Does your brand have a “visual hammer”

I found some new angles on the importance of visual brand properties in this Ad Age article by Laura Ries. She calls visual properties such as logos "visual hammers" that can be used to bang the "nail" of your positioning into peoples' brains (a rather gruesome metaphor, but you get the idea).

Here are some of my key take-outs from the article.

1. The power of visual properties

It was nice to get some hard data to support the power of distinctive brand properties, a topic I've been blogging on for several years, including this one here

Laura quotes research done in 1973 to demonstrate how visual properties are easier to store in memory structure:

– Subjects looked at 10,000 images over 5 days

– Each image was seen for only five seconds

– After, they were then presented with pairs of images and asked to pick the one they had seen before

– Subjects picked the right image 70% of the time.

As Laura goes on to say, you would be unlikely to get the same results if you showed people 10,000 ad slogans!

2. Types of visual hammer

Laura has some nice examples to illustrate the different types of visual property, which are similar the list I proposed in the Grow the Core book

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– Shape e.g. Target (retail store): simple and visually striking

– Colour e.g. Christian Louboutin shoes: who would have thought that painting the soles of a shoe red could be so effective in helping establish this brand as the ultimate in luxury footwear?

– Pack shape e.g. Pom Wonderful: a highly distinctive bottle that helps the brand stand out on the over-crowded drinks fixture

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– "Action" e.g. Tropicana: the straw stuck in the orange cues freshness. The brand declined when this symbol was removed, as I posted on here.

– Founder e.g. KFC: Colonel Sanders still helps drive recognition of the brand, and cues the idea of his original recipe (a broader term I use is "Character", which could include created properties such as Captain Birdseye and Monsieur Propre)

– Heritage e.g. Wells Fargo: the stagecoach cues the idea of the bank having heritage and reliability, valuable commodities given the financial crises of recent years

3. Hammering in the nail of your brand

Laura suggests that visual hammers should help bang in your brand positioning "nail". For example, Nike's swoosh does more than just help you recognize the brand, it also suggests leadership, power and energy. If a visual property just helps trigger recognition, its not a visual hammer, its just a trademark.

I half agree here. Some of the strongest visual properties do indeed "cue" the brand positioning. Johnnie Walker's walking man does help cue the idea of personal progress and helped inspire the slogan "Keep Walking". However, a visual property can over time be "loaded" with meaning, even if the property in itself is not a literal representation of the brand. For example, Coke's contour bottle shape doesn't really suggest the idea of happiness and refreshment. If anything, it looks like the hour-glass figure of Marilyn Monroe. But over time, the symbol has been loaded with meaning.  

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 In conclusion, a nice reminder of the power of visual properties to help make your brand distinctive.

P.S. It is rather amusing that Laura doesn't really seem to be practicing what she preaches, which is to create and then consistently execute your visual hammer over time. Have a look at the series of books she and her dad have published below!

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Doing a bit of banging our own drum, I'd suggest the brandgym series of books have more visual conistency 😉

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