Can behavioral economics create better brands?

My last post praised the glory of behavioral economics. I discussed how marketers can use behavioral economics to influence behavior. One example was a behavioral economist who manipulated the elements of a bank letter, like the interest rate, copy, and imagery. He discovered that the photo played a larger role than the interest rate in converting loan letters.

And it got me thinking: what about the bank itself? What if the same letter tested the brand, like Citibank, Bank of America, Capital One? What would we learn?

In short, what if behavioral economists took a critical eye to brands?

It’s a question of strategy vs. tactics. Behavioral economics, sadly, favors the latter. Time to throw down some classic Sun Tzu:

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat” [via Mike Hudack].

When we apply behavioral economics, in its current state, to marketing, it’s overwhelmingly tactical. Everything is framed on our decisions in the moment, how to exploit our irrationality by leveraging a host of cognitive biases.

Could behavioral economics advise on the strategic side of creating and managing brands? The current frameworks for brand strategy (brand equity analysis, positioning) aren’t scientific enough. The core tools are based on a 50 year old methodology developed by P&G. I’d welcome any new research, especially with the degree of academic rigor that I’d expect from behavioral economists.

Imagine this: research on how to create a brand identity that drives loyalty and passionate fans. Or why are we emotionally connected to some brands.

Just as a prospect can be influenced by a photo on a loan letter, so too can the emotional qualities of a letter’s brand affect our behavior. Such research isn’t accomplished by a marketer-led analysis with focus groups–I’m talking hard-core fMRI.

Something to think about: Can there be a more disciplined approach to brand building, where we determine the right emotional qualities via a scientific process? Would this free us from sweating over the tactical stuff?