning. This post describes what we did and how.

My most frustrating early encounter with the hype around ‘Big Data’ happened many years ago when I was working in marketing and a well-known management consultancy ran extensive, sophisticated statistical models on our data and recommended some major changes to our brand strategy.

The charts were impressive, the r-squared were unarguably high and all the important p’s were < 0.01. But the conclusions were psychological nonsense and, if we had followed the recommendations, the business would have suffered.

Data analysis in the absence of human understanding is a dangerous habit.

A combination of psychology and data science is the only way for marketing leaders to align around customers and to unlock value from insights that are unlikely to be found purely through data mining.

24,000 consumers, 790 brands, 13 markets and 1 psychological model

At opento, we routinely use a number of psychological models to guide data analysis for customer segmentation, brand positioning and other marketing projects.  With the help of our partners at TGI Insights, we’ve been applying our psychological models to their extensive data on customers, markets and brands for many years.

Recently, TGI’s data scientists have tested hypotheses based on our models against their data. (Importantly, this is done with a high level of craft and iteration and not by taking a ‘one size fits all’ data analytics approach.)

In this post, we’ll look at just one model, based on archetypal psychology and describe how we linked it to customer data to inspire and mobilise ideas across a wide range of marketing challenges.

Myths, meaning and machine learning

There are many myths about brand archetypes including the common belief that archetypes are at the ‘soft and fluffy’ end of marketing. Connecting the model to data helps dispel that myth.

For many years, we've been linking research on human motivational psychology and neuromarketing science to archetypal dimensions and working with TGI Insights allowed us to test and explore many hypotheses about the mechanisms underlying strong brands.

In the next few posts, we’ll concentrate on the customer dimension of our ‘Marquetypes’ model (though the model also includes brand vision and competitive market).

TGI’s data scientists applied smart machine learning techniques to our model. This helped us to develop an understanding of customer motivation and meaning triggers then link them to brand and category use.

We produced detailed Customer Personas for each category and develop new kinds of customer, brand and market insights from those personas.

New questions, new insights

The pleasure of starting with human psychology rather than the data,  is that it opens up new types of question and new insights.

Instead of just looking at descriptive 'what' we can start to explore the 'why' of the consumer and the 'how' of winning in the market.

Some of the questions we asked:

How do brands get to be market leaders?

Can we segment markets based on psychological motivations?

How can we trigger emotional connections between brands and customers in the digital world?

We'll look at each of these questions in the next few posts.

Book Review: Neuromarketing for Dummies

We've been enjoying this book by Stephen Genco, Andrew Pohlmann and Peter Steidl and highly recommend it to anyone interesting in the power of brands.


(Note: this review was previously published on The Marketing Society site.)


The first thing that happened when I sat down to read Neuromarketing for Dummies was a flashback to the early 1980s when I was a fresh-faced graduate in Unilever, proud of my thesis on emotion and electrodermal activity. One day, I tried to talk to my manager about Zajonc’s research on 'preferences without cognition' and the implications for consumer research.

'We shouldn’t ask consumers why they like or dislike things.' I said  'They don’t know and there is a whole body of psychological research to demonstrate that feelings happen before rational thought'. He looked puzzled and sent me off to become familiar with the ample collection of RBL studies demonstrating the relationship between survey data and brand success.

The truth is that I didn’t have the experience and neither of us had the right concepts and language to debate the question well.Neuromarketing for Dummies is proof of how far we’ve all come since then.

The three authors* all have considerable experience in applying insights from neuromarketing commercially as well as being immersed in research and they have delivered the content with the accessible language and style that is a hallmark of the ‘for Dummies’ brand.

Following a brief overview, the book tackles the intuitive vs. rational model of consumers and the limitations of verbal self-reports. (This is the chapter I need to time travel back to myself in Unilever!)

A brisk run through neuromarketing applied to products, packaging, marketing (in-store and online) and entertainment, includes many examples from well-known brands. There is a welcome emphasis on the power of brand over product, including the famous example of the same wine tasting much better from a prestige-branded bottle than a budget-branded bottle.

A tour of technologies and methodologies for measuring consumer response covers both simple and complex techniques and includes guidance on selecting research partners. The section on experimental design and discussion of validity and reliability is a model of clarity. Finally, a review of ethical and legal considerations includes a defence of neuromarketing.

One omission: alongside the discussion of focus group limitations, I would have liked to see the inclusion of analytical tools such as Archetypes, Semiotics and Discourse Analysis as alternative ways to explore consumer responses.

Many of us will appreciate the numerous practical guidelines, tips and checklists for marketers working with limited resources who can’t engage expensive brain imaging studies. The ideas for behavioural studies and simple response time measurements took me back full circle to early experiments in the psychology of emotion.

I am convinced that, if Jung were alive today, he’d still be running his reaction time experiments but he’d have access to better technology and might even be reading Neuromarketing for Dummies.


Disclosure: we partner with Dr. Peter Steidl to apply his insights in our own consulting offer.