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Branding Between the Ears: Using Cognitive Science to Build Lasting Customer Connections

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Build a “cognitive brand” that connects with your customers in the deepest, most meaningful ways Successful marketing is all about unlocking the door to peoples’ thoughts, feelings, memories, and fantasies. Tap into one or more of these, and your brand will stick forever. In Branding Between the Ears , world-renowned marketing thought leader Sandeep Dayal explains how to leverage behavioral psychology, social anthropology, and neuroscience to decode what goes on in consumer minds―and create effective marketing strategies to build the kind of loyalty that fuels today’s iconic brands. Dayal reveals that most successful cognitive brands are architected around three questions consumers ask themselves: These three factors―good brand vibes, brand sense, and brand resolve―are the hidden mantra that push customers off the fence of indecision, and get them not just to admire, but actually buy the brands again and again. Branding Between the Ears reveals paradigm shifts in building and executing brands that are informed by a burgeoning body of research in brain sciences, and offers a better way to make brands that not just stand out, but connect with consumers and embed deeply in their thoughts to drive choice. Dayal is the marketing thought leader who predicted that “consumer collaboration” would be the key factor in winning people’s trust online and giving consumers control over their personal information would be central to gaining their trust―issues that are unfolding today. Now, with Branding Between the Ears he provides equally prescient principles and new ideas for gaining the competitive edge in a largely uncertain future and winning with cognitive power brands.

272 pages, Hardcover

Published December 29, 2021

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Sandeep Dayal

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Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 reviews
Profile Image for Mugdha Mahajan.
321 reviews44 followers
August 5, 2021
Have you ever thought how some brands leave an impact on our brains with just an add of theirs?
Sometimes it’s the catchy music or a catchy phrase or a lesson that gets imprinted on our minds.
The author in this book let’s the reader know about the secrets behind how brands are able to catch the audience’s attention through advertising.

Marketing is an integral part and every brand thrives to attract customers by advertising in a manner which triggers the targeted areas of the customers. The book takes a route through science explaining how the brands integrate psychology, behavioural economics and cognitive neuroscience in building their brand.

A really insightful book for those who love marketing or are working in the field of marketing or for those who would love to know the secret behind the brand marketing.

This book didn’t appeal to me much since I’m not into marketing much but it did help me learn a lot of things. The best part is the ‘Key takeaways’ mentioned at the end of each chapter, which summaries the chapter in a few words.
My Rating- 3.5/5 🌟
Profile Image for Jung.
874 reviews14 followers
June 10, 2022
Make your branding message stick.

Are you throwing everything you’ve got at branding but can’t seem to translate your efforts into hard sales? Perhaps you're spending big on advertising only to find that consumers can’t tell your brand apart from all the rest. If all this sounds familiar, then this book is here to help. You’ll discover why most of what you’ve been told about branding is wrong. We’ll unpick the myths and half-truths surrounding marketing, and replace them with solid scientific insights into how the brain works when it makes buying decisions. Packed with the latest research into consumer psychology, this is your introduction to branding that gets results.


An emotional consumer is a forgetful one.

What is it that makes an ad effective?

A lot of times, what we think will work – an idea that feels sensible, or a classic advertising strategy – actually ends up sabotaging what we’re trying to do.

Here’s an example. The advertisers working for the arthritis drug Enbrel thought they’d found a great strategy.

Their TV ad highlighted the biggest danger of leaving arthritis untreated. They showed this adorable little boy telling his young mother that he was afraid she’d end up in a wheelchair if she kept ignoring her arthritis symptoms. He’s confused, he’s scared, and he’s worried about the person he loves most. The ad then told viewers how people with arthritis could avoid that fate: by taking their medication.

The advertisers did this because they knew that people are more likely to remember something if it triggers their emotions.

But, when the whole thing aired, they noticed a problem: while people remembered the ad itself, no one remembered the brand.

Now, it is true that people remember things more when their emotions are triggered but it’s not the whole story.

When people have an emotionally charged experience, like watching a sad commercial, they’re more likely to remember the central element of the experience. But – and this is the caveat we have to keep in mind here – they are also more likely to forget any peripheral information surrounding that experience.

In the case of this Enbrel ad, the peripheral information was the brand itself! The problem was that viewers were so busy with their emotional experience, that the overall message – to buy the arthritis medication – didn’t get through.

This little debacle shows why it’s so important to keep a balance between an ad’s emotional content and its branding message.

This is a balance that Steve Jobs – you know, the famous founder of Apple – understood really well.

In the early 2000s, Apple shot hundreds of ads for the Apple Mac, but only a handful of them ended up airing. And it’s interesting because the ads that didn’t make the cut were actually the funniest. They depicted this ongoing battle between an uptight PC user and a laid-back, cool Mac user. Fun, catchy, cute.

But Jobs somehow knew that viewers would be so busy laughing at the ad’s characters that they’d end up paying little attention to the overall message of the ad: to buy the computer.

If you’re a marketer, you probably think a lot about store shelves and billboards, or TV ads and product placement. But how much thought are you giving to the only real branding space that matters: your customers’ brains. We now know that the human brain is where all important branding takes place.

And still, we see countless examples of these concepts that have been used in marketing forever – like that emotion triggers memory – still being used. A lot of times these are outdated, or, like in this case, only part of the truth.


Your brain uses two distinct processes to make purchasing decisions.

Let’s start by looking at a typical situation in which a potential customer is faced with a purchasing decision.

A woman notices a luxury cashmere turtleneck in a department store window. When she sees it, all her past associations with cashmere turtlenecks come flooding back to her. Maybe she bought a similar sweater before and now she’s remembering how good it felt when her friends looked at it, longingly. She also remembers how beautiful she felt in that sweater.

This particular department store is one that she shops in a lot, so it brings up all these good memories that draw her in even further.

What’s important is that our potential customer doesn’t have to try to imagine all of these positive associations; they come to her instinctually.

That’s because she’s operating on what Nobel Prize–winning economist Daniel Kahneman refers to as System 1 thinking. System 1 thinking uses all of our past experiences, biases, and associations to reach quick decisions. It happens subconsciously, and in everyday life, with everything going on around us, we use this kind of thinking 90 percent of the time. So – as a marketer – it’d be in your best interests to ensure that your branding triggers a lot of subconscious positive associations.

Now, our potential turtleneck customer goes into the department store and looks at the price tag of the sweater.

It’s more than she thought. In fact, it’s out of her price range. Seeing the price tag triggers another mode of thinking. This mode is what Kahneman calls System 2 thinking.

System 2 operates at a conscious level and involves logical reasoning to come to a decision. We use System 2 when we’re confronted with something that we perceive to be unconventional or risky, and what could be riskier than buying something we can’t afford.

As she contemplates her decision, the woman uses her phone to compare this turtleneck to other, cheaper sweaters that are sold online. She might not have them in hand right now but there are so many to choose from.

Eventually, she walks away empty-handed.

Understanding the differences between system 1 and system 2 thinking gives you – as a marketer – greater influence over what goes on in your customers’ minds – and their pocketbooks.


Marketers are incorrectly focusing on brand laddering and brand listing.

Throwing money at branding doesn’t always work. Just look at the branding efforts of the pharmaceutical industry.

In 2018, pharmaceutical companies collectively spent $5 billion – that’s billion with a b – on TV ads in the US. The drug company Pfizer alone spent $1 billion of those. And the result?

Well, even with all this advertising, American consumers still struggle to tell the difference between one pharmaceutical brand and any other. When it comes to brand messaging, money alone isn’t enough.

Let’s take a look at where the pharmaceutical industry is going wrong.

Big Pharma’s biggest error is that it still uses these outdated methods to promote its brands, instead of applying cutting-edge scientific insights into how our brains actually respond to advertising.

Take brand laddering.

Brand laddering is a process by which marketers determine the rational benefits that consumers get from their product. Then, they think about how the product makes the consumer feel. Finally, they take these two different types of benefit – the rational and the emotional – and combine them to make snappy little taglines.

An ice cream, for instance, might have the rational benefit of being creamy. At an emotional level, eating ice cream might also make the consumer feel happy. So that marketer’s tagline might read, Lots of creaminess! Lots of joy!

The problem is that basically, this branding approach just doesn’t work.

As we’ve already discovered, we’re attracted to brands based on the previous associations we have with them. And in the brains of most consumers, the words creaminess and joy just don’t have a strong association with one another.

And that’s not the only trap marketers fall into.

Let’s keep picking on pharmaceutical companies – they’re an easy target. In addition to brand laddering, they also make use of a technique known as brand listing.

That’s where marketers simply give consumers a list of their brands’ top three benefits. It’s not super creative. But it does sound sensible. The problem – going back to thinking about human psychology – is that people just aren’t good at remembering lists.

So if an ad, say, informs you that an arthritis drug is effective, fast-acting, and convenient for your doctor to prescribe – that’s great. But the information is probably going in one ear and out the other.

What the brain is good at remembering though, are stories. So instead of presenting your brand benefits as a list, you’re better off weaving these benefits in and out of a compelling story. And if they don’t all fit well together, then it’s actually better to just leave some out and focus on the benefits that do fit into your narrative.


Shape your branding to chime with consumers’ unconscious preferences.

Sometimes inspiration strikes in the strangest of places. Let me ask you – do you know anyone who looks just a little bit like their dog? When you see them out together, they just have the same style somehow, or the same expressions. If you have a dog, it might even be you.

Well, this is what happened to the author of this book.

Actually, he was horrified when his wife pointed out that he and his dog looked quite similar. He examined photographs of the two of them together and realized that the old joke was true; owners really do look like their dogs. But why?

The answer is simple. We tend to like things that we perceive to be similar to us, so we’re more likely to choose a breed that has a hint of our own physical characteristics.

This is just one of over 100 cognitive preferences that all human brains share.

Another one is to avoid loss.

Imagine, for a moment, an elderly man who refuses to part with the armchair that he’s sat in for the last 20 years.

Even though his children try to convince him that there are comfier chairs out there, he doesn’t want to lose the one he already has. Research shows that we hate loss so much that the sadness of losing $100 is even more intense than the pleasure of gaining $100.

Clever marketers can make the most of these loss aversion preferences.

The last cognitive preference we’ll talk about today is kind of a two-parter. The first part is that we like things that we believe to be true.

When we perceive a brand to be honest, we like it more and are more likely to buy it. But – and here comes the second part – our brains also instinctively understand that it’s kind of hard to tell whether a product is “honest” or not.

To deal with that, our brains have come up with another preference, known as the IKEA effect. As you might have guessed, that means we have a preference for things that we have built ourselves. After all, that’s the only real way to know whether something is “honest” or not, right?

You can harness the IKEA effect – whether you’re selling furniture or anything else – by simply emphasizing your target consumers’ contribution to the product. Let them know that they’ve had an influence – maybe through user research or customer feedback. That way, they’ll feel like they took part in building your product in some way.


Make your value proposition so attractive that people would be crazy to say no.

If you’re a marketer, you’ll know that, occasionally, you find yourself marketing a product or a service that’s so new and strange, consumers have no previous experience of it.

When that happens, they stop and think even more carefully about what it is they’re purchasing. Think back to that System 1 and System 2 thinking. If your product conjures few associations – positive or negative – you can’t count on System 1 thinking at all. At that point, people’s brains might go right to System 2, or logical reasoning. In this situation, your branding strategy has to point their thoughts in the right direction.

How can you do that? Well, you could start by employing a strategy known as the no-brainer. I’ll give you an example.

Although it's difficult to imagine now, Uber seemed like a strange idea when it first arrived on the transport scene. The idea of hailing a cab on the street was so familiar and instinctual that Uber knew it would have an uphill task convincing people that they should be doing something different.

Uber’s response was to create a value proposition so compelling that consumers could quickly calculate that it was better than any alternative. In other words, Uber turned itself into a no-brainer.

Whereas people had to lean dangerously into the road for a normal cab, or wait outside in bad weather, Uber allowed them to call a cab from a position of safety, indoors and only go outside once they knew a car was waiting for them. Most important of all, Uber was significantly cheaper than other taxi options, thanks to the deep pockets of its venture capitalist backers, who subsidized every ride.

Uber’s strategy highlights an important message for marketers: if you’re marketing an unfamiliar, game-changing product, then try your best to make it a no-brainer for consumers. Show the most obvious benefits of your brand. One of the easiest ways to do this is cost. See if you can sell your brand as obviously, undeniably cheaper than the next-best competitor.

If you can, then go one better, and try to offer it for free instead. Research shows that our brains really like the prospect of getting something for free. So much so, that our brains respond in a totally different way to something that’s free, than they do to something that’s merely cheap. Consumers are actually much more likely to buy a product when it's marketed as ��buy one, get one free” than when it's 50 percent off – even though they’re almost identical deals.


And that, at the end of the day, is the kind of thing we need to keep in mind. It doesn’t matter that “50 percent off” and “buy one, get one free” are basically the same. It doesn’t matter that outdated marketing strategies, like listing a brand’s benefits, seem to make sense. What matters is what these marketing messages are triggering between a customer’s ears.

The best branding recipes for success are a careful combination of ingredients. Marketers need a dash of emotion, but not too much; a heavy dose of storytelling; and a good measure of empathy and connection with their target audience.

And if you’re branding a product that’s totally new, then you also need to throw in an irresistible value proposition that tentative consumers won’t be able to refuse.
1 review
March 20, 2022
Highly recommend!

As an entrepreneur building his first brand, I found this book extremely insightful and I highly recommend it! Going into this book, I was very familiar with Kahneman’s work and was fascinated to learn how his principals can be applied to building a successful brand.

Profile Image for Diptakirti Chaudhuri.
Author 17 books52 followers
December 20, 2021
Well-structured, example-laden book about how to leverage the natural way of the brain's workings to make it positively disposed towards marketing communication. Practitioners can select parts and build a model relevant to their industry/brand.
That the author is a top consultant helps in the creation of visual models and succinct takeaway bullets at the end of every chapter… but thankfully, there is no jargon or complicated charts (barring a couple in one chapter).
One big advantage is that the examples are quite recent and we have seen them play out – and have fresh memories to crosscheck our brain’s responses. Only one crib is that it has a bit too many examples from the pharma industry (probably due to the experience skew of the author) but it might yield an exercise to rewrite a chapter by supplanting some of the examples with ones from a different industry.
Profile Image for Alexander.
131 reviews10 followers
January 29, 2022
Sandeep Dayal’s new book is titled Branding Between the Ears: Using Cognitive Science to Build Lasting Customer Connections, and as its title suggests is a decidedly left brain approach to a right brain-based set of enterprises. Branding has always been an interesting balance between a sense of calculated creativity, and a sense of empathic foresight. Branding is as much an understanding of the current cultural climate as it is a distinct, cutting edge bait-and-switch of the contemporary, expectational values. Dayal eschews holistic approaches to the mentality behind successful branding, instead coming at such a psychology with the titular Cognitive science angle. He systematically breaks down a step-by-step model of different facets and statistically backed questions to consider when approaching a branding process, ranging from the juxtaposition and comparisons of successful and non-successful brand operations in the past, whether or not a brand mandates an approach hinging on visceral versus logical, and even the ethical standards when it comes to marketer’s tactics. A symbiotic relationship will always exist between the brand name and the (potential) consumer, so applying Dayal’s corporate philosophy means, in his view, everyone and everything wins. Like the holism of corporate tactical systems a la the Lean system or the general, tailor-made house down leadership approaches, Dayal’s methodology shows a sense of morality and a sense of good business more or less share the same wavelength.

“Brands that rock our worlds are those that work the way our brain does. They hold the conscious and subconscious keys that unlock sensations of the experiences and fantasies stored in our minds, to make us happier and lure us to the brand. So while we still don’t know much about creating head-bashing rock anthems, thanks to recent advances in brain sciences, we are a lot smarter when it comes to making hit brands,” Dayal writes. He goes on to state, “In (the) race to apply brain sciences to our very way of life, brand marketers are nowhere to be seen. The organization ideas42 specializes in applying behavioral sciences to social problems. It draws on and posts an online directory of experts from leading academic institutions in the world. The list boasts of over 100 gurus in 10 different domains, stretching from education and health to finance and international development. But marketers are MIA—missing in action. There are almost none on the list from marketing and branding, the two fields that live and breathe the art of shaping consumer behavior and choice.” Hence, the articulation of Dayal’s advocacy for applying such measures to the right brain corporate world. He writes in clear, succinct prose, almost like a position paper. He’s the first to cite people who it’s clear he admires, and may even think are beyond his own, considerable expertise. The result is something that feels clear-headed, genuinely refreshing, and convincing on a potentially wide magnitude regardless of one’s implemented biases.
Profile Image for Navya Sri.
102 reviews12 followers
November 29, 2021
Have you ever thought about why do you get attached to some of brands even though its not necessary??


This is a book on how various marketing strategies used by brands in targeting the audience in impacting their cognitive behavior. It tries to educate both the brands as well as individuals how has some found success by unlocking the subconscious sensations of experiences of human minds.  This tries to unfold the various types of content  to be used by the brands in unlocking the good vibes, senses and modern approachable tactics.


This guides the brands to cognitively target the audience. And advices some strategies and actions that needed to changed. On further reading it explains how the brain science works in reading an advertisement and how it impact an individual value the brand.


Overall it is a tactical read, it requires a little focus as it intends to educate you in leading your business through summaries.
Profile Image for JoAnne Holman.
8 reviews1 follower
January 6, 2023
If your profession is marketing, advertising or sales, this book "Branding Between the Ears" # # is a must-read. Mr. Dayal’s unique approach to brands will change how the industry creates campaigns and advertises products. By understanding how our brain works when faced with consumer decisions, marketers will now have insight into how to make their brands soar.
His sense of humor throughout the book makes it a fun read and breaks down the brain science in understandable terms. Thank you, Mr. Dayal for writing a book that brings to life the science of brand marketing.
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