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Cognitive ease - a behavioural aspect on brand exposure

In his book Brand Against the Machine, John Morgan talks about the importance of brand visibility...

He states that brand visibility is more important than brand ability, because visibility gets customers in the door while ability keeps them there. What Morgan is touching on here is the concept of cognitive ease. Cognitive ease refers to the ease with which our subconscious thought processes process certain stimuli. It can be influenced by many things; for example we're more likely to be in a state of cognitive ease when:

  1. We're happy
  2. We've had repetitive exposure to a stimulus
  3. We're in a state of flow
  4. We've been appropriately primed

What Morgan doesn't mention, and what marketers can learn from the concept of cognitive ease, is that visibility can actually effect initial perceptions about your brand's ability to deliver (point 2 above).

Cognitive ease has a lot of important implications for marketers. In the case of brand visibility, it asserts that the more visible your brand is (particularly with regards to frequency of visibility) the more positively prospective customers will feel about your brand. A brand that is more visible becomes more familiar to prospective customers, thereby increasing the cognitive ease prospects will experience when seeing or thinking about the brand (in the absence of other influences such as past experiences with the brand).

From a brand exposure perspective, cognitive ease then translates into:

  • More positive perceptions about the brand
  • Favourable feelings about the brand's positioning and ability
  • More trust towards the brand, and the like.

A study conducted by Robert Zajonc illustrated this quite succinctly (he refers to "the mere exposure effect"). In his research, random Turkish words were placed in a varsity newspaper each day but the frequency of each word was varied. The more frequently a word appeared in the newspaper, the more positively readers felt about the word - even though they did not know what the word meant.

Cognitive ease - a behavioural aspect on brand exposure
© Engin Korkmaz –

Therefore, maintaining brand exposure (whether online or in traditional media) is important to developing positive perceptions towards a brand. This is of course assuming that the brand exposure does not elicit a negative emotion explicitly (e.g. in the case of spam), or that the prospective customer does not have any already-established beliefs about the brand.

Cognitive ease can also be applied to other aspects of a brand, such as:

  • Brand names and/or product names - keep them simple and easy to pronounce/read
  • Typography - ease of legibility improves cognitive ease
  • Advert layout/design - less clutter and cleaner layout will promote cognitive ease and positive associations
  • Emotional cues - we've already noted the importance of promoting happiness through smiles and happy people

For marketers, it's important to maintain brand visibility and to keep the principle of cognitive ease in mind when designing brand touch points. The adage of "out of sight, out of mind" definitely applies, but we need to bear in mind that exposure also effects perceptions about our brands, and not just recall alone.

About Brandon Bester

Brandon is a Director at Neural Sense - a South African Neuromarketing research company. Hailing from the technology industry, Brandon has a keen interest in technology. He also has a passion for understanding consumer behaviour.

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