A Dual-Process, System 1-System 2 Approach to Branding

Taking a Dual-Process, System 1-System 2 approach to branding can bring nothing but good to marketers. It can…

  • Reveal new consumer insights that increase sales.
  • Confirm that automatic and deliberated thoughts and feelings about brands are consistent and on strategy.
  • Identify inconsistencies between automatic and deliberated thoughts and feelings about brands.

Dual-Process, System 1, System 2, automatic, deliberated — what are we talking about? Some definitions will clarify.

Branding and Brands

If you’re reading this article, you’re likely a marketer. Even if you’re not a marketer, you likely have a sense of what marketing is. And if that’s the case, you likely have a sense of what branding is.

Unfortunately, there is no universal definition of branding. So, for the purposes of this article, we define branding as follows:

Branding is the act of imbuing an entity of interest with strategically selected thoughts and feelings. By extension, a brand consists of the thoughts and feelings people have about it.

The following points elaborate these fundamental, yet incomplete, definitions:

  • “Entities of interest” primarily include companies, products, or services. They’re represented by names, sometimes brand names. For example, Coca-Cola, fountain pens, and telemarketing can all be entities of interest.
  • “Thoughts” is a common term that we also call “cognitions“. Cognitions can be a variety of mental phenomena such as facts, perceptions, beliefs, goals, traits, values, and self-identities.
  • “Feelings” is a common term that we also call “emotions” or “affect”. Feelings can be a variety of affective phenomena such as sensations, emotions, moods, and attitudes.

Back to branding, let’s say I was branding my company, Emotive Analytics. The process would involve imbuing Emotive Analytics with strategically selected thoughts (cognitions) and feelings (emotions). Cognitions might include awareness of some of our applications and techniques (e.g., branding research, package design research, emotion analysis, implicit measurement, etc.), perceptions & beliefs about our personality traits (smart, friendly, and responsive, of course!), and our values (e.g., quality, honesty, etc.). Emotions might include feeling trust, confidence, security, and (hopefully) some degree of awe. Effectively branding Emotive Analytics with these cognitions and emotions would lead targeted consumers to think these thoughts and have these feelings when they perceive Emotive Analytics.

Dual-Process, System 1-System 2

Psychologists have recognized that humans react to (i.e., “process”) stimuli (including brands) in two ways.

  • First, we “automatically” react to stimuli.
  • Second, we reflect on stimuli, which is commonly called “thinking” or “deliberating”.

These two types of reactions define what is more academically called “dual-processing”. Several prominent dual-process models are The MODE Model (Fazio, 1990), The Reflective-Impulsive Model (RIM; Strack & Deutsch, 2004), The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986), and The Associative-Propositional Evaluation Model (APE; Gawronski & Bodenhausen, 2006). These days, dual-processes are popularly referred to as “System 1” (automatic) and “System 2” (deliberative). (Note: The terms System 1 and System 2 were coined by Stanovich & West (2000) and popularized by Kahneman (2011)).

  • System 1 automatic processing is one or more of the following: relatively fast, unintentional, uncontrollable, efficient (i.e., it doesn’t require much ‘cognitive load’), often subconscious (i.e., we may not be aware of it or how it’s influencing us), and associative in nature. Associative means that it doesn’t involve propositional, true or false, examination (a.k.a., conscious, logical thinking). Because it’s associative, we call System 1 output associations.
  • System 2 deliberative processing is one or more of the following: relatively slow, intentional, controllable, less efficient (it involves greater cognitive load), conscious, and propositional in nature. Propositional means that it involves true-or-false examination, also called logical thinking or deliberation. Because it’s propositional, we call System 2 output evaluations.

Another important point about System 1 and System 2 is that System 1 is always operating, but System 2 is not. In other words, stimuli always trigger System 1 associations, but System 2 evaluations do not always follow.

Therefore, when perceived, brands always elicit System 1 associations and sometimes System 2 evaluations. Branding involves building strategies around, imbuing, measuring, and leveraging System 1 associations and System 2 evaluations to produce desired brand behavior.

Thoughts and Feelings as Trait or Emotional Attributes

To make branding easier — particularly its implementation and measurement, which we’ll discuss next — it’s helpful to convert strategically desired thoughts and feelings into single attributes.

Feelings can easily be referred to as single attributes such as happy, proud, excited, sad, angry, or bored. However, thoughts can be more complex, often represented by phrases or full sentences. Despite this, thoughts, too, can be converted to single attributes called traits.

Traits can be qualities or features such as durable, convenient, attractive, cheap, disorganized, or boring. Traits can also be personality characteristics such as friendly, smart, funny, boring, arrogant, or strong.

The point is that branding is helped if thoughts and feelings are converted to single emotion or trait attributes that you strategically want to imbue in your brands.

How Do You Implement and Measure, or Measure and Implement Dual-Process Branding?

We ask this question with either ‘implement and measure’ or ‘measure and implement’ because either task related to branding can come first. If you’ve established your branding strategy, then implement and measure. If you’re still developing or refining your branding strategy, then measure and implement. At this point we’ll proceed with the latter order — measure then implement.

Since dual, System 1-System 2 processes operate, you’ll need two measurement or assessment approaches. One measures or assesses implicit, System 1 associations and one measures or assesses explicit, System 2 evaluations.

Regarding System 1 measurement or assessment, you can use several approaches. The most prominent include:

  • Psychophysiology, which includes brain scanning (e.g., EEG and fMRI reads), biometrics (e.g., heart rate, breath rate, and pupil dilation), and behavioral expression (e.g., facial and voice expression).
  • Metaphor elicitation.
  • Implicit association measurement, using some form of a priming approach (e.g., IAT, semantic priming, affective priming, etc.).

The objective of any of these approaches is to see how targeted respondents automatically react to your brand. We at Emotive Analytics believe implicit association measurement is the best approach for brands for several reasons. These methods, which come from social & cognitive psychology…

  1. Yield quantitative implicit association scores.
  2. Are well-validated academically.
  3. Can measure both emotional and trait attribute associations.
  4. Can be very specific (as opposed to just dimensional) in terms measuring single emotion or trait attribute associations.
  5. Are more scalable and affordable compared to the other approaches. (In other words, they can be used in large sample online surveys very cost effectively.)

Note that our approach to implicit association measurement is called IE Pro Technology, from which we offer IE Pro YOU®.

In addition to collecting implicit association data in these studies, we highly recommend measuring ‘desired outcomes’. Desired outcomes are what you want the associations to produce for your brand. These are most commonly some type of overall preference or, better yet, purchase behavior. Having implicit associations along with desired outcomes for your brand allows “driver” statistics to be applied to indicating which of the associations most impact desired brand behavior. These associations are very important to leverage in marketing, which we’ll address in the Implement section below.

System 2

Regarding System 2 measurement or assessment, you can also use several approaches. The most prominent include:

  • Traditional explicit surveys.
  • Traditional one-on-one or group interviewing.

These approaches are straightforward when measuring or assessing cognitive and affective brand evaluations. They involve presenting brand representations to research respondents and having them evaluate the degree to which the brands convey attributes of interest.

Again, dual-process branding research should measure desired outcomes, either (preferably) actual consumer behavior performed by the respondents or self-reported behavior using well-designed survey questions. Having these data allows analyses that can pinpoint the strongest implicit, System 1 and explicit, System 2 drivers of the desired brand behavior. Having this information allows strategic branding implementation.


After measuring or assessing implicit, System 1 brand associations and explicit, System 2 brand evaluations, and identifying which most drive desired brand behavior, it’s time to strategize and implement branding based on your results. Toward these tasks, it’s useful to review what System 1 and System 2 reactions are.

System 1 returns associations that are automatic and do not involve cognitive deliberation about the truth of the brand associations. System 2 returns evaluations that are the result of propositional reflection about the truth of System 1 associations.

Many articles and books exist about how to implement dual-process content. With limited space, we summarize three points to keep in mind when implementing dual-process branding research results:

  1. Obviously, leverage brand associations or evaluations that significantly drive desired brand behavior.
  2. Leverage implicit, System 1 brand associations in situations where targeted consumers are not cognitively deliberating or have less opportunity to do so.
  3. Leverage explicit, System 2 brand evaluations in situations where targeted consumers are cognitively deliberating or have more opportunity to do so.

These points may be either obvious or too vague, so we’ll close with additional explanation and some examples.

Additional explanation comes nicely from Fazio’s Dual-Process MODE Model (Fazio, 1990). Essentially, MODE (which stands for Motivation and Opportunity as DEterminants of which of the two processes are operating) says that System 2 deliberation operates only when motivation and opportunity exist for cognitive deliberation about the stimuli of interest (in this case, a brand). If motivation and opportunity to deliberate do not exist, then System 1 operates.

Regarding opportunity, Fazio and Olson (2014) provide evidence that the following variables can provide less opportunity for System 2 to deliberate. These situations create a greater likelihood for System 1 to influence behavior. All share the characteristic of depleted cognitive resources (i.e., thinking):

  • Relaxed Mind-States
  • High Cognitive Load
  • Little Time/In a Hurry
  • Older
  • Under Alcohol Influence


To further clarify, we offer the following examples.

  • Imagine a study that shows targeted consumers explicitly evaluating Great Electronics (a fictitious brand) with quality (perhaps because they grew up with the brand), but implicitly associating Great Electronics with being behind-the-times (perhaps because their innovation and quality have not kept up with newcomers to the market). Also note that being implicitly behind the times negatively impacts purchase of Great Electronics products. Marketers may want to create and display Great Electronics ads that contain quality AND INNOVATION cues in places where people are in a hurry or not in thinking mode (e.g., in subway stations, C-stores, or watching late-night television). In addition, Great Electronics may also want to directly address being behind the times with more direct innovation messages (e.g., stories of innovation) in places where people have the time to think (e.g., in blogs or at electronic stores where people are thinking more about and comparing product features). Doing both will help Great Electronics be more consistent in their branding along attributes that can help their purchase.
  • Imagine a study that shows targeted consumers implicitly associating and explicitly evaluating a proposed celebrity endorser for a brand as friendly and fun. However, imagine in that same study, targeted respondents explicitly evaluate the celebrity as smart and strong, but implicitly associate the celebrity as dumb and weak. Further imagine that these implicit associations are negatively related to preference for products endorsed by the celebrity. In other words, the more the celebrity is implicitly associated with dumb and weak, the less preferred is the brand endorsed by the celebrity. This research shows that either the respondents are unaware that they have these implicit associations or that they didn’t want to admit them when they explicitly evaluated the celebrity. Either way, the negative implicit associations should be reversed because they’re leading to negative brand preference. To reverse these, marketers can (1) develop believable explicit campaigns communicating the strength and intelligence of the celebrity and/or (2) develop campaigns that incidentally associate the celebrity with stimuli that communicate intelligence and strength. Over time, both approaches will help replace the existing negative implicit associations.


  1. Branding involves imbuing entities of interest (e.g., companies, products, services, etc.) with selected thoughts (cognitions) and feelings (emotions or other affective phenomena).
  2. When brand stimuli are encountered, thoughts and feelings are activated as automatic, System 1 associations or deliberated, System 2 evaluations.
  3. System 1 brand associations can and should be evaluated using System 1 research tools, of which we recommend implicit association measurement.
  4. System 2 brand associations can and should be evaluated using System 2 research tools, which include standard surveys or direct interviews.
  5. It helps to represent thoughts and feelings with single attributes, either emotions (feelings) or traits (features, personality characteristics, etc.).
  6. When conducting System 1 and System 2 brand research, always include a measure of desired brand behavior, preferably actual purchase behavior.
  7. Leverage implicit associations in situations where motivation or opportunity to use cognitive resources are depleted — e.g., in relaxed states of mind, in overloaded states of mind, or in a hurry.

Fazio, R.H. (1990). Multiple processes by which attitudes guide behavior: The MODE model as an integrative framework. In M.P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 23, pp. 75-109). New York: Academic Press.

Fazio, R.H. and Olson, M.A. (2014). The MODE Model: Attitude-Behavior Processes as a Function of Motivation and Opportunity. In J.W. Sherman, B. Gawronski, and Y. Trope (Eds.), Dual-Process Theories of the Social Mind. The Guilford Press.

Gawronski, B. and Bodenhausen, G.V. (2006). Associative and propositional processes in evaluation: An integrative review of implicit and explicit attitude change. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 692-731.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Petty, R.E. and Cacioppo, J.T. (1986). The Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. 19, 123-205.

Strack, F. and Deutsch, R. (2004). Reflective and impulsive determinants of social behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8, 220-247.

Stanovich, K.E. and West, R.F. (2000). Individual differences in reasoning: Implications for the rationality debate? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23, 645-726.

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