As the external expression of the internal brand strategy, brand communications play the utmost critical role for success. It is ‘where the rubber meets the road.’ Even with the deepest insight and greatest strategy, if the communication execution falls flat, a brand can’t succeed. In fact, a study conducted by Bain & Company points to ‘Insights-based messaging’ as a top recognized differentiator, based on both perceived importance & actual difference between overperformers and underperformers.

Yet, when communications are evaluated, too often the same pitfalls emerge, leaving brands falling short of maximizing their potential and impact:

  • Rational Response Only: Humans process information through both System 1 (intuitively) and System 2 (rationally). Yet, too often researchers only capture rational, logical responses to communications, while missing the implicit and unconscious responses that fuel deep brand attachment.
  • Measure Liking Vs. Outcomes: While the measure of a good piece of communication in-market is that it drives action, in testing often communication is graded on how well ‘liked’ the piece is. We must push past liking, to understand what will produce action and deepen the brand relationship.
  • Lack of Context: Communication testing typically occurs in isolation, without proper context of real-world setting and decision making. Similarly, the way communications elements are judged is often not tied to the intended strategy – it may be a great ad, but does it produce the action we want and cement the relationship we intended to build?

At S+R, we do it differently. Our unique philosophy on brand communication is inspired by the perspective that our CEO, Zain Raj, expresses in his breakthrough book Brand Rituals: How Successful Brands Bond with Customers for Life, along with our decades of experience. We know brand communications shouldn’t just deliver a message. Great brand communications go past the rational and emotional needs that most brands attempt to fill to also deliver on the subconscious needs that drive action and deepen brand relationships.

To get it right, we combine an understanding of the conscious, subconscious, and context as we evaluate communications. The conscious serves as the foundation, we gauge communications’ ability to meet classic conscious key measures such as breakthrough, persuasion, and key message. The subconscious is necessary to understand the full impact of communications – how they form deeper attachments and ultimately shape brand relationships. We work to uncover the gut level reactions, emotions and connections elicited, the cognitive biases or heuristics tapped. This allows us to better gauge impact on consumer action AND long-term brand relationships. Finally, we also recognize context is key. This means testing ideas in a realistic context – be it by testing them relative to competition or by putting decision making in context (e.g., Rx choice by patient type). Yet, context also means evaluating communications against the intended strategy, not in isolation.

Our proprietary A.C.T. method is designed to put all these principles into action. The A.C.T. method capitalizes on the natural shift from System 1 to System 2 allowing us to collect as much data as possible without disrupting or accelerating the shift in modes of thinking.

  • (A) Assess: We begin with System 1 thinking. Assessing the raw, initial responses.
  • (C) Connotate: Shifting towards System 2, we examine association and connotation that are created and how those relate to motivation to act.
  • (T) Trigger: Finally, we identify the triggers to action in real world context.

For each A.C.T. initiative we carefully select from our suite of Behavioral Science backed techniques those best suited to our client’s goals and communication pieces. Some highlights of these tools include:


Somatic Pulse: Somatic Pulse spectrum allows us to capture System 1 driven reaction to stimuli. Respondents plot the intensity of their reaction on the Somatic Pulse spectrum. A simple scale allows for quick reporting of energy level without getting bogged down by too much reflection or logical thought (avoiding System 2). Discussion is focused on how their body is feeling, avoiding discussion of their rational ‘liking’ or not.

Implicit Association Testing: Accomplished via projective techniques such as image association reveal implicit connections that are made, and subconscious associations respondents may have not been able to verbalize.

Timed / Quick Response: Rapid responses ensure we are tapped into System 1. As respondents quickly sort concepts or messages it reveals gut-level reactions that can guide prioritization.


Emotion Wheel: We tap into a social science-vetted emotional wheel to go beyond surface level emotions. By working from the inner (base emotions) to the outer (nuanced emotions) with respondents we get clarity on what emotional associations and attachments are being built.

Activating / Deactivating Emotional Framework: We then take it one step farther by leveraging a psychology-backed framework to uncover not just what emotion is elicited but understand the impact on action. Respondents plot the emotion on two dimensions – positive to negative and activating to deactivating. This second dimension is crucial – for example shock can paralyze or shock can be a catalyst for change.


Narrative Building: Finally, we challenge respondents to craft their own narratives, playing back the message they received.  This reveals which aspects of the creative they deem most important, ideal sequencing, opportunities for optimization based on the changes respondents make. Ultimately, this ‘in-their-language’ approach makes them make the case for action, revealing key triggers to action.

Role Play: Similarly, a role play exercise can challenge respondents to ‘pitch’ the product or idea to someone else, giving us a peek into the motivational triggers to action from their perspective.

By strategically tapping into these Behavioral Science backed techniques, S+R goes beyond traditional communication evaluation to ensure you fully understand your communications through the lenses of the conscious, subconscious, and context. In doing so, we ensure your communications are optimized not simply to deliver a message but to form the brand attachment and bond that will drive long term success.

Where do you see opportunities to elevate communications testing? How can we partner with you on the journey from merely good to truly breakthrough communications? We’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to us at [email protected].