Article Snapshot

When you think of a tree what you see is a mass of branches and leaves above ground. What you don’t see is what lies below ground – the roots, soil and rocks which provide the strength of the tree and nutrients to enable the tree to prosper and grow.  

Think of a company the same way. 

Consumers see the equivalent of the branches and leaves of your brand. They don't want to see the roots and soil.[/caption] For your buyers and consumers, the only part of your company they see is what they buy. They don’t see your marketing systems, research, financial plans, numbers, managers, people, the politics of your business. They see what is on a shelf at a time of purchase – the ‘visual’ and ‘visible’ parts of your business and brands. They are not interested in seeing all your hard work behind the scenes.  

The Importance Of What The Customer Sees

For more than 30 years I have studied brands and the visual marketing of brands in the marketplace, principally but not exclusively in the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) market. Brands live and die on the basis of their visual face and in most cases, the decision to buy or not buy takes only a couple of seconds. I call this the ‘2-second rule’.   If you observe a shopper in-store, watch as they pick up a product and drop it in their shopping trolley. If they pick it up and hesitate, chances are 50:50 that the product will either go back on the shelf or into the trolley. Even clothes shopping, a more involved decision-making process, has the same dynamics and the decision on whether or not to enter a shop, a restaurant or bar has the same process.  

Car dealers will tell you that the most important sales objective (apart from closing the deal) is to get a potential buyer to sit inside and/or test drive a car. They may drift past a dozen cars, but once they sit down inside a car, the chances dramatically increase for them to make a purchase. Decisions, even for buying products that are a higher investment, take only a few seconds and that means you have only a small window of opportunity to make a connection. 

A key to Apple's success has been how recognizable their products have become.

From a design point of view, everything that is a touch point to your brand or service has to instantly connect with a buyer.   First, however, if you can’t be seen or stand out from the crowd, you will be invisible to your potential buyers. The second step is to deliver a message that connects with those potential buyers. This might be by branding, pictures or words, but most likely it will be a combination of factors which seek to inform, connect and satisfy a buyer’s need which is either emotionally or rationally based.   All decision making is a combination of both emotional and rational factors and both are important.

Example: I need an Apple watch - on what basis should I make the decision to buy or not buy? Do I justify on the basis that I need to tell the time or emotionally that I want to be seen wearing one?

The reasoning and rationale may differ but the decision will be based on both the emotional and rational thought process. Apple is an excellent example of a company that has thrived on emotional branding. Apple is a leader in technological innovation and its branding reflects that. They have created the sense that those who work for their company are innovators and those that buy their products are cutting edge people at the forefront of technological evolution. An Apple customer can only be satisfied if they have the latest iteration of Apple’s technology and will fall behind if they don’t have it.   Simon Sinek, in a memorable TED Talk (see below), outlines how Apple achieved this. The company’s messaging focuses on ‘why’ Apple is great (they are innovators and they are cool) rather than ‘what’ makes Apple great (they make interesting tech). Unquestionably, great products made Apple a good company, but their branding made them an outstanding business.  

The Problem With Postage Stamp Branding

Most marketers understand the importance of branding, and can easily identify to their brand (usually with a logo). They then promote and market this brand, using the logo as the identifier for the brand and promote its virtues and value. They assign worth and attach ‘brand values’ to their company: trust, quality, consistency and other factors.   In my experience, many marketing people and designers use brand logos in what I call ‘Postage Stamp Branding’.  They simply place the brand logo on a package, signage or advertisement and presto, they think they have created a branded package, signboard, or ad.   There is no denying that use of a well-designed brand logo is important, but is it enough to create a brand identity and sale?   A lot of designers work on the basis that if they like design, then the world should like it too. Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way.   When you look at the packaging, you are relying on the package is an accurate reflection of what is inside. The package delivers the ‘clues’ that help to decide on the purchase.  

Power Branding

A brand logo will most likely only represent 5 or 10 per cent of a package surface. What if 100% of your package could be a brand identifier?  Even better, what if you had multiple products in different market segments and all of these packages could be used as brand identifiers? Your brand would be significantly stronger.   The clue is to own everything about the brand: the brand colour, a brand shape, brand texture, brand styling, brand format, brand font and so on. We call this design technique ‘Power Branding’ and it can be 100 times stronger than postage stamp branding. It uses the entirety of a package to create multiple ways to recognize your brand, and when it is applied to multiple products of a brand, not only does this technique cross-sell all of the products, but it also has the effect of making competitor brands weaker on a shelf (often invisible).   This notion of all-encompassing packaging is also applicable to products and companies outside of the FMCG industry. All brands can unify their colors, fonts, themes and key identifiers across PowerPoint presentations, sales packs and websites. In Expert360’s case, the combination of orange, black, white and the occasional blue throughout all client-facing presentations, reports and web pages forges an instantly recognizable brand. Despite not having a product that sits on consumer shelves, Expert360 has created a way for it to be distinguished from its competitors.   

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