Building a Behaviorally Designed Brand from Scratch

As the founder of a behavioral research and design consultancy, I spend most of my days thinking about behavior design and how it can be applied to marketing.

For those not familiar with the term, behavior design is the process of applying the latest neurological and behavioral insights to the development of customer interactions to psychologically influence and change consumer behavior.

It’s the recipe behind today’s best marketing—marketing that gets people to act.

I’m used to introducing this concept to our clients when they approach our company about finding a more effective way to connect their brand with consumers.

So imagine my surprise when someone approached me about behavior design.

It was January 2016 and I was doing a behavioral audit of a Safeway grocery store in Dallas. During the audit, I got a call from a North Carolina number I did not recognize. I don’t normally answer calls from unknown numbers, but for whatever reason, I answered. I’m so glad I did.

The caller was named Phil. He’d found my name when he searched Google for “behavior design” and saw that I had worked for Frito-Lay in the past. Here’s what he told me:

“I own a company that competes with Frito-Lay, Carolina Fine Snacks, and we’re going to revolutionize the American diet. We’ve developed a nutrient-rich snack that tastes great and is good for you. It’s a game-changer. There’s nothing in the world like it.”

So far, I was intrigued. Phil continued.

“We’re a twenty-man operation, and we’ve never marketed our products to anyone. We have no money for advertising and haven’t sold the idea into any retailers yet. We won’t compete with Frito-Lay for long with less than 1 percent of their budget, and we can’t change the American diet if nobody notices us. Can you help us?”

“What you’re doing is awesome,” I told Phil, “but this isn’t the kind of project for us.”

What he said next absolutely floored me. “We need your help, Will. I think the only way to compete with Frito-Lay is by marketing to people using behavior design.”

My jaw dropped. Nobody used that term, even in 2016. This small company in Greensboro, North Carolina, had to change the game because they knew they couldn’t compete with the marketing juggernaut that is Frito-Lay.

This realization and the passion in Phil’s voice made all the difference on that call. My design team and I got on the next flight to North Carolina to see the guy who wanted to design a brand from the bottom up using behavior design.

Starting from Scratch with Wicked Crisps

When I met Phil in person and listened to his story, I immediately wanted to make him a billionaire. That wasn’t his goal and it wasn’t my plan, but that’s how inspiring he was.

“All we have is the vegetable chips themselves,” Phil said. “We don’t have a name, a logo, a tagline, or packaging. Do you think you can do it, Will? Can you help us?”

“Phil,” I said, “I’m not only going to help you, but we’re going to create the world’s first behaviorally designed brand from the ground up.”

By using behavior design, we’d be using advanced behavioral and neurological science to influence consumer behavior. We’d build an entire brand from the ground up that spoke to people’s non-conscious first—something that had never been done before.

The first thing we did was develop a brand identity and name. We discovered through research that Phil’s target consumers were motivated by independence, so we wanted a name, logo, and tagline that reinforced people’s need to feel autonomy.

The result was Wicked Crisps and the tagline, “Deliciously Deceptive Nutrition.”

Our target consumer wanted it all by eating vegetable chips: the nutritional benefits of vegetables without the guilt of snacking on chips. We put a halo over the i in “Wicked” and a devil’s tail off the r in “Crisps” to emphasize the good versus evil aesthetic.

On the font of the tagline, we used an oblique orientation (meaning it didn’t have any strong edges) because we knew, due to our biology, the eye would more likely be drawn toward the tagline if we embedded this design cue within it. Psychologically, this decision created another good versus evil contrast with the font of the Wicked Crisps name itself, which was bold and rebellious.

For the logo, we wanted to blend two sides of the same person, one good and one evil. We made the hair interwoven to show that it was the same person with distinct traits.

Why did we design it that way? Because we wanted our imaging to reflect the same level of autonomy our customers want to feel. They are unique individuals who have distinct (often contradictory) desires swirling inside of them at all times.

For Wicked Crisps, our intentional use of behavior design in the snack name, the tagline, and the brand imaging helped us become one of the hottest snack brands of 2017, getting placed in 20,000 retail stores without any traditional marketing.

That’s the power of behavior design. You can build more effective brand communications that are built on science and art, not just guesswork. Phil and I used behavioral research to identify our target’s goals and motivations to specifically create a brand that tapped into their non-conscious mindstate to influence behavior.