Sunday, August 14, 2005

Social Frames and Neuropsychology


There seems to be an inexplicable reason for PR to work when brand promotion and advertising does not. The shift to below the line is palpable. But there is new research that helps us understand what lies behind the success of effective PR.

The search takes one to the powerful work of Giep Franzen and Margot Bouwman (pictured) and their book Mental World of Brands (2002 WARC) and their interesting on-line interview with John Griffiths. I found this from following the thinking of Wendy Gordon in her chapter in Brand new brand thinking - edited by Merry Baskin and Mark Earls (Kogan Page, London 2002).

In less than 15 Year, there has been a sea change in in our understanding of how we think, feel and respond. Work from the research of people like Richard Kaplan and Robert Heath. Give us insights that have never been available until now.

Scanning technology and cognitive brain research experiments have enabled us to understand how the brain works as never before (very well described by Lucinda M. Wilson & Hadley Wilson Horch). And this understanding throws light onto how the accumulation of knowledge and emotional experiences combine to create effects at certain times and in certain situations.

These 'Social Frames' are those moments sought by PR practitioners which deliver the results that the client is looking for. Knowledge, of the client, it seems, is gained from and is moderated by a very wide range of experiences that are built up over time. In a process called synaptic modulation we gain knowledge through the five senses and build up a matrix into which a range of other influences can have an effect.

This knowledge and associated emotional triggers form the basis by which we deliver the client expectation.

The single 'brand' or 'three core messages' are just not enough on their own to have an effect. Indeed at that level, there is a lot of evidence to believe that such approaches are just blocked out.

Set in the wider context of relevant information of 'my newspaper' or 'my magazine' there is an emotional tug, which Guy Consterdine identified as a 'friend dropping in' which provides the powerful influence of editorial over advertising.

This principle applies to the many other domains of public relations practice well beyond the field of media relations.

The basic principle is relevant to all forms of PR. It is in the use and application of the relevant attention and memory process that are all important to the practitioner.

We know quite a lot about what works from a significant body of work in the field of education and much of this may well apply in the field of public relations.

It is quite reasonable to conclude that a broad based, rounded and durable approach to public relations is by far the most effective.

From research in the class room it would be reasonable to extrapolate a Neuropsychological PR approach to develop an even more effective public relations practice. We can reasonably suppose that using a broad range of domains of PR practice the most powerful campaigns would include activities that are most compatible with attention and memory such as:

  • Designing collateral, activities and events where publics' ask critical questions and then develop their own approach to find the answers, such as communicating with third parties and opinion formers.

  • Using experiences and activities that involve publics' understanding of various perspectives, points of view or a range of corporate/brand drivers, objectives and benefits.

  • Using a wide range of approaches to impart information through a wider range of cognitive senses (sight -written word, pictures, video, sound – talking, recordings, music, smell, that moment when you smell newsprint, touch the feel of paper, hands-on product experience, the weight of the briefing, and taste – who said the 'PR lunch' was dead!) to link memory to specific understanding of the client and its products.

  • Implementing strategies that encourage the publics to reflect on and reiterate what they learn about the organisation/brand to consolidate learning.

  • Posing visual and word problems or puzzles to challenge thinking so that publics learn that there are many ways to understand the client. This type of thinking strengthens the neural connections and gives publics' more confidence in their ability to understand their relationship and experience in the client context.

  • Involving publics in real-life experiences related to the client/brand and its objectives especially where there is an emotional element which is very powerful – emotional triggers are by far the most powerful and durable.

  • Using peer collaboration or cooperative learning helps broaden a public's understanding of issues and promotes group empathy.

  • Developing an integrated approach that encourages publics to face issues and concerns and weave them into the corporate or product competitive mission, sector or thematic.

There is a lot more research that is needed in this area and brand managers are well into these developments. Perhaps we can encourage PR researchers to look more closely at how these fabulous new development in Neuropsychology can aid the practice of PR.