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Kevin Perlmutter of Limbic Brand Evolution

A conversation with Kevin Perlmutter, Founder and Chief Strategist of Limbic Brand Evolution. Kevin explains how he established his brand strategy and neuromarketing consultancy, and shares some of the ways he helps brands increase consumer desire, engagement, and loyalty with emotional insights. We discuss the use of agile consumer neuroscience research tools to evaluate creative, and Kevin recommends three books that can help apply neuromarketing concepts to brand strategy.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Kevin Perlmutter: I’ve created a Limbic Sparks approach to brand strategy. And that is all about finding the intersection of emotional motivation between a brand and the people that brand is trying to reach.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. If you listen to IN CLEAR FOCUS regularly, you’ll know that throughout this season we’ve been discussing brand strategy. We’ve looked at what brands are, how to audit existing brand assets, using semiotics to decode brands’ signs and symbols, and how consumers attend to brand messages. As we’ve learned, contemporary branding practice is influenced by psychology and behavioral economics. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink published in 2007, and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, published in 2011, resulted in a broader awareness among marketers of how non-conscious thought processes shape our experiences and the role that emotion plays in how we respond to brands. Our guest today is a brand strategy, customer experience, and a research innovator. Kevin Perlmutter is the Founder and Chief Strategist at Limbic Brand Evolution, a brand strategy and neuromarketing consultancy, helping clients increase consumer desire, engagement, and loyalty with emotional insights. He’s created the Limbic Sparks approach to brand strategy. Prior to founding Limbic, Kevin led strategy, innovation, and research for Made Music, a sonic branding studio, where he created their award-winning consumer neuroscience research capability. Prior to that, Kevin was a strategy leader at Interbrand where he created their first global customer experience offering. He’s also a regular contributor to Branding Mag, where he writes on the science of emotion and how it can impact brands. To discuss how emotional insights can be turned into a competitive advantage for brands, Kevin is joining us today from his office near New York City. Kevin, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Kevin Perlmutter: Thank you so much for having me. It’s wonderful to be part of this.

Adrian Tennant: Limbic is a brand strategy and neuromarketing consultancy. Could you start by defining the term neuromarketing for us in the context of brand strategy?

Kevin Perlmutter: Certainly, I mean, neuromarketing is such an important field and of course its origins are in the study, from a research perspective, of how the brain is operating: people going into labs, FMRI studies, and truly monitoring brain activity at an individual respondent level. But as it relates to brand strategy, it’s really about understanding relevant human emotions. It’s about understanding what causes people to think certain ways, how stimulus affects their understanding and context of a situation, and how they go about making decisions as it relates to products and experiences and interactions that they’re having in daily life.

Adrian Tennant: What kinds of brand strategy challenges do your clients bring to you at Limbic?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, the primary focus of my business at Limbic Brand Evolution is brand strategy through the lens of emotional insight. So I’m doing the same kind of strategy work that most brand strategy consultants do. But my practice is exclusively focused on making decisions about a brand strategy through the lens of emotional insight. So I’m all about creating stronger connections between brands and people. And I’m tapping into the limbic part of our brain, the system one part of our brain, that operates at the subconscious level to control emotion, motivation, behavior, and memory to guide people toward decisions about brands based on how they want to feel in life in general. So the challenges that I’m helping my clients deal with? I’m helping them focus. I’m helping them connect. I’m helping them evolve. I’m helping them have deeper consumer insights that lead to more differentiated and relevant brand positioning, helping them have better customer experiences, messaging that actually connects with people. I’m helping them create those stronger connections between themselves and the people they want to reach.

Adrian Tennant: You just referred to system one thinking. I did mention in the introduction, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman who introduces this metaphor of system one and system two. So Kevin, what does an engagement with Limbic typically look like for a client?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, the primary work I’m doing is foundational brand strategy at the brand level. And, that leads of course, to all kinds of activations. So it’s not just a brief for advertising. It’s a brief for how the brand presents itself through experiences, through messaging, through any kinds of marketing communications. So the typical work that I’m doing is: First, there’s a lot of insights discovery involved to create that strategy development. So the first phase of work is getting to understand more about the brand that I’m working with, their challenges, and all the things you would typically expect in a strategy engagement. I’m going very deep in the time that is allotted, given the project size, on understanding the customer and truly helping my clients understand what makes people tick. What is it that they need to know about people and how they’re going about life so that they could understand the relevant ways that their brand could play a valuable role? So once the project is set up and defined, I’m able to come in and out as a project-based strategist or in some cases I’m a retainer-based or a fractional Chief Strategy Officer for a brand over a longer period of time where I’m not helping them with just one project, I’m helping them with a variety of rolling challenges that they’re trying to solve.

Adrian Tennant: Do you typically engage with agencies’ or clients’ in-house creative teams? And if so, what are the dynamics like in those relationships?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yes. I mean, that’s some of the greatest work I get to do is the collaborations I have with other agencies, creative agencies, or in-house client creative teams. I love to collaborate and the work that I do requires collaboration at some level, because I’m not doing all of the activation work. I’m doing the strategy, I’m setting the brief. I’m setting up the creative activations for greater success and effectiveness. So sometimes that results in a handoff of my work to other teams. Sometimes I bring in the creative resources to do that work with my clients. And sometimes my work is extended to be a seat at the table with those teams, and help them through the activation process. Sometimes I’m doing projects independently with my clients, and sometimes I’m being brought in by creative agencies to fill a void in their roster and actually create the Limbic Sparks strategy that is going to help their work be more successful. 

Adrian Tennant: As someone who worked agency-side yourself for many years, do you think you’re viewed with less suspicion than other types of consultants?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah, it’s an interesting territory. And it kind of says a bit about our industry, that the question has to be asked that I might be brought in with suspicion. But the true answer is that my best relationships in the business are with agencies and creative teams. And I understand how to work with creative teams. I’ve worked in many creative environments as a strategist and what I bring to the table starts with a trusting relationship between me and my creative partners. They trust that I understand their job and their stresses and what they are on the hook to deliver. And they know, through the work we do together, that I’m going to help their work be more successful as a partner in the process. I’m not there to trip up their work. I’m not there to just represent what the client wants, which is the last thing that they want to hear. I’m there to actually help uncover insights that will make valuable contributions to the creative process. In fact, you prepped me a little bit and I knew this topic was going to come up. And interestingly, just the other day, I got a note from a partner of mine at a creative agency. We just finished a project together. And I was brought in as a strategist on the project and the creative team is continuing to do their work. And she actually wrote to me, and this is worth noting. She says, “it’s been an absolute joy to collaborate with you on this work, your ability to insert emotional resonance, and translate it to focused outputs for the team has been simply outstanding.” I mean, and that’s the best kind of compliment I can get from a creative partner when my work is part of their work.

Adrian Tennant: Oh, absolutely. Well, as I mentioned in the introduction, you’ve held senior positions in the industry. I’m curious, Kevin, what led you to an interest in emotion-based consumer insights?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, thank you for that. And yes, I’ve worked on the agency side for many years, ad agencies in the beginning of my career, seven years, as you mentioned at Interbrand, where I launched the customer experience practice. And then four and a half years at a music studio where I led strategy, innovation and research. And when I was at Interbrand, I went there because that was the stage two of my career, where I was looking to get out of advertising and stop making promises that brands weren’t keeping and focusing more on delivering great experiences. So the ability to focus on a customer experience practice and launching that was an amazing moment for me in my career because I was able to innovate something new. When I went to the music studio, I learned a lot about the science of emotion, and I learned about neuroscience when creating that research capability with my outside partners. And I have neuroscience friends right now that continue to help me to understand how the brain works and how to apply that insight to brand strategy. So after years of working in customer experience, years of learning about how the brain works, I recognized there was an opportunity, a void in the market, to create a brand strategy consultancy that brings those worlds together to focus exclusively on emotional insight, how the brain works, and apply that to strategy. So that was really the inspiration to create the business that I’ve created, is my interest in bringing emotion-based insight into brand strategy, not as a side note, but as the epicenter of how I think.

Adrian Tennant: Well, before we get to your work with Limbic Brand Evolution, I would like to talk about that experience with music. Traditional market research of course relies on self-reported data, which means survey respondents or focus group participants consciously consider a question before making a selection or answering the moderator. The pioneering work you did with Made Music Studio focused more on non-conscious or implicit responses. Kevin, could you tell us what you learned about the subconscious impact of emotion on consumer desire as it relates to sonic branding?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah. Well, the biggest thing that I learned is that if our job as marketers is to motivate people to take action, to learn about a brand, to desire that brand, to move in that direction. If our job is to motivate them, then we need to be operating in a way that has the greatest impact on what motivates human beings. And when we were working in the music studio and wanting to understand how the sound that we were creating was impacting people, we recognized that sound affects people at a subconscious level before it affects them consciously. So trying to evaluate the work at a conscious level, how does that sound make you feel? Well, it made them feel something. You’ve asked the question, and now they’re thinking about their answer and telling you a story that may not be what they originally instinctively felt. So the biggest takeaway from working at the music studio for me, was that our brains have a lot going on that we are not consciously aware of. And it’s informing a lot of our feelings, our associations, and our behaviors. And as marketers, as brand people, if we’re not tapping into those instincts that people are having, and we’re only focused on their conscious responses, then we’re not getting the full story and we’re not doing our jobs most effectively.

Adrian Tennant: Kevin at Limbic Brand Evolution, you offer clients a process you call Limbic Sparks. Could you explain what it is?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah, well, my company is named Limbic Brand Evolution. That was very deliberate because my practice is focused on the limbic part of our brain. So I had to think, “Well, what am I actually doing for my clients?” So I came up with this term, Limbic Sparks. It’s my trademark, it’s my IP. And, I’ve created a Limbic Sparks approach to brand strategy. And that is all about finding the intersection of emotional motivation between a brand and the people that brand is trying to reach. You see, the thing we have to understand is that brands should exist to make people’s lives better. All of them are in the world, but not all of them are dedicated to making people’s lives better. And people on the other side of that equation are not walking around, looking for brands. They’re trying to have a good life. So my job as a strategist is to do what I call: create Limbic Sparks and Limbic Sparks happen when people intersect with a brand and they feel like, “Wow, this brand gets me. They are there for me, their experience, their offering, their products, their messaging was designed with me in mind and it just feels like a perfect fit.” Sparks fly and the instinctive part of our brain and all of a sudden we desire that brand. That’s what my process is designed to achieve.

Adrian Tennant: So in what kinds of ways does the Limbic Sparks process impact outcomes or deliverables for your clients?

Kevin Perlmutter: So what my process does first and foremost is it focuses very efficiently on what matters most. It’s focused on how we want people to feel and it leads to differentiated brand positioning that is proven to be more effective simply because it’s focused on the things that matter most to people and the things that will inspire the greatest action that’s compelling.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for May is Influencing Shopper Decisions: Unleash the Power of Your Brand to Win Customers by Rebecca Brooks and Devora Rogers. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Influencing Shopper Decisions, go to KoganPage.com – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We surveyed consumers across America to find out how their shopping behaviors had changed as a result of the pandemic. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts who reflect on the study’s findings and explore the implications for retailers and brand marketers in 2022.

Doug Stephens: It’s logical to assume that as we see this metaverse construct, as we as individuals spend more and more time in these virtual worlds, that the adoption of things like virtual apparel might start to make more and more sense.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are you know meeting your consumer, where they are is important. to not think about channels as competitive to each other, thinking about them as complementary.

Andy Sheldon: When you’re watching something as a live stream, that’s linear, there’s no choice, but to watch what’s going on at that moment on the shopping teller.

Syama Meagher: I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand. 

Adrian Tennant: For a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing watch Bigeye’s Envision 2022. For details, go to bigeyeagency.com/insights.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Kevin Perlmutter, Founder and Chief Strategist of Limbic Brand Evolution, a brand strategy and neuromarketing consultancy. During a recent webinar for Branding Mag, you said that bringing neuromarketing insight into the creative process has to start with an understanding of people and what they want to accomplish in their lives. In what kinds of ways do you translate those insights and use them to inform creative or strategic briefs?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah. So as I’ve been saying, you know, I’m focused on the things that matter most, and the single most important question that I help my clients answer is why should people care about your brand? With an emphasis on the word care. I mean, honestly, most people are indifferent. They’re not walking around looking for brands. They’re just looking to have a good life. So, by focusing on that question, why should people care? I’m constantly seeking to understand through questions, through research, through conversations, through observation, I’m trying to understand what is it that this brand is doing that is so wonderful that more people should know about? And what is it that people that this brand wants to reach are actually trying to achieve in life? And how can I create a strategy that leads to messaging and experiences that bring those two worlds together? So really, that’s how it affects the creative process and how it informs the briefs that are more powerful than briefs that don’t focus on that question.

Adrian Tennant: Once creative has been developed, do you typically test to evaluate the work?

Kevin Perlmutter: I’m a big fan of testing and evaluating work. And you know, that question really has more to do with a client’s budget and their ambition for understanding more reliably that the work is solid and will achieve their goals. So, when there’s an opportunity to test the work, I’m certainly all for that, I’m a proponent of testing. Sometimes the gap between where you started and where you’re going is so large that testing may not even seem necessary because you’ve clearly solved the challenge in a new and interesting way that everyone on the team feels is definitely taking it to a new level. And the investment in research is not necessarily there. Sometimes you’re working on such a big stage with such a big brand, where the investment that comes after the strategy is so large that spending a little extra money on research is definitely worthwhile. And you want to just have that extra bit of validation before you move forward. So, I am a big fan of testing the work, but I don’t always feel it’s necessary. But I’ll never shy away from it if it’s something that the client wants to do.

Adrian Tennant: So Kevin, what are some of the most interesting projects that Limbic has undertaken recently?

Kevin Perlmutter: So, yes, I love that question because there’s some really awesome projects that I’ve been doing. I’ve had my company now for about three years. And in that time, you know, there have been a handful of projects related to brand creation, actually launching a brand new offering that has not been put out into the market yet. So I’ve worked with several new brands to determine how they should be positioned, what their value is to the world, originating and helping them define their personality, and their messaging, and guiding how they come to life. As I said, I collaborate with creative agencies on visual identity and website designers. Oftentimes my role is both strategy and copywriting for the website. So that’s brand creation has been one category of really interesting projects. Another one is portfolio architecture. Oftentimes I’m working with a client on their offering architecture or sometimes working with a very large brand that has multiple offerings and emerging offerings that are becoming broader than their original core and they’re trying to figure out how they can make the entirety of their offering clear and compelling, and making sure that each offering that they put out there is distinctively adding value to the overall brand promise. So that’s a very interesting type of project that I get to do. Sometimes it’s an individual project. Sometimes it’s an ongoing relationship where I’m rolling through their different offerings and helping them figure out how to make them distinct and valuable. And then the last one is typically repositioning. I do a lot of work with service-based businesses. Sometimes they’re a commodity in their space. You know, you have one company in this field, it’s offering the same exact services as five others in their field and geographic territory. But my job is to help make them distinct in that competitive set and, oftentimes the answer lies in their style of service and what customers love about them and what makes their style of service distinct from their competitors. And, oh yeah, “Of course we offer all of these things that are the same as our competitors, but when you’re working with us, this is how you will feel differently, how you will be treated differently as a customer.”

Adrian Tennant: What are the most common misconceptions that you find clients or agencies have about consumer neuroscience and neuromarketing?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, I think first of all, they hear those words and it’s new. So a lot of times people shy away from the new. It’s an instinct that we have. It’s a cognitive bias that we go down the path of least resistance and avoid things that are new and complicated and require a lot of investigation. So, first of all, I think that the fact that it’s new causes people to not understand or overestimate how complicated it is. I think the second thing is that, the perception is that it’s expensive because neuromarketing is often associated with pulling people into a lab and doing FMRIs and very expensive research and it’s not like that anymore. There are research methodologies out there that are much more efficient, can be done at a quantitative level, can be done online. And if you find the right partner, then you will be working with a research methodology that is reliable, validated scientifically, and has high degrees of proven reliability and it’s not that expensive to bring that into the work. And I think the biggest misconception is that it’s not that important. I’ve bet my career on the fact that that is not true, uh, that it is incredibly important, that there is research and data that proves it’s incredibly important. And I think it’s a misconception that ignoring this is OK.

Adrian Tennant: So Kevin, how do you keep up to date with the ever-expanding universe of research platforms and possibilities?

Kevin Perlmutter: You know, I have a lot of friends in the business. I have a lot of friends at research companies. I read a lot. But the most important thing is to recognize that technology is allowing us to get better and better at understanding people’s instincts and motivations and giving us more of an ability to predict their behavior. There’s evidence out there that this is an important thing that’s happening. There are a lot of research companies out there claiming that they do this kind of work. I would caution that not all of them have gone through the rigor of validating that their methodologies will get you reliable results. So you really need to vet the companies that are out there, because this is a bit of a movement and people are jumping on and finding ways to do research that imitates those that have been pioneers in validating their methodologies. But, I keep up with these conversations and it’s important to me to know where this is going, because it’s very important for our industry.

Adrian Tennant: Well, when you and I first spoke about how we might structure this podcast conversation, I noticed that you and I have many of the same books on our office shelves. So are there any particular titles that you found especially helpful or insightful that you’d recommend to IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners interested in learning more about the topics we’ve been discussing?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah, certainly there are. You know, one of the most informative books on the topic that you mentioned earlier is Daniel kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, which is an incredibly in-depth read that I would work hard to get through or at least, you know, understand the highlights of, because that’s the foundation of a lot of the things that we’re talking about. There’s a book called How Emotions Are Made that I think is a very insightful book that recognizes a lot of the principles that I believe in, regarding emotions and context of experiences and how that affects people’s emotions. And slightly off the topic of emotion in the way that we’ve been talking about it, is a book that I’m a huge fan of called Nine Lies About Work. And what Nine Lies About Work does, is it busts nine myths about corporations and policies and how things typically happen. And one of the biggest conversations in that book is around leadership. And I think this does apply to what branding is all about. It asks the question, what are the common traits of leaders, the biggest leaders in the world? And the answer to that question is that, in fact, you know, while there are many articles that have said, well, “leaders are this, this, this, and this and this,” that the common traits of the most famous leaders of the world, there are no specific common traits. In fact the biggest leaders in the world, the biggest innovators in the world are such usually because they’re very good at one or two things. And then they surround themselves with people who could fill in the gaps of what they’re not as good at. So the common traits of leaders aren’t necessarily about how they lead. It’s actually about how they inspire. The biggest leaders in the world are leaders because they’ve inspired the most followers. And being inspirational and understanding how to inspire people is the most important thing that we need to be thinking about, not only as leaders, but as leading brands.

Adrian Tennant: Kevin, how do you see the role of brand strategy evolving over the next five years or so?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, I certainly see it moving more in the direction of the way that Limbic Brand Evolution and the Limbic Sparks approach to brand strategy is set up to help customers. I recognize that people are going to catch on, that the research methodologies are out there, that the data on the power of emotion is becoming more well-known. That me being out there as a writer for Branding Mag, and as a podcast speaker and a podcast host, I’m putting information out there that I’m hoping people catch onto. I think that, in general, strategy and the creative brief that people have been using for the last many, many, many years, is in need of a major revision. I think it focuses too much on the brand and the client. It focuses on what they do as opposed to why people should care. So it’s sending creatives down the wrong path by focusing them on reasons to believe and proof points. And I think those briefs and strategy will spend more time focusing on the people that that brand is trying to reach and what makes them tick. And why they should care. And that should actually become the most important question that brand strategists answer going forward. And, if that happens, I think we’re going to find that brands who take that road will become more engaging. They’ll become more desirable. They’ll inspire more loyal customers. And there’ll be bigger parts of people’s lives.

Adrian Tennant: Kevin, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about your work at Limbic Brand Evolution, or check out your podcast, Let’s Talk Limbic Sparks, where can they find you?

Kevin Perlmutter: People can find me on LinkedIn, of course, Kevin Perlmutter is my name and I’m easily found there. But the best place to learn about my business, my practice is the Limbic Brand Evolution website. And on that website, there’s a lot of information about how I approach strategy. There’s also the Limbic Sparks podcast page where I do interviews with brand leaders who are turning emotional insight into a competitive advantage and driving business growth for the brands that they serve. And I’m hearing their stories about how they’re using the types of strategy and research and insights, develop insights techniques, that I use in my practice. And I’m hearing how they’re actually achieving that business growth in these ways. There’s also an emotional intelligence blog on my website, where articles that I’ve written and podcasts that I’ve been on are posted. So that is the best way. And if anybody wants to speak with me, there’s a Meet with Kevin link on my website where people can book time and I would be happy to talk with anyone who wants to have a conversation.

Adrian Tennant: Kevin, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Kevin Perlmutter: Thank you so much for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week. Kevin Perlmutter, Founder and Chief Strategist of Limbic Brand Evolution. As always, you’ll find a full transcript and links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com under insights, just click on the button marked podcast. And if you haven’t already please consider subscribing to IN CLEAR FOCUS wherever you listen to podcasts or add us to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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