When you think of a particular brand, more often than not, their logo is what immediately comes to mind. This is especially true if they have successfully created brand recognition in the marketplace – think Nike, Apple, Target or McDonalds. Our cognitive ability to associate images with words also plays a large part in this. Neurons located in a functional brain region known as the “Visual Word Form Area” (VWFA) remember what a word looks like, by using a “visual dictionary” of sorts. For example, the word “Nike” will most likely trigger the thought of the brand’s “Swoosh”, while the mention of “iPhone” will make you think of the Apple brand and logo. A logo’s purpose is just that - to be an instantly recognizable representation of a brand.
However, when it comes to a brand’s identity, which is how they portray themselves to customers and prospective customers, their logo is just the tip of the iceberg. Multiple elements including a brand’s name, tagline, brand voice, brand positioning, brand associations, and brand personality, work together to create this. “Branding is the way that consumers identify and experience a product, service, or person, from the look, taste, feel, and sound — a brand is all of those multifaceted parts.” This is why when you think of the Nike “swoosh”, you don’t picture a children’s boutique, for example, or when you think of the iPhone’s Apple logo, you don’t picture an organic food company.
The Psychology Behind a Brand’s Visual Representation
Design elements and imagery also contribute to the visual representation of a brand. In fact, out of all the design elements, color and typography are considered to be among the strongest and most important motivators. They are considered to be “subtle influencers”, psychologically impacting consumers “due to how society has been hardwired over time to make specific neuro-associations with different combinations of colors and fonts.” Nike’s black, grey, and white color palette exudes a feeling of sleekness and cleanliness. Something as simple as a single color or font can cause a brand to be instantly recognized, even if the logo isn’t present. For example, two capital letter “Ds” displayed in pink and orange can be instantly recognized to folks in many U.S. states, particularly the Northeast, as Dunkin Donuts, while a small, blue box is iconically associated with the Tiffany’s brand.
Color is a powerful tool used in communicating with a consumer. Though color psychology is somewhat subjective, in Marketing there are collective associations with certain colors that can influence your mood, emotions, and decisions. Some of these associations are as follows:
White gives off a feeling of freshness, purity, and cleanliness
Red is stimulating, and usually associated with excitement, danger, or passion (consider a stop sign or fire engine)
Blue is typically peaceful, calming, and inspiring, such as the ocean waves or blue sky
Green exudes a feeling of serenity and freshness, symbolizing nature, health, and even good luck
Black is usually associated with sophistication and elegance but, on the contrary, it can also be associated with aggression and fear
Yellow can be associated with happiness, warmth and energy, but can be seen as a caution color in certain contexts
It’s important for brands to consider these associations when developing their identity, as they will be directly tied to their brand image and name. You’ll want to ensure your brand, products, services, and messaging are igniting the appropriate feelings within your target audience. Any negative associations could cost you dearly and make a difference as to whether or not a consumer chooses to invest in your business and your brand. Outlining a clear persona for your brand is a good idea when developing your Marketing efforts, because it ensures that your brand identity remains consistent across all platforms.
Creating an Emotional Connection for the Consumer
The visual elements of a brand support the emotional connection the consumer has with it. This is why when you see a small, blue Tiffany’s box you’ll most likely think of love and marriage, or why the pink and orange double “Ds” in the Dunkin Donuts logo will make you crave a chocolate frosted donut or hot coffee. The way a brand makes you feel may be less noticeable, because it’s not necessarily something we think about. It’s a feeling. Because of the brand identity Nike has created, we experience a feeling of athleticism, grit, hard work, and intensity associated with their brand. Some consumers may feel intimidated, while others may feel inspired.
Furthermore, the way in which a brand styles their name, slogan, and messaging is essential in differentiating themselves from the competition. Similar to color psychology, typography can influence a consumer's feelings surrounding a brand, along with their opinions of it. A font’s history and usage largely impact our feelings associated to it. For example, a serif font like Baskerville or Times New Roman will feel traditional, respectable, and stable; whereas a sans serif font like Futura or Avenir will feel more straightforward, and script fonts might feel friendly and personal. It’s crucial for brands to carefully consider what typography they will be represented by, as it is key in delivering their message and brand experience to prospects and clients.
Targeting the Right Audience for Your Brand
The emotional aspect of branding is what sets each brand apart. The way in which a brand communicates their vision, mission, and values, and our relationship to each, plays an important role in determining the target audience of a product. Your brand’s mission helps your audience understand who you are and what goals you are trying to accomplish. How you plan to serve your clientele, and how you help create an emotional connection with them, is the purpose of your brand.
Your brand strategy – how it looks and how it makes people feel – is directly related to your mission and values. Your brand is your personality, while your mission statement is your mantra. Consumers will relate best to brands that they have values in common with, which is why considering this as part of your brand identity should be a top priority.
Personifying Your Brand’s Social Media Channels
In a world consumed by digital marketing and social media, it is crucial that your brand identity (including the way in which you engage and interact with your prospects) is consistent throughout all of your communications, marketing, and social media efforts. It’s imperative that you promote your products in a unique way, causing your brand to stand out, as this can determine whether your target audience chooses you over a competitor. Representing your brand’s identity from a visual perspective throughout social media is the easy part. Staying consistent with your brand styles – colors, typography, etc. – is how your audience will recognize you.
Fast food restaurants have been at the forefront of marketing for decades. With the rise of social media, including platforms like Instagram and TikTok, some of these corporations capitalized on an opportunity to stand out. It’s almost effortless to differentiate between Wendy’s Facebook page and McDonald's page because their logos and branding are easily recognizable. But, this alone will not sell to a consumer; a brand’s unique messaging and voice is what will help them stand out. For example, Wendy’s social media presence is built on their witty and snarky personality, often times “roasting” competitors. This personality helps to engage Generation Y and Z by tying in pop culture phenomenon.
McDonald's social media presence, on the other hand, is built on nostalgia in their products. Happy Meals, Shamrock Shakes, and their chicken nuggets are staple items that customers were raised to love. McDonald's is aware of the personal connection their consumers have with their products, which is why they continue to market to them in this way.
Maintaining Brand Consistency on Your Website
Highlighting your brand identity on your website is another crucial step in connecting with your audience. Chances are you aren’t the only company trying to sell your product, so brand consistency across all platforms will help to tell your story in a holistic way, while also setting you apart from your competitors.
The homepage is effectively your brand's first impression for anyone who visits your website. You want to ensure consumers take away the key elements of your brand, and that you are portraying yourself the way you’d like prospects to view you. Applying your brand – colors, typography, and voice – to your website is how you can create this consistency, but a website is only successful if your audience is able access it.
Creating a streamlined user experience on your website is also important when telling your brand’s story. Content should be easy to find, read, and follow. From a design perspective, this means fusing your brand elements with cleanliness and “white space” to avoid a cluttered website. Provide relevant content that isn’t distracting for the user. Give them a clear hierarchy of information that allows them to easily take action. A good user experience, both visually and emotionally, is what creates brand loyalty for your clients.
Additionally, keyword tagging is also essential in helping you find the largest audience and understanding what each individual key word means to them. It also might be helpful for you to collect feedback from your site visitors, to ensure your site is giving them the right impression and signals. In the end, authenticity and consistency will develop a brand identity that your clients will believe and trust.