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Brand Messaging

Improving Brand Meaning



The human mind is visual. Millennia before we posted images on each other’s Facebook walls, our ancestors posted illustrations on the walls of the Caves of Lascaux. As both consumers and brands increasingly shift from a vocabulary of words to a vocabulary of images — videos, emoji, and infographics (which we substitute for words), brands should understand how this new visual language creates meaning in the minds of consumers.

We know the brain does not “see” the outside world as it actually is. There is too much information to process. Our eyes capture images and pass them along via the visual cortex to as many as 30 different systems. The process helps the brain construct a three-dimensional model of the outside world. As information is passed through these systems, which describe everything from what we label something to how we feel about it, there are multiple moments of discovery that also help us define and refine what that something means. Meaning is just another part of the model.

Tom Wujec and the folks at TED created a project called Big Viz, the goal of which was to capture the essence of 650 TED talks graphically. He asked the question, “What is it about animation, graphics, illustrations, that create meaning?” and gleaned three important insights: “Making images meaningful has three components. The first is making ideas clear by visualizing them. Secondly, making them interactive. And then thirdly, making them persistent.”

This has implications beyond idea visualization and relates directly to brands from the largest scale of storytelling to the transfer of meaning at the most granular and personal level.

Let’s start with the large scale: Harry Gordon Selfridge invented the theatre of retail and the modern department store, as all of us know it. He famously said, “Excite the mind, and the hand will reach for the pocket,” and originated everything from the spectacular window display to the placement of cosmetics and perfumes on the ground floor in order to touch all of the senses and excite consumer’s minds. He knew minds make meaning, and meaning shapes desire. And, as Tom Asacker says, “Desire is the marketplace.”

For 2014, Selfridges elaborate window displays follow a fairy tale theme, “Santa Traded In Rudolph for a Red Mini”, “Snow White and Prince Charming Live Happily Ever After” and so forth. The idea of fantasy is clearly communicated. The opportunities to be interactive is played out not only in the physical store (touching products) but digitally on social networks as photos and posts are digitally shared. The persistence of the theme lives large on the store’s website and to a narrative of the story.


At the granular and personal scale is a brand called Simple Finance. This brand is helping consumers get a “true picture” of their finances by understanding obligations and goals. Simple uses customer’s financial data to tell their story. Information is color-coded to communicate ideas easily; it is innately interactive with familiar gestures for mobile devices, and it is consistent and persistent which helps train the brain to be able to get through the information with greater speed.

This shift to a visual vocabulary has opportunities and risks. Meaning is the most important element of story, and without words to clarify important things like intent and purpose; brands are left with no choice but to trust that what it intends to do with visuals aligns with the meaning a consumer chooses to make.

Consider these points to increase the meaning of your visuals:

    1. Revisit your brand language: Let what you say and how you say it (internally and externally) shape your visual choices. When Coke invites consumers to “Open Happiness” with its visuals, the brand is being a bridge to a state of well-being, not just a beverage.
    2. Being “on brand” is not just about colors, typography and approved visuals. Totino’s pizza took a BuzzFeed list-cle of the “Top 50 Stock Images Nobody Would Ever Use” and generated some pretty wild microcontent. New image libraries like ScoopShot allow brands to source even better, more relevant and contextual social images.
    3. Know the difference between what is engaging and what drives business value. Social networks and niche networks like Snapchat and Vine can be powerful tools, but “likes” and “shares” are not the same as “store visits” and “sales”.

The Blake Project Can Help: Content Strategy Workshop

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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1 Comment

Maciej Fita
Twitter: 36creative
on December 05th, 2014 said

Nicely put. It’s all about stimulating a strong positive emotion. If you can wow someone before the product is in their hand you have certainly won.

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