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Women of Industry: Marsha Lindsay’s quality brand

Thanks to her keen “understanding of branding,” Marsha Lindsay has been anticipating the future for nearly 40 years.

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Thanks to her keen “understanding of branding,” Marsha Lindsay has been anticipating the future for nearly 40 years. For Lindsay, Chairwoman and Chief Strategist
 of Lindsay Stone & Briggs, that future included an award-winning career that helped drive business performance at startup companies and Fortune 500 companies alike.

A lot of the modern thinking about brand psychology — locally, regionally, and nationally — can be traced to the differentiating work of Lindsay and her staff at LSB, a Madison branding, marketing, and advertising firm. This dissemination of knowledge included the former meeting of the minds known as Brandworks University.

For her lifetime of improving our understanding of consumer psychology, which is now known as behavioral economics, Lindsay was selected as the Legacy winner in this year’s Women of Industry awards program.

Compelling connection

Lindsay’s contributions to the science of human decision-making go beyond launching new products and brands, or providing a much-needed makeover to stale existing brands. In conducting her research and executing her work, she has found that the science of customer behavior offers clues into why even the most researched brand makeovers fail to change ingrained consumer habits. Hint: A compelling emotional connection, one that adds value to a consumer’s life, certainly helps.

Yet when Lindsay thinks of her industry impact, she thinks of the LSB team and stresses the collective “we” instead of the individual “I.”

“It’s very hard when someone is inside the frame to see the whole picture,” Lindsay states when asked to summarize her impact. “Without question, we have taught a lot of people about the science of human decision-making and how to leverage it for more effective marketing, and I know we’ve had a big impact over the years on many people through our training program at Brandworks University and through our clients. It would be difficult to state, personally, the extent of that.”

When Lindsay began her career in the early 1980s, it was a time when words like marketing and branding did not have the meaning they have today. The firm had no customer data to backup its instincts, but it was the nature of Lindsay and her fellow graduate researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and later her colleagues at LSB, to codify and test so that findings could be replicated.

“You wanted to know that it would work so that you could validate it,” she states.

Later in that decade, Lindsay, Stone & Briggs was the only agency involved in a national study on what constituted good branding and brand strategy, and it was joined by corporate stalwarts such as 3M, Harley-Davidson, and American Express. Before that point, when people talked about brands, it was in the context of launching a brand; it wasn’t about branding or brand strategy. After that, strategizing took hold, especially strategies that connected products with personal aspirations.

“We continued to perfect that over the years, and during the mid-2000s, 2005 and 2006, we were able to apply economics to it, and today, of course, it’s all about more data and precision marketing,” Lindsay explains. “We have done our part to codify and vet and perfect what today would really be called marketing effectiveness.”

What has transpired over the past 40 years has only reinforced Lindsay’s beliefs about brand psychology, but the most fascinating discovery this Wisconsin Advertising Hall of Famer has come across in her life’s work is that branding is an ancient pitch.

Lindsay, who conducts a research study each year, often has been surprised by her findings, but what continues to amaze her is that when marketing and advertising work well, it’s not because of fancy technology, it’s because the work pays homage to how the brain processes information. Through research, we now know that people are not rational beings; we are illogical, emotional beings, and brand advertising should reflect that.

This uniquely human characteristic manifests itself in several ways, and one way is that consumers will not buy things that are irrelevant to them. They will support brands that help them realize their self-concept and aspirations.

“That’s behavioral economics,” Lindsay notes. “We make decisions first by absorbing a lot of information, personally and subconsciously according to our preference for a brand or product or person. Later, when triggered to make a decision, that preference suddenly comes to the unconscious mind and we rationalize it with whatever is handy, but advertising, marketing, public relations, and digital and social media work best when they play to those subconscious needs and desires.

“The most amazing thing to realize, time and time again, is that what those subconscious motivations and desires boil down to, in this product or service, is: How do I see in that who I am or who I aspire to be? It really gets down to the very basic human instincts that go back hundreds of thousands of years.”


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