Leveraging social science, data and cultural systems to send signals that resonate.
By Kent Stones, Senior Director, Business and Brand Strategy and Erika Chance, Brand Strategy Director
Every living thing signals. Animals signal information about their quality as a potential mate or the danger they present to a predator. Humans send signals that we’re listening and engaged in conversation. Even the clothes we wear signal things about our values and identity as a unique individual.
These signals can be useful in the context of marketing.
Consumers constantly send signals through things like their purchase history data, online searches, social media engagement, survey responses, and product reviews, among many others. These signals can reveal underlying information about the consumer’s desires, emotions, attitudes, or even future purchase intent. It’s important for brands to be in tune with and purposefully read and interpret these signals.
- Sales data
- Search and web traffic
- Search media listening/metrics
- Coupon and promotion metrics
- CRM/email metrics
- Ad performance metrics
- Economic indicators
- Online content metrics
- Product reviews
- Quantitative research/surveys
- Quantitative feedback
Brands also send signals to consumers. Every brand touch point sends a signal – the packaging, the brand’s look and feel, the price of the product, the in-store experience, social media interactions, community engagement efforts, and on and on. All of these things send signals about a brand’s underlying values, intent or expected quality.
- Product display
- Customer service
- In-person experience
- Buying experience
- Social media
- Coupons and promotions
- Community Involvement
A signal is defined as an action that reveals information. The study of signal theory is useful when two parties have access to different information, which is nearly always the case in the world of marketing.
Consumers have information about their wants, needs and desires that we as marketers don’t always know or understand. And we as marketers have information about our brands that we are trying to communicate to consumers. Understanding the signals that pass back and forth between brands and consumers reduces this lack of information, or information asymmetry, between parties.
At Signal Theory, we’re all about helping brands understand signals sent by consumers and crafting effective signals back to consumers in a way that creates resonance. When the signals that consumers send are in alignment with the signals sent by brands, magic happens.
We call this synchronization of signals “resonance.” Resonance is a quality of strongly affecting someone in a way that evokes a response. Signals have resonance when they have particular meaning or importance for someone in a way that strikes a chord or creates harmony. Our goal as marketers is to create those moments of resonance through the signals we send.
But humans aren’t the most straightforward of beings. The signals sent, either way, can be complex, subtle or even misleading. It’s not that we as humans intentionally make it harder than it has to be, it’s simply that we are influenced by powerful social and cultural forces that shape how we think, behave and make decisions, based on the sum of our experiences as we progress through different life stages.
If our goal is resonance, we must understand people more deeply. But how is it possible to understand their signals if so much is driven by these unseen forces? It comes down to exploring the way we as humans process them. Our strategic approach is based on understanding signals in the context of the consistent, predictable and immutable decision-making process.
How people triage these sensory exposures, and the emotional response that occurs, is influenced by the cultural systems in which we have been exposed over the course of our lives. If we study not only the physiological decision-making process itself, but also apply the social sciences, data and relevant cultural systems to learn what influences are shaping this natural process, we begin to understand why a person really makes the decisions they do — and how a brand fits or resonates in their world.
Doing this builds trust. And trust is the glue that holds society together and facilitates the exchanges that need to occur for a community to effectively function, ranging from basic transactions (functional trust) to the relationships we foster (emotional trust). Put simply, we designed our resonance branding process based on the belief that when we really listen to and observe people, that leads to understanding. That understanding creates empathy. And empathy, when shared, creates trust.
And trust is all that matters.