02 Oct Use Brand Physique to Deliver a Consistent Message
Physical elements of your brand can be used for memory training
In 1993, I was studying for my High School Certificate, Australia’s equivalent to the SAT.
I loved learning Economics. Our teacher, however, was a psychopath. Mr F. was a moody bastard, a surfer with unorthodox ideas, floppy grey curls, and piercing eyes. He shouted a lot about “not spoonfeeding us.”
Our class became smaller and smaller. The 30 enrolled whittled down to nine. We were the diehards.
Although he had thrown my notebooks at the wall, in a fit of barely suppressed violence, he had my loyalty. Toward the end of that year, he taught me something I have never forgotten and I have consistently used it ever since — accelerated learning techniques.
Through one example Mr F. called “the price prawn”, we were taught how to draw a shape, colour it, and use mnemonics. By recalling that simple little picture in this memory trick, we could recall vast quantities of information. As long as we understood the material, we could then apply the price prawn to answer any question from any angle.
Before written language and books, societies used memory tricks to keep history and culture alive. In his excellent article Digital Literacy and Climate Change, Dr. John Rose describes how Australian Aboriginal people embedded cultural knowledge into the natural landscape.
With oral language, Songlines used natural landforms as memory cues to tell the stories of history and culture. (The Ancient Greeks did something similar with ‘memory palaces’.)
Dr. Rose says “intensive memory training was commonplace and played a vital role in passing down knowledge between generations…”
In the modern day of mass consumption, people are experiencing a deep thirst for meaning. With media saturation and brand bombardment, audiences are seeking authenticity and connection.
Marketing today is, by and large, an exercise in memorisation. We can’t just sell a brand, we have to sell a story. The story has to have a higher-order value and deeper meaning than ever before. And that’s just to be remembered.
Like landforms, product form can be used as a cue to our story and as a memory trigger. That includes packaging as well as logos, colours, fonts, images, and icons. Our brand uses associative memory to trigger the story we tell.
Obvious examples come from product brands, like Mr. Muscle with the muscly packaging, and Toilet Duck, which resembles, hm, a duck. These are memory triggers into the brand. The muscly physique of the bottle unlocks the perception of tough-on stains. The graceful swan is both playful and natural toilet cleaning agent (rather than a cocktail of planet-trashing chemicals).
Packaging is an obvious advantage that products have over services. If our brand, however, offers knowledge or expertise, our challenge and opportunity is to productise our service. In other words, to make tangible the intangible.
For example, a Term Deposit where you deposit $50,000 cash into an account. gives an intangible value. Future interest earnings. To productise the service, you may issue an investment ‘certificate’, printed on a thick parchment paper. That parchment paper will be a trigger of the value you are receiving. It’s proof that you didn’t get hoodwinked. Its purpose is purely psychological.
Physical elements are one of the seven Ps of services marketing. There are the usual four Ps of Product, Price, Promotion, Packaging), as well as People, Processes, and Physical evidence.
Sociologist, Jean-Noel Kapferer, sees brand identity as constructed of six facets. Personality, culture (or values), the self-concept of the message receiver, reflection of that self-concept (through advertising and imagery), and brand relationship. (SEE: The Brand Identity Prism)
For a brand identity to become a brand image, active participation is required in the mind of the person receiving the cues. Their own experience, self-concept, and values complete the circle.
Brand identity, therefore, is external. Brand image is internal. The clues are coded into the elements of the brand identity, but it takes the active processing of the viewer/reader/recipient to unlock them.
The role of the brand is ‚ fundamentally, to unlock perceptions of a business or organisation.
The Job of a Logo
The job of a logo is to unlock the perceptions of a brand. Those perceptions are buried in the mind.
In order to do this, the logo’s job is to provide recognition and reliability.
At the moment, a rash of businesses are going for a reversed logo (white over a colour background). I’m certainly not without error. I’ve fallen for this due to its prevalence in WordPress themes.
I like the design aesthetic, but for branding, it’s a problem.
I know if I use my white logo and then someone sees my colour logo (cherry red and grey), will they recognise it? I doubt it.
That’s the problem.
My logo fails on recognition.
Is it reliable?
There are too many variations (two) to remember. Well, too many not to form an immediate to be worth trying to remember.
For a small business without a branding budget of hundreds of thousands, recognition is developed through brand colour — always.
The Wiggles Effect
So many companies have a suite of services or products. What do they want to do? Differentiate them with a separate colour for each. Think Wiggles. One will be red, one yellow, one blue, one green (or purple as it happens, wake up Jeff).
Can you see the problem? Unless they have absolute megabucks, they are confusing the market.
It is hard for someone to remember your IT service is the blue one. They won’t remember all the different colour range of all the other things you do. They won’t. Trust me.
People’s brains are overloaded. We crave simplicity.
If you make your brand colour and divide it into four or five others, you make things too difficult.
I call it the Wiggle effect. It gives a sense of order, we believe. But here’s a killer fact.
You do amazing work probably diverse work across different business units, using different skills and you may even help people have better lives. I know you do. But none of those activities will be recognised as coming from you if you don’t use consistent brand guidelines.
If your base colour is blue, make everything blue. It’s the only way to cut through and be recognised.
Think of Google for a second. These use ‘dynamic adherence’ right? No problem. The Google home screen changes every single day and reflects amazing things that have been done in the past by people who everyone should know about.
Does the logo really change, though? Does it stretch, get squashed? Do the green, red, blue, and yellow colours switch around? Do they sometimes get replaced with mauve, muted palette, or aqua?
What would happen if it did? Would you think someone has hijacked your computer? I would. Would you trust entering credit card details into the screen?
Google has just replaced its logo. Shock Horror!
Will people freak out?
Ideally, they won’t notice. They have left fundamental things the same (the colours and the order of the colours) because of recognition and reliability.
Key takeaway: If you need to rebrand, we all need to refresh from time to time. See if you can do it without impacting recognition or reliability. Can you do it in a subliminal way?
Use Brand Guidelines
Some organisations, especially nonprofits, detest the notion of branding. It makes their skin crawl. Fair enough. Probably just because they don’t really understand it’s all psychological.
The brand doesn’t exist, except in the mind.
If you don’t value branding, the risk is that you make the brand inconsistent. Which is to say, you make it unrecognisable and unreliable.
That’s why brand guidelines are so important.
Good brand guidelines specify the logo’s smallest size, colour palette down to the exact hexidecimal colour, Pantone number, and RGB and CMYK. The brand guidelines may also specify the paper stocks that should be used because this affects colour as well.
As mentioned, the job of the logo is to unlock all the perceptions — positive or negative — a person has of a brand.
We want those perceptions to be trustworthy and reliable. If they are not, no one will do business with us.
As Donald Miller says, marketing is an exercise in memorisation.
This can include fonts, photography, and illustration, tone, quirks, as well as language styles. The idea is to get consistency and quality so that everything looks like it’s part of the same story.
You can use Google Docs, a brand book, a few Pinterest boards, or a full-fledged massive interactive PDF that covers a house of brands. Whatever works.
With my black hair and multiple piercings, Mr. F didn’t want me in his class at first. Earning an unspecified mark between 95 and 100% in the finals, I finally earned his respect. And he earned mine.
Mr. F didn’t want us to be spoonfed like babies. He wanted us to develop critical faculty. To do that we first had to understand the material. Then there are tricks for remembering it.
Thirdly, we could apply it in myriad ways because it was all there. Like songlines, we had ready access to a wellspring of information to string together — concept to concept.
First: Get your story in order.
Two: Plant entry points into the story right through the brand identity (use all six facets).
Three: Spoonfeed with consistent, reliable mouthfuls that are easy to swallow.