Zane learned brand marketing at Bain & Company, Harvard Business School, P&G, Johnson & Johnson and Revlon before establishing Triggers®, a brand strategy and innovation consulting firm, in 1995.  She is unabashedly optimistic about the growth prospects of legacy brands.  “Every brand has unrealised growth potential, even long-standing brands that seem to have lost their luster,” she asserts.  “The secret is in knowing what drives brand growth today … and what stands in its way for the future.”

Triggers® draws on the advances in decision-making theory discovered by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky beginning in 1970.  Their academic work in behavioral economics led to Kahneman’s winning the Nobel Prize in 2002.  (Tversky unfortunately passed away in 1996.)  Later, Kahneman published his best-selling book Thinking, Fast and Slow in 2011, popularising their academic work on the dominant (and often illogical) influence of the subconscious mind on individual and collective decision-making.

Zane explained, “Kahneman and Tversky showed us that our minds operate on two levels when it comes to decision-making.  One, there’s an ‘always-on’ subconscious level that makes nonstop judgments and decisions without our knowing it, and two, there’s a ‘when-required,’ logical, data-analytical conscious level that is called up when judgments and decisions are more complicated.  Often, the subconscious mind ‘overrules’ the conscious mind, even though it has less correct data.  Research has since confirmed that 95 percent of purchase decision-making takes place in the subconscious mind.”

Zane has adapted Kahneman’s work for marketing purposes, showing that inside every subconscious shortcut is a collection of associations that dictates the brand choices that we make.  In “Cracking the Code on Brand Growth,” she and Wharton Professor Michael Platt explain that this network of accumulated memories is both dynamic and easily influenced.

In Triggers® consulting practice, brand associations are dissected, and all associations, both positive and negative, are identified.  Zane described how it works.  “Positive associations support brand purchase; negative associations inhibit it,” she said.  “When we’re confronted with a brand purchasing decision, our subconscious ‘votes’ instinctively in proportion to the positive and negative mix.  The brand with the most positive associations in our subconscious is the one we instinctively prefer and buy over and over again, as if we’re on autopilot.  The key to accelerating brand growth is to increase the mix of positive versus negative attributes through thoughtful brand communications.”

Zane claims that Triggers® has created more than $2 billion in incremental revenue for Fortune 100 brands through its focus on brand association modification.  She is critical of the industry’s rush to “personalise” marketing messaging, believing that it does not appropriately influence the subconscious influencers of purchasing behavior.  “Most efforts at personalisation fragment brand messages and destroy brand value,” she explained.  “Marketers can’t just pick and choose a specific mix of attributes to target a particular consumer segment.  Instead, marketers must reinforce a brand’s positive associations and eliminate the negative ones — to enrich the positive mix and strengthen their positive effect on purchasing behavior.”

Triggers® has been selective about the clients it takes on.  According to Zane, Triggers® will work only in those situations where top management is committed to a “rethink” of the drivers of brand growth and is willing to embark on an unconventional marketing journey to alter their mix.  “We’re looking for mutual commitment and agreed objectives to improve brand growth,” she said.  “We’ve turned down a lot of business because we did not think that a potential client was prepared to follow through.  Of course, we hope that there will be fewer of these in our future.  We’d like to see Triggers® become as well-known as, say, Bain & Company for its performance-improvement practice.”

First published in Media Village on May 8 2019