In business one of the classic findings is that you derive a lot of value from consistency. So a brand that is consistent across time attracts value because people are used to seeing certain images over and over and over again. And this is true about money. Money acquires value through its familiarity or its fluency. So in one of our experiments we asked people how much they thought they could buy with money. And we gave them either a picture of a dollar bill, a standard dollar bill, and then said to them, “How many thumbtacks could you buy? How many paperclips could you buy? How many Skittles? How many M&Ms?” Things like that.
Half of them saw that condition, that piece of currency. The other half saw a Photoshop version of that currency – so a slightly unfamiliar version. They didn’t recognize that it was different. When you asked them they had no idea. But we did a couple of things. For example, we changed the direction of George Washington’s head. So instead of facing the way that it normally does we flipped it in Photoshop so it was facing the other way. We moved around a number of other elements within the bill. And what we found was that people thought they could buy less with it. Even though they didn’t know that it was not the same bill, that somehow there was sort of a bizarre feeling there. There’s something bizarre about this bill that makes it feel slightly less valuable. And you find that when they make their judgments about how much they think they can buy.
So that suggests in a marketing context or in a business context that there is a lot of value in consistency, fluency, regularity. I think what’s especially tricky, though, is you also need to keep a brand vibrant. So you’ve got this constant tussle between familiarity, fluency, regularity, a chronic brand image that doesn’t change across time. But also you need to keep the brand fresh. And so this is a constant tussle for marketers and it’s tricky to try and work out how you can capture those elements that don’t change across time while keeping the brand fresh.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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