Photo Credit: Keystone,, woman with abnormally large eyes.

Why Isn’t Cognitive Branding a Thing?

Photo Credit: Keystone,, large eyed woman.

Photo Credit: Keystone,

They’re Watching You . . .

Whenever we play an app on our phone, check our e-mail, google something, make an online purchase, or physically go to the store, we are producing data.  I don’t mean to sound paranoid. I worked as a technical business analyst for two years – primarily in the agricultural and food sectors.  I have participated in the building of corporate data warehouses; and as much as anyone, I know that we’re living in the age of data.  Data explosion 2.0, also known as IoT, or the internet of things, is about connecting every conceivable aspect of our environment to a data collection site. Even your fridge will have a Wi-Fi connection that tells someone somewhere how many times you open your fridge in a day, along with the exact time of said opening (because that could be useful to know at some point). According to, a technology certification organization, there will be 50.1 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020. All of this data collection is, supposedly, to better service and understand the needs of the customer. It may come as no surprise, then, that marketing and human resource departments are the biggest consumers of all of this constant stream of data.

They’re watching you, but are they listening?

Photo Credit: Tony Garcia,, listening man with giant ear.

Photo Credit: Tony Garcia,

They’re watching, but are they listening? If you read the numerous articles about disruption in various markets, the answer would be a resounding no. Whether these corporate data consumers can place data into a relevant perspective, one that is effective in reaching their intended audiences, is another topic; however. As both a business analyst, and a customer, I find it hard to believe that, in the so-called analytics age when retailers have so much data available to them, that cognition branding isn’t a thing. In other words, while marketers know your ethnicity, your age, your income, location, and what you bought last week, they don’t necessarily know how to relate to you based on your cognition-style. Of course, while cognition branding may not be a thing, psychographic segmentation is. Nevertheless, psychographic segmentation is more focused on purchase behavior related to values and needs.  Therefore, even among organizations that use psychographics, there remains a clear disconnect between marketers and the consumer. This is particularly true in the case of the mysterious millennials, who seem to confound marketers to no end. The disruption in buying habits due to this new generation has proven to be a major issue for marketers not ready for the changeover.

It’s difficult to understand how this can be an issue if, as some have estimated, internet users generate 2.5 exabytes of data on a daily basis. As a business analyst, I know that too much data can be paralyzing. Not having the right type of data can be your undoing. The right kind of data is data from which you can extract usable intelligence. It’s what we call contextual in the data world. It’s clearly something that many marketers are missing in their struggle to use data effectively. I posit that marketers could be far more successful if they stopped viewing customers through the algorithmic lens of segmentation alone, and introduced an additional data element — cognitive branding.

If you’ve poked around the blog, you’ll know that I’m an INTJ (one of the 16 personality types from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) who believes in the power of seeing the world through cognitive functions. Since I discovered my cognition style and learned more about MBTI (it’s a lot more complicated than a surface glance would have you believe), I’ve come to wonder why marketers don’t use cognition-style to truly engage consumers (The idea of cognitive branding isn’t completely new. The term already exists in the vernacular, but is not applied widely in practice).

Semiosis: A View of Cognitive Branding

Izabela Habur photo

Photo Credit: Izabela Habur,

Cognition branding as described by Torkild Thellefsen and Bent Sørensen in Cognitive Branding as Described through an Analysis of the Fair Trade Brand, is “a theory of how the meaning of lifestyle values become embedded in a given artefact.” In other words, how brands can embed meaning into their product offerings. According to Thellefsen and Sørensen, this embedded meaning is achieved through communicating brand interpretation and meaning of certain values to brand consumers, creating a shared community, memory, or brand impression in which consumers will subconsciously know what to expect. This embedded meaning should also create interest and loyalty through emotional connection of like-minded brand consumers.  From the authors’ perspective, brand affinity comes from the affirmation of shared values. If  it speaks to you,  then you identify with it, so cognition branding is inherently achieved. More importantly, semiosis, the artistic discipline of embedding meaning , is also achieved.

From a pop psychology perspective of cognitive branding, Thellefsen and Sørensen’s approach is limited in regard to cognitive branding as a marketing/data element. Like psychographics, their view focuses more on the values and lifestyle of the consumer, as opposed to the cognition-style of the consumer. As an analyst, data lover, theorist, and INTJ, I am interested in taking their perspective a step further. For example, certain MBTI types may already have common lifestyle values. If your brand is all about spontaneity, and living in the moment, then you know that your best potential brand consumers would be dominant, extroverted sensing types: ESFP, ESTP, ISFP, and ISTP. With this in mind, it may be easier to know how to communicate with and market to these consumers. These types prefer explicitly defined, or slapstick humor. An ad such as State Farm’s Discount Double Check may appeal more to this type than to an intuitive type. In addition, these types are attracted to luxury goods. They aren’t scared off by a large price tag, which means you maybe able to have a higher markup on products if these cognition types are your core consumers.

Photo Credit: Arun Sankar,, Harry Potter Selfie

Photo Credit: Arun Sankar,

Creating a shared memory or impression is easy when you think about populations in terms of cognitive function, rather than demographics. For example, this isn’t wizard gold when I speculate that many hardcore Harry Potter fans are likely heavy intuition users. Rowling wisely gave Potter fans a world with lots of details and ideas that were hinted at, but never fully fleshed out. A book is intellectual property that can be extended into multiple products, as we all well know. In the case of Harry Potter, Harry Potter world would appeal to sensing types, but it began as a story that gave intuitives ample opportunity to go down rabbit holes and think about things from every theoretical, what if, angle they wished. The product allowed intuitives to take ownership, created the fan fiction marketplace, and made millions for many different types of companies. Harry Potter now exists worldwide as a shared collective memory representative of the following embedded meanings: magic, escapism, belonging, complexity, and whatever the reader wanted to put into the story).  It stands to reason that as a brand you would want to create a shared understanding or impression. But as a brand, knowing how your consumer can be reached, and creating strategies for multiple cognition styles, can help you determine if you should do a more theoretical approach (N) or practical hands on approach (S) at the very beginning of your marketing plan development.

In Summary

Photo Credit: Marga Frontera,

Photo Credit: Marga Frontera,

When applying cognition-style to branding, you already have a group of like-minded, sympathetic consumers that will pay attention if you approach them in the right way.  Thellefsen and Sørensen have given us a baseline foundation for understanding the importance of embedding meaning and creating shared, collective memory in branding. Nevertheless, their approach ignores the true power of cognition-style branding. Marketers who wish to utilize cognitive branding have to go beyond a values-based segmentation of the market and make the effort to understand how cognition works to make your product attractive to each MBTI-type.

I have already written four articles about how INTJs prefer to shop and what they look for in their fashion. This article is the first in the Always Uttori Cognitive Branding Series. The insights and writing for the Cognitive Branding Series will utilize the expertise of both I’mari Avey and Mechelle Avey (Mechelle Avey is both a marketing professional and my mother).

Be sure to check out Why I Hate Shopping at Sephora, where we discuss theories of cognition branding as applied to the Sephora Brand. Also, keep an eye out for more cognitive branding articles.



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