Tuning Out Static

Branding experts discuss the role played by a brand’s initial, visual impression on today’s consumer, said to value substance over style

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That sort of brand imagery, Gobe said, made him want to shop there. “It said the stores are about creativity, fashion and spirited merchandising.”

The good news for brands is today’s consumers are processing information approximately 400 times faster than their Renaissance ancestors — and are able to soak up more brand imagery as a result, Swanson said, referring to a finding in “Thinking in Future Tense,” by Jennifer James. Further, she noted, approximately 80 percent of what people learn comes through their eyes, where about 70 percent of their sensory receptors are located. “Therefore, it becomes crucial to convey a brand’s story visually,” advised Swanson, who’s trained as a cultural anthropologist. “A brand is almost an instant message. It’s a cultural totem — a story symbolically synopsized into visual images.”

And according to Gobe, about half of a brand’s image stems from its visual identity. “It is critically important because it is the face of a brand,” he offered. “It is perhaps the most continuous interaction a person has with a brand. The brand image is a powerful symbol, but a lot of brands limit the way they express it.” For instance, he added, if Target treated its bull’s-eye symbol merely as a static logo it would fall flat — in contrast to the way it has made the symbol a dynamic part of the store’s message.

Currently, color is the best-remembered element of a brand’s visual identity, followed by a logo or distinctive product shape, like a Coca-Cola bottle, consultants said. Words, which once played a bigger part in a label’s identity, are now least well remembered. Examples of the power of hue include the reds used by Target and Coca-Cola, the blue in Jet Blue’s imagery, and the greater use of green in British Petroleum’s green and yellow logo, when BP aimed to associate itself with renewable energy.

Although brands need to evolve and aim at a new group of customers — every five years, according to Gobe — the basics of building effective visual images have remained constant. They are creating images that conjure a sense of optimism and empathize with the consumer, stir people’s senses, and — above all — are simple to grasp.

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