By Faraz Maqsood Hamidi
I know it seems obvious. But when you think about it, many of the ways we seek to influence customers’ perceptions are visual: many of the people who communicate your brand are visually oriented; the most potent media across the world are substantially visual.
Yet, far too many products and services are marketed according to functional benefits alone. As the legendary American landscape photographer, Ansel Adams said:
“There’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”
Marketers develop brands as complex analytical propositions, yet consumers tend to digest them viscerally. That is, in a more direct, sensory way. And yet we typically define brands almost entirely verbally. As marketers, we tend to be left brain and see our brands as complex constructs: we analyse, define, segment, brief, measure. We add definition all the time, layer after layer, discussion after discussion, resulting in gilded brand keys that fail to unlock the hearts of prospects.
That’s because our customers tend to be more right brain in their brand consumption: they are less complicated, more visceral and visual about brands. What’s more, the right brain is where we experience our strongest emotions; love, hate, passion, etc. It’s where the winding alleyways leading to our imagination turn into open highways.
For customers, the brands that rise to the surface among the thousands that seek their attention every day are the ones that are most clear, most striking, most powerful: not the ones that are the most complex. This suggests two things. Firstly, the capacity to integrate your brand is better served by simplifying your brand’s special difference, than by adding to it. Integration doesn’t mean achieving a consistent use of a logo or an end line; nor does it mean strong-arming half a dozen agencies to work together. It starts when customers have a coherent experience of your brand promise whenever and wherever they come across your brand. Which suggests that ideas that can be captured in a few words can be more easily expressed and more easily understood. Secondly, we need to be more right brain orientated in the way we define our brands. One way of doing this is to define brands visually as well as verbally – by attempting to partially bridge this right brain/left brain divide. It’s called ‘visual positioning’. It’s a great technique to not only foster brand integration, but to consistently deliver your brand promise.
Visual positioning is a process of defining a brand visually across a number of different subject matters. As a colour, for instance, or a style of type, as an animal, or as a piece of furniture. You remember that old marketing ploy, don’t you? “If this brand were an animal, then what animal would it be...?” Well, this is no more complicated than that. What makes this exercise valuable is doing it not only for your brand, but also for your competitors’ – and not only for your brand today, but how you see it developing into the future.
What makes it more special, especially in terms of achieving brand integration is when you conduct this exercise as a team, when you get all your agencies together and do it as one. The idea is to develop an intellectual definition which has then been supported and further defined through its visual positioning – which provides something of a right brain picture of the personality of your brand right into the future.
When you do it together, visual positioning is not only a mental-mapping exercise. It is also a medium for common understanding. The challenge, as always, lies in creating a concept that is both fresh and relevant. This is a manageable task – as long as you don’t try to be all things to all people. Niche brands understand the power of this approach. ‘Niche’ is a word that many find unpalatable because it is often negatively associated with limits. But those same limits allow such brands one luxury that many larger brands do not enjoy: focus.
By zeroing in on a distinct demographic or geographic region, brands with focus – simply articulated and visually positioned – develop personalities that speak coherently and directly across the line. The result is a core group of loyal advocates who can help build awareness and credibility beyond the original target and grow your brand into and beyond the mainstream market and related categories.
And that’s the beauty.
Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is CE and Creative Director, The D’Hamidi Partnership.
First published in the September-October 2011 issue of