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Book Review: Brand esSense
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Book Review: Brand esSense by Neil Gains

Brand esSense: Using Sense, Symbol and Story to Design Brand Identity

Written by: Neil Gains. London, UK: Kogan Page, 2014. 218+xi pages. US$39.95.
Reviewed by: Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, Ph.D., NPDP

Brand esSense

Much of the customer data gathered during the market research phases of new product development (NPD) is focused on positioning the product upon commercialization. New products attempt to solve a customer's problem while the marketing collateral yields an emotional link with the consumer. "Brand esSense" by Neil Gains goes a step further in advising the branding decisions based on human senses.

The author identifies a logical framework for product branding involving senses, symbols, and stories. About half of Gains' book is dedicated to explaining the breadth and depth of human senses. Chapter 1, for instance, includes data demonstrating that we humans respond to our perceptions and expectations more than we do to "what's really out there" (pg. 12). Effective marketing of new products certainly relies on customer's perceptions as well.

In Chapter 2, "The Senses Close Up," the author details the influence of packaging decisions and response by customers to color and feel of the product. Humans' visual sense is the strongest, but our sense of smell drives our emotions the most. Underlying sensory influences impact our purchasing decisions in many ways.

Later chapters of "Brand esSense" discuss how signs fit into a product branding decision. Signs include symbols and language to describe the product. For instance, the color purple is interpreted in Western cultures to represent wealth and luxury. This is one reason Cadbury chocolates are wrapped in purple – a shade that has been trademarked by the candy company.

From a language perspective, naming of a new product can be iconic, symbolic, or indexical as Gains explains in Chapter 4. A picture of a cat is iconic in that it looks like thing it represents. The word "cat" is symbolic, however, because there is no direct relation between the word and the animal. Finally, the sound "meow" coupled with a graphic of two pointed ears and long whiskers provides an indexical representation of a cat, connecting the significance of the symbol to the meaning of the thing.

Such signs and symbols should be considered carefully as a new product is branded for market entry. Gains provides a set of great examples on the importance of signs and symbols for products as diverse as energy drinks and perfume.

Finally, personas and customer stories complete the branding framework. Gains proposes that customers will perceive benefits from products among just ten human values (Chapter 5). Each of twelve archetypes is described in Chapter 6 in detail, along with examples of both successful and failed brands. The reader will recognize brand leading companies like Disney, Volvo, and Pepsi, learning how these brands adopt an archetype personality to establish faithful repeat customers.

Neil Gains has written a concise book with an encompassing overview on the impact of senses to product branding. Chapters and references on the human senses are stellar causing the reader to re-examine brands and marketing decisions. The chapters describing how archetypes can be used in branding are valuable to firms that identify target customer groups or model end-users as personas.

For technical new product development practitioners, "Brand esSense" is a great introduction to human interactions with and perceptions of products. Marketing personnel should be strongly reminded of emotional linkages to product design, including the senses, signs, and stories.

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