Clean Communication Is No Fad. Why Thematic Customer Analysis is a Brand’s Best Friend.

Is your brand messaging simple or complex? It only takes a moment to engage with your customers – or completely shatter your relationship with them.

Your customers choose or re-choose your brand in a series of critical moments. These moments are only about 15 seconds long. A typical brand has about two to four critical moments where a new customer may consider switching to your brand, or an existing customer may consider using a competitor’s brand.

What do we mean by a “moment” here?

A moment is when you’re trying to make that brand-based decision. A series of ideas come into your head. You try and mix these ideas together into a hierarchy to generate a single conclusion. You are trying to make a decision.

Thematics is understanding how people group these ideas together when making a decision.


Fortunately, these groupings are semi-predictable because we all communicate in a similar fashion. When someone explains the logic behind a decision, you’re probably going to understand where they’re coming from. It would be hard to communicate about anything if we didn’t roughly agree about the way we group ideas together.

When a consumers make a decision, there are usually four or five common themes which are related to it. You need to know what these themes are so you can communicate cleanly and you need to target communication on the one theme that matters most to any particular customer, as only that theme will influence them to buy your brand.

Context has to be right

When you interview customers about your products and brands they give you a host of criteria that matter to them. You try and get a feel for the most important shared criteria and then pack your marketing with messages relating your brand with what the consumer “really” wants.

Yet when the messaging goes into the world the results appear utterly unpredictable. Why?

Firstly, you are not in the right context. It’s not about what consumers generally think, it’s about what they actually think within that small window when they will actually be considering buying your product. Consumers can’t tell you what’s important to them at that moment, because simply put they don’t know.

Avoid Confusion (‘Incoherence’ in Psychology)

More importantly however the premise of influence is wrong. You need to understand how people organise their ideas and then in a very targeted way you need to speak to one of those themes and only one of them. The expectation is that if you talk positively on all themes this will be more influential, but that’s not how our brains work.

When themes get crossed, our brains can’t organise the information properly and the result is confusion followed shortly after by rejecting the message. Even worse, the source of the message becomes associated with that unpleasant sense of confusion and it creates an aversion to the brand and its messaging within the audience.

Why only one theme?

Most brand-based decisions don’t involve a complicated decision making process. You’re not going to spend hours weighing up the different options when you buy a bottle of shampoo. However, you’ll probably spend a little more time when picking which job offer to take or whom your going to marry.

This means that the average consideration time is 20 seconds when deciding between brands or products. That only really gives you enough time to consider one theme, and evaluate a brand/product within that theme before coming to make a decision.

Considering more than one theme is actually disproportionately difficult, requiring consumers to think for several minutes, and that’s another reason its just not feasible.

When the consumer opens their mind to consider their options in front of the supermarket shelf, within that 20 seconds only one theme is active. Their brain becomes a tumble of ideas on that theme, and as their eyes flick onto your product, their recall of the associations with your brand mix with this stream.

You are evaluated only on how clearly you fit into that stream, that way of looking at the world. The customer isn’t looking for to produce a rational powerpoint on why your product is best, the signal they are looking for is their brain calming, that feeling that the product fits them and the rest of the shelf falling away.

Effectively Changing Behaviour

How well you have communicated on that one important theme, and how clear the consumer’s brain and decision-making becomes when they look at your product is the only thing that changes that customers behaviour.

Isn’t that why we’re all here?