branding, psychology

Familiarity breeds contempt? Maybe not…

Heuristics are mental rules of thumb, simple efficient rules or generalisations which help us to make quick decisions in everyday life.  One of the interesting heuristics that comes up in the book I’m reading at the moment – On Second Thought by Wray Herbert – is the Fluency Heuristic.  It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that if words are written in a harder-to-read typeface, we take more time to process them and hence think more deeply rather than making a snap decision.  The aspect of this heuristic which most intrigued me, however, was the idea that making something more difficult to read or less familiar, makes us value it less.

The example given in the book was of participants in a study ‘buying’ items from a menu of commodities.  Each participant was given the same currency and commodities, the only difference being the typeface in which the menu was written: a clear black font or a difficult to read grey script.  According to Wray, participants in the study consistently rated identical items as less valuable if they’d used the menu with the more unfamiliar script.  He describes how this finding generalises not just to scripts but to other perceptions of familiarity.

How does the way you present your product or service affect your customers’ perception of its familiarity, and hence perhaps its value?  One interesting example is naming your company.  Many smaller high-tech companies use technical-sounding syllables for their names, such as Abgent, Microvisk, Prosonix.  This tech-speak can be important in establishing brand and credibility in a high-tech space – however is it influencing your customers’ perception of value?  Are simpler-sounding names such as Cobalt Light Systems or Oxford Instruments more likely to be valued highly by consumers?  This is certainly the case – according to Wray – for the value of companies during IPOs on the stock exchange.

A company’s name is of course a small part of its brand: the logo, typeface, language on the website and experience with the product are all part of the mix, and each product may have a different, more accessible consumer-facing name.  Next time you’re considering your brand, take a moment to think about its accessibility – whether that’s the typeface, the name or the language – and how that influences perceptions of value.