What can I do with Plek?

You can view two facets of each selected brand on an interactive map. 

The first facet is called “How the brand thinks”. It could also be thought of as theoretical intention. It shows how representatives of a company define the core of their brand more or less strategically themselves, translated by Plek into a description of emotions.

The second facet is called “How the brand acts”. This is about the observable practical manifestation of the brand. How a company actually communicates brand content, also translated into a description of emotions.

The descriptions of emotions presented here consist of words and of music.

Basically you can see in which area a brand finds itself semantically in the first place, where it sets its emotional center of gravity.

Additionally, the comparison of the two facets of a given brand reveals the degree of its focus. The more its two facets overlap, the more radical it is.

Of course, you can look at differences not only within brands, but also between them.

Finally, you can also compare industries and discover typical patterns. In certain industries, brands are spread across the entire emotional spectrum, while in others they cluster in certain corners.

You may have expected one or the other result to be like this. But whatever the case, you’ll probably find Plek’s intuitive, sensory approach and graphical comparative capabilities to be generally inspiring.

With Plek, you can talk to anyone about the nature of brands in a new way. With specialists and non-specialists alike.

Are some emotions on the Plek Map more “positive” than others?

No. Each of the emotions on the Plek Map can be meaningful positioning for a brand.

Noisy fun and relaxed tranquility are emotions that people consider incompatible as studies have confirmed, so these are at opposite ends of the Plek Map.

But the one may be perfect as positioning for a soft drink or TV station, the other for a spa or earplugs.

We deliberately left out certain emotions like fear or sadness. Not because we reject such emotions in communication measures on principle (we don’t), but because they would be inconceivable at a more fundamental level, that of the brand essence. A brand that embodies fear in its essence would linger too far outside known economic laws.

Are those brands weaker that occupy a large area on the Plek Map than those that have a clear focus?

Not necessarily. In brand theory, it’s considered beneficial when a brand focuses on a central promise rather than cultivating a bunch of different associations. As a result, the anchor set in consumers’ brains is much stronger. The risk of contradictions decreases, and the chance for differentiation increases.

From this point of view, it’s a good thing if a brand occupies the smallest possible area on the Plek Map. (This is especially true for “How the brand thinks”.)

On the other hand, the stories a brand tells in its communications likely resonate with a couple of different emotions that go beyond what is defined in the brand core, and then scatter across a larger area on the Plek Map. (Check out “How the brand acts” on this one.)

This kind of variety can actually be an asset. If different playbooks make for a rich story world, but can still always be connected to the same brand core. And if, at the same time, all this does not apply to competitors in exactly the same way.

Aren’t feelings too subjective to be able to put them in a universal order?

In fact, what people really feel when listening to music is by no means the same for everyone, because it is strongly influenced by their personal “listening biography”.

In contrast, however, people do agree when it comes to just sorting music according to emotional categories.

We immediately have it in our heads whether a piece of music wants to be seductive, proud or exuberant. Whether we also feel this in our hearts is another question.

Accordingly, the terms emotion perception and emotion induction have become established in music psychology to distinguish the emotions attributed to musical expression from the actual emotions triggered in the listener.

Only as emotion perception, through their interpretation, emotions can become a universal frame of reference. Plek restricts itself to this.

In our view, just understanding this universal frame of reference better is already a gain.

How is Plek different from other concepts?

During research on Plek, we came across other approaches that touch on the topics of branding, emotions, and music.

Some approaches also work with visualizations of emotions, with the goal of facilitating branding work.

Plek, however, is the first brand strategy tool to organize the correlations between emotions by integrating music – empirically validated.

Again other approaches, like ours graphically represent relationships between pieces of music. Yet these networks usually do not create a semantic space, but follow primarily musically minded attributes like “calm/dynamic” or “harmonic/dissonant”.

Thus, such approaches usually do not serve a cross-disciplinary, strategic analysis of brand meanings, but rather aim directly at the efficient development of acoustic brand elements, called sound branding.

Is Plek a commercial project?

No. Plek is used to generate content, interest, debate and contacts. The use of Plek within the framework of the functions offered on this website is free.

Who is behind Plek?

Plek is a project by Atoll AG, a communications agency for branding, advertising and UX.

Why is plek.mx the URL?

The name Plek is inspired by the world of music: by this small plate called plectrum with which the strings of plucked instruments can be struck.

The domain extension “mx” actually stands for Mexico. For us, however, who have no relations to Mexico, it stands for “musical experience”.

My brand is missing here. Can I analyze it myself with Plek?

To a certain extent, yes. Even if your brand has not been considered on this website yet, you can for example listen to the music samples on the Plek Map and think about which of them could best represent your brand. You can also do this together with your team.

Furthermore, the Plek perspective might make you more aware of how uniquely positioned your brand is and how consistently expressions of your brand pay into the same narrative.

We regularly add to the resources on this website. With the goal of building a comprehensive database of Plek profiles for many brands across many industries.

Would you like to get a more in-depth analysis of your brand in its competitive environment, according to the Plek approach or based on alternative methods? Feel free to contact us here with your request.

Do you generally miss certain brands or industries? Then please contact us here with your suggestions.

What scientific work went into the development of Plek?

Plek is a creative innovation and at the same time is in line with scientific evidence. In particular, we looked at empirical studies involving the visualization of subjective categories of emotions, motives, and values. Here are the most important.

Researchers at UC Berkeley surveyed more than 2500 people in the United States and China about their emotional responses to more than 2000 pieces of music from a variety of genres.

Each study participant rated 40 music samples and estimated for each whether he or she thought it expressed certain emotions. To do this, they ticked one or more of 28 given categories.

The thousands of resulting high-dimensional judgment profiles were converted into data points on a two-dimensional map using a method called t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding (t-SNE).

This method models similar objects by nearby points and dissimilar ones by points further away from each other. As a result, 13 meta-categories were identified that cross-culturally organize personal reports of subjective experiences when listening to music.

Emotion researcher Lauri Nummenmaa, got 1000 adults to rate how strongly they experienced a total of 100 different feelings. They were then asked to sort these emotions by similarity and assign them to specific body parts. The results were used to derive a map on which the surveyed emotions were placed at specific distances from each other, forming five clusters.

Social psychologist Shalom H. Schwartz investigated the question of whether universal values exist. He invited people from 80 countries or cultural groups to name the extent to which each of 56 value items would express a guiding principle in their lives. Using multidimensional scaling (MDS), Schwartz created a two-dimensional representation that shows a non-arbitrary, culturally stable pattern of intercorrelation among values. This allowed to distinguish 10 higher-level motivational value types.

How exactly was the Plek Map constructed?

We took a cloud-like representation of music-related emotions from UC Berkeley and put it into a square shape. In doing so, we reduced the original 13 categories by those three that seemed least useful for branding purposes: sadness, fear and annoyance.

The 10 remaining emotions set the edges of a semantic space. For our purposes, however, further matching terms were missing in its center.

We chose 14 terms from maps of the researchers Schwartz and Nummenmaa. They could be integrated while maintaining their semantic distances. 32 further terms we developed by analysis of the music pieces underlaying in the Berkeley map.

We now had our own, sufficiently differentiated map with 56 emotion words and were going to enrich it with matching playable audio samples.

Instead of relying on thousands of links to music videos on YouTube, as in the Berkeley map, we opted for 20-second excerpts from 108 carefully selected instrumental music pieces across 12 genres, proprietarily integrated into our map and sourced from our partner Audio Network.

Due to the solid scientific basis, the two map layers “Emotions” and “Music Samples” came together effortlessly and without contradiction; only in the lower part of the map a few assignments had to be revised.

What is the data basis for the coloured areas on the Plek Map?

We evaluate information from publicly available sources: interviews with CEOs and brand managers in companies, brand values and press releases mentioned on company websites, commercials and company films on YouTube and social networks. The sources are listed one-by-one in our industry reports.

Our evaluation is qualitative and therefore not automated by algorithms.

First, the people behind Plek interpret brand-relevant statements in terms of their corresponding semantic core, regardless of the form in which a statement is made. We believe that the distillates obtained in this way always represent emotions respectively motives and values or that they can be very easily translated into such.

The final visualization on the Plek Map is then only a small step. 

What is the difference between emotions, motives and values?

Emotions are a feedback system that checks where we stand in relation to our goals.

Goals “pull” and motives “push”, but both are ultimately about striving for a desired, value-laden state.

By prefixing “desire for” many emotions can be turned into motives in the simplest of ways.

While motives are individual, values also have a social aspect, as can be seen from the term community of values. But here, too, ideas of what is desirable are the great intersection.

Overall, we see certain semantic overlaps, and in a branding context, the terms emotion, motive and value lose even more distinctiveness, since brands are conceivable only as embodiments of desirability.

We use all three terms for the most part synonymously, but prefer the word emotion.