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Acoustic encoding and other tricks to get into your customer's brain

Lodging yourself in the headspace of your customer is the goal of most marketers. Having a “share of mind” helps in your quest to gain “share of wallet”.

Key to this is your use of language; how you string words and sounds together. The opportunity is to capitalise on Availability Bias – your customer’s tendency to rely upon things that come readily to mind.

With that in mind it seems good timin’ to explain how rhymin’ gets the buy’in.

1. Rhyme can be sublime (acoustic encoding)

When something is easy for our brains to process, we are more likely to go with it. In fact researchers studying the impact of Processing Fluency found that statements that rhymed were more likely to be believed.

Rhyming is also a helpful memory aid (mnemonic). Tell me how many days there are in April?

Did you start singing “30 days hath September…” in your head?

What about whether the letter P is before or after S in the alphabet? Cue the alphabet song. A, B, C, D, E, F, G…

Acoustic encoding as it’s known, is a way of storing and retrieving information that is central to short-term memory. We might never remember where S really falls in the alphabet, but we know we can retrieve the information when we need it by reciting the song.

Some examples of acoustic encoding in the commercial realm include:

  • Pork on your fork
  • Beanz meanz Heinz
  • SPC baked beans…for hungry little human beings

2. Alliterations

Alliterations are a handy form of rhyme that repeat the same sound; “She sells sea-shells by the sea-shore”, for example. The letters are often, but not always the same.

In a business context, alliteration helps because the brand name is pleasant to recall:

  • PayPal
  • Coca-Cola
  • People Patterns
  • Brilliant Bri (sorry, just wanted to slip that one in)

3. Analogies

Analogies are a good memory aid too, helping people understand a new concept by building upon something already understood. 

Others that you may have come across:

  • Meat for vegetarians”: A campaign for mushrooms that celebrated their iron-rich benefits
  • Apple describing the computer screen as a ‘desktop’ to aid the transition from analog to digital
  • Microsoft using the ‘Folders’ and ‘Files’ that people were used to in their paper-based environment
  • “You’re not you when you’re hungry”: Chocolate manufacturer Snickers created an unpleasant representation of how you feel when you need food.

But what sort of analogy should you use?

recent study looked into whether some analogies are better than others when communicating new products.  According toThe University Of Delaware, the study tested two forms of analogy for a product called Coravin which allows you to pour wine from a bottle without pulling the cork.

The first analogy read as follows: “The Coravin wine access system is like having your own wine bar! It allows you to sample a variety of wines while preserving the remaining wine in the bottle.”

The researchers called this a ‘close’ analogy because the wine bar reference was very similar to the product’s purpose.

The second analogy instead compared Coravin to Spotify, the music streaming service.  In this case the ad read: “The Coravin wine access system is like having Spotify for your wine cellar! It allows you to sample a variety of wines while preserving the remaining wine in the bottle.”

This was an example of what the researchers called a ‘distant’ analogy because most people wouldn’t automatically connect Spotify to wine.

The researchers found that it didn’t make a difference whether the analogy was close or distant but it did matter how much additional information was provided to explain the product. When the analogy is close, more information can backfire because it over does things. When the analogy is distant (like shark teeth for retention), more information is helpful to fill in some of the gaps.

4. Triggers

The phrases you use can also help you “own” a usage occasion by tying yourself to the trigger. In Australia, if your dinner host tells you don’t need to contribute to the meal you are likely to think about Cadbury’s Favourites, chocolates that are “What to bring when you’re told not to bring a thing”.

Wrigley’s Extra chewing gum has also been trying to create a behavioural pattern by linking their product to “Eat, Drink, Chew”.

All these techniques - processing fluency, acoustic encoding, alliterations, analogies and triggers – prove yet again how important language is in influencing behavioural outcomes, and that how you say something can be as important as what you say.

In the words of Rita Mae Brown, "Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides." 

P.S. Resources I used in writing this blog and you may find helpful:


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Seems people love sublime rhyme all the time. Matching clients with science is a powerful alliance.

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