News and Insights

How Design and Branding Influence Behavior

Kerry Grady, Founding Principal

One way to define branding is as deliberate differentiation. Branding requires that you make very specific, thoughtful decisions about how you are creating that differentiation. Most differentiation isn’t really deliberate – it’s just a point a view, or a reason for being, or an attribute that might be descriptive, but not differential. Branding is a process, a discipline. It’s a mash-up of related disciplines that come together to deliver the most impact: cultural anthropology, behavioral psychology, economics and creativity.

Perception has two components – sensory input and interpretation – and its interpretation that’s the most murky because it’s so personal. Interpretation is at the heart of branding. But, perception is also essential. We self-select the things that we want to see – it’s ingrained into our DNA. Our brains have the capacity to see almost 10 million images at a time, but we’re only capable of comprehending about 40 of them. So, we live in a continuous state of self-slection. It’s what happened when you can’t seem to find the keys, that are right in front of you.

Perception is socialized – we learn to see the things around us and understand their significance and/or meaning. We are not born with the construct that pink is for girls, and blue is for boys – we’re socialized to that. We’re not born with the innate ability to determine if something is attractive – it’s socialized.

Brand elements like logos and tag lines have significant influence of how we perceive a company. In the late 1800’s, the Trademark Registration Act determined that trademark holders had legal rights and could own specific brands. In many ways, this time marks the beginning of modern branding. What followed were a series of movements that ultimately defined branding as we know it today.

The first movement, was defined by brands as examples of consistency. You could expect a consistent experience when you bought a Coke in Detroit or New York City. And the fact that we were protected as consumers that the products that we purchased would not harm us, meant that brands could represent quality and safety.

Once consumers accepted that they could count on branded products for quality, marketers saw that you could make money through establishing a brand, resulting in a lot of “me-too” brands. First there was Coke, then there was Pepsi. Marketers wondered how they could connect with consumers, and how the could create differentiation. So, characters like Uncle Ben, Jolly Green Giant, Betty Crocker and Mr. Clean were created to create deeper relationships with consumers.

Then, brands became self expressive agents – think of Nike, Volkswagen, and Levis – brands that said something about who you are, and not just about your taste.

Ultimately, we saw the emergence of brands as experience – like Apple, Disney and Starbucks – where the brands promises a certain sense of euphoria, an emotional transformation for the customer.

The current wave, is brand as a disconnector. We’re so consumed by our gadgets that we begin to find ways to connect through those gadgets, and that gives rise to social media and brands like Facebook.

Brand managers, marketers and designers wield huge influence over how we perceive companies or products – there’s a lot of power there! Where things can get sticky, is when we declare that brands are going to deliver more than they possibly could. If your idea of happiness is a 50-inich flat screen TV, then you’re in for disappointment, because the TV cannot possibly equate to happiness. We live on this treadmill, thinking that something else is always better. And, it’s not just the logo – it’s the promise. What are we promising people? The problem lies in the psyche of making purchase – when we value the idea or the belief system, or the promise, and not the thing itself.

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