Reason to Believe or Reason to Not Doubt? A Behavioral Science Perspective on Brand Communication

In branding and, more specifically, brand communication there is the concept of reason to believe.

In a nutshell, reason to believe is the argument supporting a (the) claim made by a brand.

For example, a product line from the cosmetics brand Nivea claims to help women to prevent / reduce wrinkles. This sub-brand is Nivea Q10 or Nivea Q10 Plus.

The claim of helping with wrinkles is supported by the argument (reason to believe) that these cosmetic products have the Coenzyme Q10.

If we see people (consumers) as rational agents, the marketing / branding communication endeavor should go as follows:

The brand makes a claim – promises a benefit for the consumer. In the example above this is dealing with wrinkles.

Next, the brand backs this claim with a very strong (rational) argument:

The brand helps you with wrinkles because it contains the Coenzyme Q10.

It is (more or less) assumed that the consumers know what Coenzyme Q10 does and acknowledges its benefits.

In behavioral science jargon, this communication endeavor is focused on convincing System 2 that the brand claim (promise) is genuine and supported by strong arguments.

At first glance and holding in mind an idealistic view of human nature, this logic makes sense. Our consumers are rational agents and we (the marketers) need to convince them that what we promise will actually happen to them.

Nonetheless, this is (almost) completely wrong.

We know that people have two systems of judgment, quite unappealingly named System 1 and System 2. We also know that the default way of reasoning is System 1 which is based on relatively simplistic rules of judgment (heuristics). System 2 is the number crunching, rational arguments and effortful reasoning way in which we process information. And System 2 is called “2” because it is the secondary judgment system. To put things simply, it needs to be activated.

What is often ignored in presentations, talks, books etc. on System 1 and System 2 thinking is how these judgment modes interact. I will not develop the topic here (I did it in my book It Makes (No) Sense).

What is relevant for this post, is that System 1 and 2 work together in detecting serious anomalies in the information processed. They work like a smoke detector. If things are within tolerable boundaries, nothing special happens. However, when there is smoke, the alarm is activated and System 2 starts checking for problems.

Going back to branding communication,

talking to System 2 by presenting solid arguments to back-up a claim (promise), is deeply flawed for two (major) reasons.

First, System 2 might very well not be activated, thus the communication effort might very well fall on deaf ears. Second, more often than not (and more often than we like to admit) marketing communication should not talk to System 2. This is because System 2 might wake up and start looking for problems in the claim and its backing… and most often it will find enough of them.

What about reason to believe?

If we are to adopt a behaviorally informed marketing approach,

we should see the Reason to Believe as Reason to Not Doubt.

While on the surface reason to believe and reason to not doubt might take the same form (shape), in depth they are significantly different.

Reason to not doubt is that plausible (enough) argument that makes the client not doubt what the brand is claiming. In other words, it is that piece of information that keeps System 2 asleep.

Sometimes (too often, if you ask me), Reason to Not Doubt is more of a smoke screen that makes the bull-shit detector (System 2 in a critical mode) not activate.

Before returning to the Nivea and the Coenzyme Q10 example and explaining how reason to believe is, in fact, Reason to Not Doubt, let's look at an example from the dating world.

Let’s assume that He and She had some initial (social) contact. He calls Her to ask her out on a date. She is not very impressed by Him and wants to reject Him.

Knowing this, let’s assume that He calls Her to ask her out.

“Hi (a lot of bla bla) … Would you like to go out on Thursday?”

She answers: “No”

Now, in His mind the alarm system is activated. Why isn’t she willing to go out on a date? Did I make a bad impression? Doesn’t She like me? etc.

But, as we know, ladies (usually) reject gentlemen in a rather soft manner.

Now, let’s assume that She answers with:

“Sorry, I can’t. I’m busy”

The “I’m busy” part is (sort-of) a Reason to Believe. But as most of us know, the “I’m busy” is not a very plausible reason why She is not willing to go on a date.

Now, let’s assume that She answers with:

“I can’t go out because I’ll be with my boyfriend and he’ll not be very happy if I would cancel and go out with you instead”

In this case, the thought going through His mind will be: I’m barking at the wrong tree. There will be no doubt that she is not an available mating partner.

Here’s the beauty of Reason to Not Doubt.

He doesn’t know if She really has a boyfriend, or even if She does, there is no certainty that She will be with her boyfriend at the suggested time of the date. Nonetheless, 99.999% of guys will not actually investigate whether She said the truth. He will simply back-off because there isn’t any reason to doubt her claim …

Things are relatively similar in the marketing communication endeavors. If a brand simply makes a claim such as It helps you with the wrinkles, the immediate reaction might very well be: Yeah! Sure… I have never heard that before.

When backing a claim such as It helps you with the wrinkles with a Reason to Believe such as because it contains the Coenzyme Q10, the consumer should know or search what the Coenzyme Q10 is and what are its effects.

Just as a note, I tried reading about the Coenzyme Q10 here, but I couldn’t understand a thing and I guess that the huge majority of people in the target audience do not understand too much.

More often than not, the people in the target audience will behave like the guy asking for a date when faced with I’ll be with my boyfriend. It is plausible enough to not doubt the claim.

On the surface, the fact that we should not give Reasons to Believe, but give Reasons to Not Doubt might seem like a nuance. However, there are profound differences and huge implications for marketing communication.

I hope I gave enough reasons to not doubt my claim ;)

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