Branding is about first impressions,
memories, and falling love
We see differently when we are in love.
When we are in love, we are often overswept by the visual. Her eyes, her hair, her smile. When we are away from her, we remember her in images – still photos, remembering the time when we kissed in the fountain, when the pigeon landed on her head. The images and colors and experiences recalled evoke deep emotions and we are transported in our minds to the person we love. This is not about beauty – beauty is subjective and relative. And it is not about perfection – the eyes of love overlook blemishes, asymmetries, and morning hair. It is about visual cues that trigger an emotional response.
We behave the same with our brands.
A brand is, of course, much more than its visual identity, but we humans process so much through our eyes that it would be ridiculous to try to deny that the first impressions do not come from sight. We see. We remember. Branding adds depth to the vision so when we see a brand we recognize, many more images are brought to the surface all of which contribute to the full meaning of the brand.
The world of branding is intimately linked with advertising and marketing, and the use of images is an extremely common way to express a brand’s logo or likeness. And while a logo is not brand all by itself, it is often the first time we engage with the brand. We see a photo, an advertisement, or we see the actual product in use – but the common factor among these is that we see.
From Eye to Heart
The familiar red and white script of Coca-Cola, for example, does not make us think of the drink in our glass, it makes us feel love and belonging, of good times shared – all mental images that are part of the brand’s composition. In the same way, if we see a little blue thumbs-up, we do not think of our physical hands but rather of Facebook and ‘likes’ and our friends waiting there for us to share something with them.
The brand is beneath the image, supporting it, giving it meaning and life.
There is a deeply symbiotic relationship, therefore, between brand building and design. This is evidenced several hundred times a day when we are exposed to as many as 20,000 messages, usually visual, but only remember a few. We remember the ones that have a story behind them – either one told by the brand or one we intuit. Without these stories, we only see a pretty picture. The story is what allows us to stop and think about it. Why does Da Vinci’s “La Gioconda” or Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring” fascinate us? It is because both paintings imply a story, which we fill in, consciously or not, with our imaginations.
A brand takes this to the next level by helping your imagination supply the narrative. The train of thought is easy to follow. When we see a red and white bull’s-eye, we think of Target, then we imagine the store as it was the last time we went there, then we remember what we were buying that day – and hey what did I ever do with those barbeque tongs I bought that day? We may even remember the slogan, “Expect more. Pay Less” or the song “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” (sung by Lesley Gore in 1963 and used by Target in tv spots in 2010).
All of this from a red circle surrounding a red dot.
It Takes Two
The same is true if a brand has a well-developed backstory and creative messages but no visual images with which to link it. We need the visuals, not only as mnemonic devices, but also as the outward sign and symbol of the brand and its meaning. They help us keep the brand alive in our minds and hearts. The two, written content and visual design, work together to create a fuller image of the brand and therefore help us fall in love with it.
One of the effects of falling in love, with a person or with a brand, is that we transcend the visual images that may have attracted us to him/her/it in the first place. We need to go beyond what we see to know them more.
Think of “love at first sight.” It is an amazing and magical experience, to be sure, but if we do not get to hear the stories and enhance the first visual encounter, then it remains just a flash in the pan.