The impact of mimicry

Strolling along busy Manly beach promenade on a Sunday, indulging in one of my favourite hobbies – eating icecream and observing people – I got to thinking again about a phenomenon that I always found fascinating: dog owners who look like their dogs.


Once you focus on this, they are everywhere! Despite all the research I have done on this topic, I think there is no scientific evidence to date that would suggest that we now have to look critically at our dogs and worry about the impact they could have on us aesthetically. It appears to be more likely that owners more or less subconsciously choose dogs that look like themselves rather than adapting over time to look like their dog.

Dog food brand Cesar picked up on this, creating a campaign with dog and owner ‘look-alikes’, awarding the dog owners who most successfully found their animalist counterparts – providing some clear evidence that there is an essence of truth in this phenomenon.

What is interesting though is the proven fact that people actually do subconsciously mimic counterparts that they’re “on the same wavelength” with – and here we are rather talking about partners than pets. Over time this mimicry, which naturally happens because of the resonance that exists between two people who are close, assimilates in our facial lines; which, in fact, makes us really look more alike. A great reason to be careful about who you choose to hang out with!

But before we get too involved in what impact people around us might have on ourselves – last fortnight it was George Clooney on a rope bridge – let’s move to what this means in the context of brands.

Like humans, brands are made up of a certain set of values that give them a unique personality. If these brand values resonate with those of a person, a connection is formed. This happens mostly subconsciously; it happens because it ‘feels right’.

In other words: Great brands, those we choose to surround ourselves with, identify with, and recommend to other people, are like friends. They simply resonate with us.

(Authentically) mimicking values will increase your sales

Values are emotional and largely subconscious. In the same way that people form friendships with those who share like-minded values, people build relationships with brands. The key to enduring brand/consumer friendships is in the reliability and consistency when it comes to communicating these values and delivering on them. Reliability and consistency build trust and trust builds advocacy, which all translate to sales and loyalty.

Once you understand and know how to effectively communicate your values to the right customers, you’ll see the impact of mimicry, from brand cues right down to the store staff that is chosen carefully with regards to who your customers are.

Using neuroscientific methods, it is possible to uncover a brand’s underlying, subconscious set of values. Then, consequently, tap into all the cues and codes that make you swing on the same wavelength as your customers and that will make them want to hang out with you.

I welcome your feedback and comments below or by email to [email protected].

Katharina Kuehn is director of RDG Insights, a subsidiary of Retail Doctor Group, which provides retailers and brands with the missing link between understanding the real drivers of consumer behaviours and informing the strategic branding and operational implications at the point of sale. “Innovative consumer insights are vital to the development and implementation of a truly differentiated brand strategy. How we as humans interact with brands in a meaningful and loyal way underpins the growth and profitability of all businesses.”


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