When most people first hear the word “brand” they think of a logo or a slogan. While these might be the most obvious manifestations of “brand,” the word actually encompasses much more than just an attractive visual or a catchy phrase.

Instead of asking what a “brand” is, we should be asking what the purpose of a brand is. The basic idea of a brand is to differentiate your business from your competitors. However, a brand is also there to shape how consumers perceive your company, capture their attention, compel them to become customers and connect with those customers to form lasting relationships.

Compared to mocking up a quick logo, all of this can seem like a tall order. But don’t worry, it’s all in your head. Literally.

We’re talking about psychology. Psychology is one of the most important tools to strengthen your brand, and surprisingly, one of the easiest to leverage. Here are a few best practices for using psychology to strengthen your brand.

How do customers perceive your company?

From a strictly psychological point of view, perception constitutes the exposure to a stimulus, the attention a person gives to that stimulus and the interpretation of the stimulus in the person’s mind. For example, a person is exposed to a billboard ad when they drive by it on the highway, gives attention to it when they actually see it, and interprets the billboard when their brain processes that it’s an advertisement.

So, what can you do to ensure that people are exposed to, pay attention to and correctly interpret your marketing efforts?

  • Plant your messages strategically so people notice them in the right place at the right time. Is your company a defense contractor? Place your ads in airports where security is already on customers’ minds. What if you own a coffee shop? Send promotional text messages early in the morning when people need a coffee most.
  • Make your marketing efforts stand out. People are exposed to millions of stimuli on a daily basis but only have the capacity to pay attention to a small selection of them. You must create bold advertisements and engage clients (or potential clients) with interesting and interactive content.
  • Have a consistent message across all platforms and media and make sure people interpret that message the way you want them to. There is, more often than not, a divide between what information your clients have and what information you have. Try to bridge this gap with messaging that makes sense to both of you by putting things in non-jargon language and testing your messaging in focus groups.
  • Expand product offerings in a way that makes sense for your brand. If you have a strong brand that’s trusted in your industry, leverage that brand to grow your company by expanding your product offering. However, customers will lose trust in your brand if you sell soap and then suddenly open a grocery store chain under the same brand name, so make sure new products fit with your brand.

But there’s no point in thinking about how customers perceive your brand if you can’t attract their attention in the first place.

So, how can you capture the attention of potential customers to compel them to work with you?

A person is exposed to millions of stimuli every day. Think about driving: you may be listening to the radio, looking at a traffic signal, trying to change lanes, following navigation, looking at a speed limit sign, hearing your kids talk in the back seat, noticing a new building and watching the car in front of you put on its brake lights all at the same time. Phew.

However, not all of these stimuli are of equal importance to you all at the same time. That’s why, as humans, we have selective attention.  Selective attention helps our brains decide which stimuli to process and which to ignore at any given time. As a marketer, you’re competing against all these other stimuli when you’re trying to attract the attention of a potential customer.

With this in mind, you should ask yourself a few questions:

  • How will you differentiate yourself to capture attention? Make your messaging/marketing efforts engaging for your customers. Find a way to reach customers in different ways than your competition does.
  • What does the way you capture attention say about your brand? There are many ways to grab the attention of potential customers. Choosing the right way can have a big influence on how they perceive your brand. Do you want customers to see you as a company with a sense of humor? Send out funny tweets! Is your company driven by data? Feature stats and figures in your marketing messages.
  • How does your brand dictate you should capture attention? This is the flip side. What does your established brand image tell you about how you should market? If your company is already well known for great customer service, feature examples of that in your ads.

So now you’ve captured the attention of a potential customer.

How do you connect with that customer to form a lasting relationship?

  • Use the concept of brand personality. Brand personality simply means attributing human characteristics to your brand—as if it has a personality. Brand personality makes a brand more relatable to consumers and can be used to appeal to your target market. For example, if you’re trying to attract people looking for life insurance, you should make sure commercials, logos, copy and creative are sincere, trustworthy and reliable. If you are trying to be luxurious, create ads with cursive writing.
  • Appeal to emotion. A lasting relationship of any type (between people, that is) always involves emotion, good or bad. In a similar way, a customer who is emotionally attached to your brand will be more likely to become a repeat customer. Through your brand, you can show that your company cares about your customers. In turn, they will show you they care about you by continuing to engage with you.
  • Follow Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If you ever took a psych 101 class, you probably remember talking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. If you need a refresher, here’s a quick one. In essence, Maslow’s hierarchy is a pyramid with the most basic needs (like food and water) at the bottom and more specific and more difficult-to-fulfill needs closer to the top. People are motivated to fulfill each ‘level’ of needs.

This can seem rather complicated, but just ask yourself one question: what need does my company fulfill? If you own a McDonalds franchise, for example, you’re probably trying to fulfill the need to eat; an alarm company is appealing to the need for safety; a high fashion brand is trying to appeal to the ‘belonging’ and ‘esteem’ needs.

Compared to just a logo or a slogan, all of this can seem overwhelming, but psychology is an important part of building a brand that customers can trust. After all, psychology is the study of the human mind and your customers are only human.