December 10, 2008 10:15 ET

Brain Works Like Google, New Study Finds


AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS--(Marketwire - Dec. 10, 2008) - A new study indicates that the brain selects brands from people's memory according to a number of predictable unconscious rules.

Findings from the study - a comprehensive review of fundamental neuroscience research - are being published in the December issue of Journal of Brand Management.

The Brain Selects Brands the Way Google Selects Websites

"Brand choice turns out to be a largely unconscious process," says Tjaco Walvis, who led the one-and-a-half-year study. "But in that process, the brain behaves much like Google. It seems to use a set of rules called an algorithm to pick the brand from our memory that best and most reliably fits our functional and emotional needs at that particular moment. It behaves rationally, but in an unconscious way."

As these selection rules are robust, the results could allow marketers to begin tailor their brand strategies to the way unconscious processes in the brain decide what we buy.

However, they could also help consumers better understand how marketers try to persuade them.

Based on the study, Mr. Walvis concludes that the brain's "algorithm" for brand choice has three elements.

Firstly, the brain selects the brand it has learned is best able to satisfy our biological and cultural goals. We unconsciously select the brand that is the most uniquely rewarding, based on its associations with our goals and the brain's reward centers (e.g. the dopamine system).

Secondly, the brain selects the brand that has shown most frequently in the past that it is able to fulfill these needs. Coherent brands that repeat their promise are more likely to be chosen. Volvo, Coca-Cola and Disney are examples of coherent brands.

Thirdly, the brain selects the brand it has interacted with most intensely in the past. Brand participation creates numerous new connections in our brain, facilitating that brand's retrieval. Nike Plus is an example of strong participation concept.

Mr. Walvis has written a book to explain the practical implications of these findings for marketers who seek to build stronger brands.

First Study To Apply Fundamental Neuroscience To Branding

Most neuromarketing studies, which are receiving increasing coverage in books and the global press, use brand scanning techniques like fMRI to investigate marketing issues.

Instead, this study is the first to systematically apply the most fundamental level of neuroscience to branding. It examines processes at the cell level in the customer's brain as it decides which brands it prefers.

The study also adds to existing research that contends that conventional views on brand choice are outdated and can be misleading.

Although scientific, detailed and well-referenced, the article is not overly technical.

Mr. Walvis elaborates on the study in his book called "Branding With Brains", explaining what the study's findings mean for marketers. It is published by Financial Times Prentice Hall in mid 2009.


Walvis, Tjaco H., (2008), "Three Laws of Branding: Neuroscientific Foundations of Effective Brand Building", Journal of Brand Management, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 176-194.

The article can be obtained from the author upon request.


Tjaco Walvis is a partner at THEY, an international brand consultancy firm that works with top management on brand positioning, brand portfolio and brand extension issues.


THEY are a group of nice people in Amsterdam who form an international brand consultancy, an international communications agency and a TV format development studio. THEY love to make brands grow. Some of the clients THEY work with are Getronics, NPO (Dutch Public Broadcasting), Aegon, Insinger de Beaufort, UPC and Bacardi. THEY challenge anybody to a game of ping pong.

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