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The Touch of a Brand

In past articles, we’ve covered the sense of smell and sound and how they enhance the brand relationship. Here our goal is to explore the sensation of touch and its impact on branding. The sense of touch isn’t often considered in building a brand. For some brands this is a huge missed opportunity.

 

One of the obvious ways we use touch is shopping for clothes. Our first instinct is to touch the fabric to feel it against our fingers. The quick touch tells many things about the garment – its softness, wear ability, durability and quality. Think of the last time you visited a car dealership showroom when you inspected a vehicle. The first impression is how the door handle felt in your hand, how it opened and closed. If the interior was leather you assessed the quality by touching the seat or better yet felt the experience by sitting in the driver’s seat. Then grab the steering wheel. With every touch point our brains are processing the information and analysing the vehicle’s durability, craftsmanship and overall quality.

 

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Touch is the first sensory system we develop in the womb and is the most developed by birth. If you ever raised a child you know that holding, rocking and rhythmic stroking are all ways to calm and connect with babies. Trust me, I had many sleepless nights using all of these techniques to make my loved ones fall peacefully asleep hopefully as humanly possible.

 

The somatosensory cortex of your brain, which processes touch information, dedicates a large numbers of neurons to your fingers, lips and tongue. What this means is these areas are more perceptive and finely attuned, maximizing the sensory richness and brain intimacy.

 

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Greek philosopher Aristotle concluded that man was more intelligent than other animals because of the accuracy of his sense of touch. The sensation of touch influences what we buy, who we love and how we heal. We use touch to gather information, establish trust and social bonds.

 

Dr. David Linden said in his book, Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind that the “genes, cells and neural circuits involved in the sense of touch have been crucial to creating our unique human experience.”

 

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Test Your Touch

 

Let’s try a touch test. Imagine that you are in a pitch-dark room with no light and you’re handed a bottle. Through the power of touch you determine what I have given you.

 

You feel the cold glass bottle in the palm of your hand. You sense a distinct curvature of the glass in an elongated shape. Moving your fingers along the side you notice subtle smooth groves like ribs that flow up & down the bottle. Through the glass you can sense the content. It feels cold and wet as the glass sweats droplets of water on your hand. You remove the cap with a pop then move the bottleneck towards your lips. You feel the coldness against your bottom lip and tongue. The effervescence of tiny little bubbles dance and tingling against your lip and mouth. You smile with excitement and embrace the bottle’s opening with your lips like a wet kiss. It’s the real thing!

 

If we really conducted this experiment you would have quickly determined that the glass bottle was indeed the most famous shaped soft drink bottle in the world – the iconic contour fluted lines of the Coca-Cola bottle. In 1915 Coca-Cola challenged several glass companies to design a bottle that could be recognized by feel in the dark. 101 years later this unique design still succeeds with its objective.

 

Two Types of Touch

 

We’re not going to talk about appropriate and inappropriate touching if that’s where your mind went. If you want to explore the topic of sex and branding check out my article on Using Sex to Build a Brand.

 

The first type of touching is the sensory pathway that provides us with facts about touch such as pressure, location, texture, vibration and temperature. The coke bottle test is exactly this type of touching. Linden explains it as “figuring out the facts…uses sequential stages of processing to gradually build up tactile images and perform the recognition of objects.”

 

The second pathway processes social and emotional information, with human touch, for instance; a simple handshake, a hug, a caress of the arm, or a pat on the back. Friendly touching communicates trust and cooperation. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study stating that people are making judgments and base their initial opinions of you based on a simple handshake. Linden explains “In both kids and adults, touch is the glue that makes social bonds.” Further echoing this idea is Dacher Keltner, Ph. D. and professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley who explains “that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.”

 

What does this have to do with building brands? Both types of touch are very important in helping build brand perceptions and trust.

 

Tactile Branding

 

This is all about what the brand or components of the brand feel like. Jeremy Hsu in his article Just a Touch Can Influence Thoughts and Decisions on Livescience.com says “hardness may evoke concepts of stability, rigidity and strictness. Roughness can lead to thoughts of difficulty and harshness, while heaviness conjures up impressions of importance and seriousness.”

 

In a study conducted by Joshua Ackerman, an assistant professor of marketing at MIT in Boston, Mass., he had participants sit in a hard and soft chair as they negotiated the price of a new car. Guess who was less willing to move on their position? If you guessed the poor people in the hard chairs where the hardest negotiators, you’d be right.

 

Apple is a great example of a brand that has embraced the importance of touch. Their smooth, rounded edged, metal and glass iPads, iPod and iPhones convey a sense of ease and simplicity. They also make sure their customers have ample opportunity to touch and feel the merchandise in their interactive Apple stores.

 

If your brand isn’t an actual product but more based on services, understand that anything you physical give a customer, like a brochure, contract or correspondence, is tactile and communicates your brand by touch. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon says “The physical world is the best medium ever invented and betting against it has always proved wrong.” No surprise that Amazon takes pride in their shipping experience with custom printed boxes and custom packing tape with a program called “Frustration-Free Packaging.”

 

Packaging can be paramount to a brand experience. Again, Apple shines with its packaging. Their new Apple watch packaging is a masterpiece, making the watch seem bigger and weighty to help deliver the “a-ha” moment of expectation.

 

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Ever wonder why a diamond ring box is as important as the ring itself? The jewelry box must communicate the feel of love and commitment while showcasing the ring in all its glittery splendor. The most popular materials are velvet (commonly used on valentine day), silk and leather. All soft and sensual to the educated and expensive touch.

 

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Bed Bath & Beyond organizes their customer experience around touch as their store layout is designed to allow consumers to feel their way through the various sections of towels, curtains, linens and rugs, etc.

 

In the book Brand Sense: Sensory Secrets Behind The Stuff We Buy, the author Martin Lindstrom shares an example of ASDA supermarket chain in UK where they displayed their store brand toilet paper so shoppers could actually touch the tissue and compare textures with other brands. The sales for the store brand T.P. “soared.”

 

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Human Touch Branding

 

The power of interpersonal touch can be euphoric or at least communicate the feeling of warmth, safety and reassurance. The outcome of this feeling motivates consumers to spend and consume more. No brand has been immune to the changes digital technology has given to the consumer relationship, but technology will never replace the human touch. Brands live in a highly competitive and fast moving environment where creating meaningful connections with customer is almost impossible. More and more brands forgo the bricks and mortar for a digital brand connection. If your brand has any chance to reach out and touch a customer in a truly meaningful way – the human touch is a true differentiator.

 

Research conducted by Ackerman found that waitresses who touch restaurant patrons (mainly men) earn more in tips, and customers (mainly men) innocently touched by female bartenders drink more alcohol. The key point here is woman touching men. Are we so gullible? You don’t have to answer. The research is clear.

 

Have you ever checked into a Starwood Westin Hotel? Once you have completed the check-in transaction they make sure they move away from the counter that divides you from them and stand face to face in front of you. There is a moment of peace and warmth when they welcome you and hand you the passkey. The touch is minimal but the effect is powerful. But the best part is tucking into the Heavenly Bed with its luxurious 100% Egyptian cotton sateen sheets. Now I am in heaven and been touched by a angel.

 

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The Last Touch

 

The simple use of touch can be profound when used properly and authentically. The sense of vision might dominate many aspects of branding, but the subtleties of touch can increases the brand perception immensely. In the book In Touch with the Future, authors Alberto Gallance and Charles Spence state that more companies have started utilizing the growing field of cognitive neuroscience to help guide product development and marketing decisions.

 

Look at everything your brand is doing to build relationships – where do tactile touch points fit to heighten your brand relationship? Are you maximizing the human touch points? You must clearly understand how your customers interact with your brand to ensure the right touch points are consistently in place to strengthen the brand experience.

 

Think about the key moment when the customer interacts with your brand for the first time. Are they excited to open the box or remove the wrapping? Do they need to read a 10 page instruction manual before they start engagement with your brand? Have you made it idiot-proof for them to turn it on? Is the packaging inviting? Does it feel expensive or simple and clean? Does it reinforce their purchase decision?

 

IKEA has an obsession with efficient packaging to lower transport costs and ensure their products are affordable. CEO Peter Agnefjäll explains “We hate air at IKEA.” But it is a balancing act in efficiency and customer satisfaction. Allan Dickner, packaging manager at IKEA admits that they have destroyed products because they were driven by efficiencies and not customer needs.

 

One word of caution as people get older their sense of touch decline so does a lot of other senses (like hearing, seeing, and smelling). Today, there is a large portion of the population that is aging. If older people are your target audience you might need to reengineer or increase the intensity of your brand’s sensory touch points to make the emotional connection remain with your brand.

 

Whether or not a customer physically interacts with your brand today, consider the influential power it plays to reinforce your brand relationship. It might be time to reach out and touch someone.

 

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What does a red cup have to do with branding?

Full Stop – red cups are part of the Starbucks brand experience. As a matter of fact, over 60 million Starbucks cups are served each and every week. From the beginning of November until the end of December, Starbucks will be serving 480 million red holiday cups to help celebrate the festive season.

 

Eighteen years ago Starbucks launched their first holiday red cup – a duration that has created great expectations beyond a simple disposal coffee cup. Has this red cup replaced the advent calendar? With all the controversy so far this season you need to wonder.

 

 

Over the year’s Starbucks red cups has celebrated the holiday season with snowflakes, doves, reindeer, snowman, vintage ornaments, poinsettias, and Christmas trees, but this year they opted for a minimalist design of a two-tone red cup with no images. This brilliant long-term campaign has taken some of Coca-Cola’s best Christmas ideas and put them on a cup. Check out Time’s magazine for the evolution of the Starbucks red cup over the last seven years. This year’s red cup sans holiday icons has become blasphemy for many Christian’s organizations or an opportunity to create a controversy to garner media attention.

 

 

“In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs,” said Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks’ Vice President of Design and Content. “This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”

 

Customers See Red

 

Former Arizona Pastor Joshua Feuerstein wrote in a Facebook post “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus,” that went viral with over 14 million views in the last five days. This extreme view has stirred up the media and the social channels. Even Donald Trump has entered into the picture with the suggestion of boycotting Starbucks. Obviously he doesn’t have any Starbucks shares in his portfolio.

 

Starbucks issued a statement Sunday explaining that they are trying to create an environment that encourages “customers to tell their Christmas stories in their own way” and “to create a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity.“

 

Jay Parini, a poet and author of Jesus: The Human Face of God said on CNN.com that Starbucks red cup is an attempt to remove even the most secular side of Christmas by “strip[ping] all texture and mythic potential from contemporary life – seems beyond absurd, perhaps even dangerous, as it points in the direction of total blankness, a life lived without depth, without meaning.”

 

Or from Starbucks point of view it’s about creating your own texture and mythic potential without being spoon feed of what you should think or believe.

 

What 480 Million Red Cups Mean

 

There are a couple learning’s we should all take from this event.

 

First, colour does matter, (check out my article on colour), red is a very strong and vibrant colour that can stimulate high emotions – just ask a raging bull. In 2011, Coca-Cola changed their sacred red Coke can to white to celebrate the holiday season and were punished by retailers and customers who became confused by the change.

 

Second, customers own your brand. Before you change any representation of your brand make sure you understand what your customers’ think. Product packaging is sacred ground for loyal customers. If Apple changed their earphones from white to red what do you think would happen? Maybe nothing or maybe all hell might break loose.

 

Third, by providing ambiguity with a blank red cup and letting the customer fill the void leaves too much room for misinterpretation or anti-brand advocated to take advantage of the situation. The brand must own the space (physically & mentally) and direct the conversation.

 

I am happy that I don’t drink coffee and have to endure this tragedy on a daily bases for the next six weeks. However, I did hear that Starbucks has started using cup sleeves with snowflakes on them. Maybe this will appease the detractors.

 

The great thing is brands continue to have the power to inspire, create conversations and be news worthy without changing anything inside their cup. And as we see here, some brand loyalists will always see the cup as half empty and others as half full. Cheers.

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Wine Branding Will Drive You To Drink*

Or at least that what they hope you will do.

To understand wine labels you need to understand the history of wine brands or how the wine industry has evolved over time. I recently saw an article in the Globe and Mail by Christine Sismondo who takes a stab at trying to understand wine branding, but spends most of her time on the crass attempt some wine brands are taking to stand-out through lewd and vulgar language. I am not sure sex sells wine. Maybe it’s the other way – wine sells sex. Or least that’s how I remember it.

 

Old World, Old Ways

Legend has it that back in the 17th century a French Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Pérignon was the first to craft a sparkling wine by the so-called méthode champenoise in the region called Champagne but also was the first to hand craft a wine label that was tied to the neck of the bottle. However, it wasn’t until 1936 that the Dom Pérignon label was placed on a cuvée de prestige bottle when it was first commercialized – an icon brand today.

 

Wine has been around for centuries. The biggest constraint in label development was technology. It wasn’t until 1798 that lithography was invented that allowed the ability to print a label in mass quantities. Glass bottles improved and the printing press was invented in the 19th century in Germany. People began to recognize the importance of different winemakers, grape varieties and vineyards. They also began to understand the importance of aging their wine.

 

No surprise the wine label purpose is to inform the customer about the qualities and the origin of the wine, which is strictly regulated and standardized. It’s fair to say that the bulk of the labels are formal and functional providing consumers with such information as: year of bottling, locality of vineyard, years of aging, alcohol level, certification and varietal.

 

 

 

France is notorious for producing some of the world’s great wines and approximately 8 billion bottles per year. That’s a lot of labels – actually a lot of boring labels. Since the culture of wine is based on knowledge and traditions (of which, the French have many). The buying process relied on word-of-mouth and familiarity, rendering the labels to be all about the facts. The label’s purpose was to inform the consumer of the bottle’s content and reassure them of its authenticity. One of the world’s most famous French wines, Château d’Yquem from the Sauternes appellation of Bordeaux, declares that “More than four centuries of history are summed up in the words ‘Château d’Yquem Lur-Saluces’ found on every bottle of Yquem.”

 

The Art of Wine

 

But that hasn’t stopped some wine brands from breaking out of the mold. As one of the world’s greatest wines and one of only five Bordeaux Premier Cru, Château Mouton Rothschild has a history of commissioning famous artists to design their label for each new vintage. Such artists include Pablo Picasso (vintage 1973), Andy Warhol (vintage 1975), Francis Bacon (vintage 1990) and more recently, Miquel Barcelo (vintage 2012) all have created an 8 cm x 4 cm piece of art. A great wine has no difficulty in attracting great artists.

 

You also don’t need to be one of the world’s top wines to feature original creations. Vietti Wines of Italy has also been supporting artists since 1970, who design one-time original works of art that are displayed on one wine vintage. Alfredo Currado, husband of Luciana Vietti and head of Vietti Wines, says wonderful wines “deserved to be graced with labels unlike any other: labels designed by Artists.”

 

New World Changes the Wine World

 

But the biggest turning point was in 1976 when the legendary blind tasting of French wines against California wines put North America on the map as a serious producer of great wines. France was no longer the only place in the world that made connoisseur wines. Since then the world’s wine market has flourished both in production and consumption. U.S. leads the way in consumption followed by France, but China’s market is the fastest growing. In 2013, Vineexpo estimate that over 38 million bottles of wine were produced world-wide with 58% coming from Italy, Spain, France and the United States. Canada, where I reside, is less than 0.24% of the world’s production or 91,200 bottles. A drop in the barrel, if you will.

 

“The wine market has become a real global market. Despite increasing competition, very few brands have succeeded in really imposing themselves at [an] international level,” says Benoit Léchenault, Head of Agrifranc.

 

European wines had the luxury of history, pedigree of terroir, and a stately Château to boot, to sell their wines on mystic at a princely sum. But the new world had none of these characteristics and focused on producing a top-quality single-varietal wine. No longer was geographical knowledge required (left bank vs right bank) nor historical significant important or required to understand the wine’s lineage.

 

Bernie Hadley-Beauregard, founder of Brandever agency who specializes in wine branding in Canada, says the grape became the star. ‘The pedigree and history of the winemaker, the location of the vineyard and the age of the chateau all became irrelevant.’

 

Standing Out Doesn’t Mean Outstanding

 

A typical wine store can have anywhere from 1,500 different wines on its shelves to 3,300 different wines. Standing-out above the crowd becomes a perquisite for wines that don’t have the budget to build awareness outside the store shelves. A joint 2008 study in US and Australia, revealed that wine label attractiveness is important in the decision making processes for over 75% and 62% respectively.

 

The label characteristics that were perceived to be desirable are: eye catching, attractive, interesting, unique, stylish, creative, clever, colorful, sophisticated, artistic, and elegant.

 

It wasn’t until the 1980s that USA and Australian wines started revolutionizing the snobby image of the wine industry. In 1986, Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey started Barefoot Wines with the slogan “Get Barefoot and have a great time!” A slogan more fitting a beer brand than wine at the time but it was the exclusive beer drinkers who were attracted to this brand. “Our initial fan base was folks who didn’t like wine,” says Houlihan. He says Barefoot Wine success was built on a brand image that was fun, friendly and approachable. Barefoot Wines is now the largest wine brand by global volume sales in the world.

 

In 2001, Yellow Tail Wines followed a similar path but more strategic if you believe the mythical tale known as the “Blue Ocean” strategy. To make a long story short they designed their wine to attract a new customer outside the traditional wine market. Focusing on the U.S. market they crafted a wine to suit the Coca-Cola tastes of the American consumer. They also made sure the label stood out from the crowd with a bright yellow wallaby in the center and neon colored bars to distinguish different grape varietals. “We did some testing and the label came back with mixed results, people didn’t like the animal on it,” says Peter Deutsch, CEO of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, and part owner of Yellow Tail Wines. But we took the risk because it was completely different. That risk turned out to be a home run.” The brand built on the Aussie stereotype of being laid back and carefree seems to be working, as they sell over 8 million cases a year in the U.S. alone. Currently, Yellow Tail sits as the second largest wine brand in the U.S. having lost the first position to Barefoot Wines, a few years ago.

 

Aging Wine with Your Consumer

 

The biggest opportunity for wine brands are the growing millennial consumers who aren’t tied to any past wine traditions or formalities. Wine has emerged as a social beverage on par with beer where not only is wine consumption growing among Millennials but they are also happy to experiment with different tastes.

 

In a 2012 study done by Profs. Joe Bath and Statia Elliot of Guelph University they found that a majority of Millennials choose wine based on package appeal, with racy labels faring best. They are attracted to ‘spirited’, ‘up-to-date’ and ‘colourful’ labels with sexually suggestive language and images.

 

Now the shelves are covered with colourful, highly-designed, provocative images and humours typography. A good example is B.C. winery Church and State’s Lost Inhibitions label which has a multitude of different colourful labels with catchy and tweetable sayings such as: “This is Effing Epic”, “I Fu*cking Love You” and “Kiss My Ass”, to name a few. I think you get the point.

 

I am not sure you can build a long-term wine brand that is pushing the borders all the time. Ok, you can laugh once and buy once, but building a long-term relation on abusive language isn’t sustainable. It looks and feels like an opportunity to take advantage of the moment but it will only be a moment. It reminds me of the underwear fad fifteen years ago when young people were wearing trendy, funky boxer shorts with funny messages and images. Today, they have moved those words and images onto wine bottles. But you should never judge a wine by its label. Or should you?

 

Beyond the crude, there are many unique wine labels using whatever possible styles and techniques to grab your attention; everything from distinctive etched, engraved and embossed bottles, wax and other materials, such as metal, wood, fabric and even dirt, minimalistic & conceptual designs and personalization. The vineyard’s budget is the limit.

 

Wine Improves With Age – The Older I Get, The More I Like It

 

A wine’s taste is the most important fact for generating repeat purchases, packaging can impact the initial trial purchase and help with visual recall. But worth-of-mouth can`t be ignored. No different than advertising, you can lead the consumer to drink but the product in the glass will make or break the relationship, not the label. The worst scenario is when they love the wine but can’t remember the label. Thank heavens for cameras on phones.

 

Purchasing a bottle of wine can be overwhelming and somewhat intimidating for many people. Like any food and drink your palate evolves over time and the same will occur with wine. The situation and environment that you consume the wine also effects how you experience the wine. Have the same bottle of wine with your best friends reminiscing around a bonfire on a beach, then experience the same bottle by yourself in a somber mood, in a quiet room alone, and the wine will taste different. If the only chance for the wine to communicate to a consumer is through the 10 cm x 10 cm label on a bottle, make sure you catch their attention and the name is memorable – or at least pronounceable. Also understand who, how and where they will consume it, which should influence the label’s design and graphics. The stronger the message (like Church and State’s Lost Inhibitions) the more restrictive the audience or greater the chance it’s received like a fad.

 

But what do I know. I have seen Barefoot Wines on the wine shelf for almost 30 years and I have never thought of buying it. I don’t need the bottle to scream at me or make me laugh, I just want an effing great Cab that has a bold character, depth and a balanced finish. I’d like to think I’m aging well. Cheers!

 

*Please no drinking and driving.

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Can You Hear a Brand?

Audio branding is like the icing on the cake. It provides a rich and memorable tone to your brand identity. Sound has the ability to stop you in your tracks and quickly engage you like no other sense can.  Sound can trigger memories and emotions. We are literally wired to sound thanks to Apple’s iPod invention.  Sound and music are visceral. To test your audio branding knowledge we have created a quiz. Listen to 7 different unique sounds and see if you can identify the brands.

Most retailers already leverage music as a selling tool in stores. But, generally sound is under-utilized in building a brand identity. Few brands are strategically using music, sound and voice to create a brand connection.

The Beginning of Sound Branding

Before television, radio was the darling for reaching consumers. I have been told by those who still remember that radio was the entertainment center in households. The entire family would huddle around the radio to listen to broadcasts sponsored by a brand, well before, the trend of radio advertising spots. It is believed that Generals Mills aired the first singing commercial back in 1926 entitled “Have you tried Wheaties?” and was an instant success and made Wheaties a national brand.

The art of building brands through jingles reached a peak during the economic boom of the 1950s. Jingles were used in brand advertising for such products as breakfast cereals, candy, snacks, pop, tobacco, beer, automobiles, personal hygiene products, household products and especially detergent. Like the epic musical films, branding jingles lost their appeal by the 1960s. Any Boomer can recite a number of advertising jingles as they sit dormant in their brains like “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener”, “Ai, Yi, Yi, Yi, I am the Frito Bandito”,and “I’d like to but the world a Coke.”

To be a memorable and enduring jingle Linda Kaplan Thaler, creative legend and Chairman of Publicis Kaplan Thaler advertising agency says “it has to have huge sticking power. A jingle is not successful if you listen to it once and like it. You have to listen to it and want to sing it. Essentially, you become the advertiser for the brand.” She also thinks today is a better time than ever to build a brand through a jingle due to the many social channels to share it on. While Martin Puris, another ad legend and past Chairman and CEO of Ammirati & Puris, thinks jingles are passé. “In a marketing wary world a jingle seems oddly out of place. Too slick, too contrived.”

If you find yourself singing along, then you are hooked – marketing or not. “I wish I was a CEO of a famous advertising agency, la, la, la,….”

Big Bold Sounds

Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock also known as ‘Master of Suspense’ understood the importance of sound to telling a story. He said “When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialogue only when it’s impossible to do otherwise.” He was brilliant at manipulating his audience’s emotions by using sound design to enhance the situation. Remember his movie, The Birds (1963). He used a combination of real bird sounds and electronically synthesised noises, creating an auditory assault that brought the vicious bird attacks to life.

Great sound design can only be fully appreciated through good quality sound systems and speakers. Since the 1960s, we saw great innovations concerning sound systems from the bulky multiunit stereo systems and the iconic boombox to putting our entire music library into our pocket with the iPod. Add a set of good quality headphones and you are in another world.

Audio Branding – Music

Eric Sheinkop, co-author of Hit Brands: How Music Builds Value for the World’s Smartest Brands says “Music brings value to a brand in three ways: identity, engagement, currency. Specifically, using music to establish an emotional connection with a brand, increases brand recognition, creates excitement and buzz beyond the brand’s core products or services, and can empower consumers, giving them valuable content to discover and share. Music creates the value that brands need to win the war for attention and develop a genuine connection with their consumers. When used correctly, music not only creates loyalty, but true advocacy.”

Music has plays an important role in brand building for automotive and aviation brands where it is all about the emotional state. Music is a universal language that crosses all borders of culture, nationality and languages. It is the emotional connection to the brand. Yet, most brands tend to use sound and music to be campaign-oriented, not brand-oriented. Here is an example of a campaign-oriented advertisement by Honda featuring a 60-person choir who were the sole audio track. There isn’t any car sound that they can’t sing.

United Airlines took the brand-oriented approach using music as a key brand element. Since 1976, United has used the familiar George Gershwin’s tune Rhapsody in Blue as a foundation to their brand. The music is used in its television advertisements, its airport terminals, and even its pre-flight announcements. United Airlines uses this piece of music to strategically create a distinct audio identity that expresses its vales at all necessary customer touch points. Have you ever watched someone bring on a musical instrument onto a plane? How about the entire London Symphony Orchestra.

Their onboard safety video creatively incorporates the distinctive rhapsody in blue music in various interpretations to emphasis each cultural destinations – very clever.

Audio Branding – Sonic Logo

Sonic logo is linking your brand logo with a distinct and unique sound that becomes synonymous with the brand identity. The key is using it everywhere the brand is communicated.  It takes years of reach and frequency to link a sound firmly to the brand. But, once it occurs it becomes timeless like NBC’s three-tone chimes, Intel’s five-note bong, and THX Sound System’s deep note. Kevin Perlmutter brand strategist and blogger explains that because sound bypass the rational part of the brain and reaches the most instinctive level, sound can be the fastest way to heighten brand engagement. Therefore, a brand identity is incomplete without utilizing a sound or music to help develop an emotional connection even if your brand is an unemotional computer chip. You have a better chance to position a brand into the customer’s mind if you use a multisensory approach.

Audio Branding – Product Sound

Some product brands have their very own sounds that can different themselves from the competition. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies “Snap, Crackle, Pop”, Alka-Seltzer’s “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz”, Snapple’s “Pop” when the top is unscrewed, Dyson’s unique vacuum sound, Infiniti’s engine sound (check out the ten most distinctive sounding cars) and the “scritch-scratch” sound of a Sharpie marker on paper. The sound of your product can be as distinctive as its look, feel and smell. Rachael Pink, an acoustic engineer at Dyson says “People now expect products to sound good—not just sound quiet, but have a nice quality.”

Frit-Lay, part of PespiCo Inc. introduced a compostable chip bag for its SunChipsbrand to become more environmentally friendly. The noisy bag changed the customer experience so drastically sales fell and consumers complained about the sound. Frito-Lay went back to the old bag. Don’t underestimate the customer’s relationship with your brand sound.

Final Sound Track

Today, visual branding remains the focus for many marketers, but with the increased number of touch points (like TV, radio, website, mobile apps, social channels, in-store displays, voice messages, events and in-store), you can’t rely solely on visuals. Digital is also becoming the main channel for brands to communicate. Well, digital has many channels to reach the consumer; it can lack personality and emotional attachment. It can also come across as seemingly uncaring. Kevin Perlmutter says “The strategic use of music and sound can dramatically improve a digital interaction by placing a brand’s unique identity and personality front and center to provide clear navigation with proprietary sounds that are simultaneously functional and emotional.”

In our cluttered and over stimulated communications world, brands need to engage all senses to create powerful emotional impact that transforms brand experiences. Audio branding can play a part. Start turning up the volume.

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Does the colour of a brand really matter?

“Any color – so long as it’s black.”

Henry Ford

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If you followed the virtual sensation of what colour was the dress as people debated online about whether its colours were blue and black or white and gold then you would agree colour does matter. Research suggests cells in secondary visual cortex (V2)  is particularly responsible for how we see colour consistency, which explains why a red apple still looks red if we look at it outside, under a lamp or in different lightening conditions – unless you are looking at a blue or white dress.

Loyola College research points to the connection between colour and memory: seeing a logo in colour makes it 39% more memorable than seeing the same logo in black and white. Colour also drives engagement: adding colour to blog posts, product guides, print advertising and other brand collateral increases readership by 80%

According to KissMetrics, “Color increases brand recognition by 80%.” But you also need to differentiate your brand from the pack. If you are starting up a new bank you might want to use a different colour than blue which is used by: Chase, JP Morgan, Deutsche bank, RBS, RBC, Prudential, Barclays, Citibank, Capital One, Union Bank, Bank of Montreal, to name a few. Then there are those who used the colour orange as the new blue, like ING Bank and the new bank Tangerine.

It is no surprise financial institutions and many other brands use the colour of ‘true blue’ as it emotes feelings for trust and dependability. But, according to a study published in the Journal of Business Research, customers are actually 15% more likely to return to stores with blue colour schemes than to those with orange colour schemes. Try to tell ING Bank that the orange isn’t working for them as they turned a profit of 3.5 billion Euros in 2014.

The Birth of a Brand Colour

There has been a great deal of work done in the area of psychology of colour in branding. But, to me it’s like buying a house. You make the initial decision based on emotion and then you rationalize it after the fact to legitimize your purchase. The birth of a brand identity really starts with the logo design which is generally done by a graphic designer. Depending on your budget, you can employ a single individual of a massive agency team (Top 15 graphic design companies from around the globe) then it will depend on their ability to sell you on the colour.

My assumption with most start-up companies is that the brand logo design and its colour aren’t the biggest concerns of the day. It isn’t where they are investing or spending their time. Their biggest concern is focused on getting their product or service to market.

To believe they have the brand all figured-out would be a stretch. You might know where you want to go, but how you get there is not always in your control and that includes your brand. I am sure the college dropouts Steven Jobs and Steven Wozniak, who started Apple Computers in Job’s garage, didn’t have a clear vision of where the Apple brand was going. Their first logo void of any colour could have easily been a Tolkien book cover (author of the famous The Lord of the Rings book series) than a company logo. The logo depicted Isaac Newton sitting under a tree with an apple dangling over his head. You know the rest of the gravity story.

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This logo survived only a year, but the company now had the funds to be able to commission a real graphic designer Rob Janoff. He designed the rainbow colour apple with a bite taken out of it. This logo lasted 22 years until 1997 when the colours were replaced with a more modern monochromatic sleek look. It is these redesigns and modernization of brands that the rationalization and supporting stories are developed alongside the million plus dollar price tag from the mega graphic design firms. It is interesting that as the Apple brand became more popular, myths began to be told about how the Apple brand came to be.

Starbucks started with a brown or mocha coloured logo of a siren (or mermaid) from Greek mythology, which made sense since they were selling rich dark-roast coffee by the cup in Seattle on the west coast. But, 15 years later the logo was refined and the colour changed to green. Why? It is believed the three founders wanted to honour their alum matter, the University of San Francisco, which happens to a similar green.

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There has been a great deal of research done to understand the effects of colour on consumer’s response. But Gergory Ciotti, marketing strategist at Help Scout, points out that there has been “numerous attempts to classify consumer responses to different individual colors… but the truth of the matter is that color is too dependent on personal experiences to be universally translated to specific feelings.” He goes on to explain that gender, background, and culture all play a role in how consumers are influenced by colour perceptions, but that doesn’t seem to stop the rationalizations.

STOP_SALE

If this is true why are all STOP signs and SALE signs red? According to a study published in the journal Emotion, Professor Andrew Elliot found that people react faster and more forcefully when they see the colour red, with the primary reason behind the phenomena being that the colour red enhances physical reactions as it is programmed into our psyche as a cue for danger.

A brand that has used the power of red successfully for over 128 years has been Coca-Cola, which sells about 19,400 beverages every second around the world. Like the SALE sign, Coca-Cola started advertising their brand by painting big red signs on the side of buildings and coolers. They continued on in the early 1900’s with outdoor billboards and traditional advertising. In 1931 they successfully tied their brand to the man in red – Old St. Nicholas. As the years passed, the colour red became synonymous with Coca-Cola. It required years and years of persistence and hardnosed application of the brand principles. As the brand developed over time, a process was developed to define and codify the brand values and its essence. In this process, the brand colour(s) also get encoded into the brands DNA.

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In 2011, Coca-Cola slipped up by changing their sacred red Coke can to white during the December holiday season to celebrate their highly successful polar bear advertising campaign. Within weeks, the white “polar bear” cans were pulled off the shelves because of a tremendous backlash from retailers and consumers, who were confused by the change from the traditional red. Some even complained that the taste of the soda was different—all because of the colour of the can!

Getting the brand DNA right takes time and is built on what works for the brand’s customers, but once the brand colour is locked in you must be ruthless in protecting this relationship to a colour and what the brand represents.  Can you see a John Deere customer selecting the colour he wants for his tractor? It comes in green or green or green.

heinz-ez-squirt-275When you think of Heinz ketchup you automatically think of the tomato red coloured bottle. They had the opposite results from changing their red coloured bottle to green. The Heinz EZ Squirt Blastin’ Green ketchup was a phenomenal success. But, to be fair, they still had the red bottle for those customers who didn’t want to change. More than 10 million green bottles were sold in the first seven months following its introduction. All because of a simple colour change. I am not sure if the ketchup tasted better.

Colour is a powerful signifier of a brand. When customers visually scan store shelves, they look first at colour clues, then at shapes, and finally at the label or name of the brand. Research conducted by the Seoul International Color Expo 2004 found that 92.6% of customers put visual factors as most importance when purchasing products and the colour accounted for almost 50% as the important factor. The Institute for Color Research found that people make a subconscious judgement about an environment or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing and that between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on colour alone!

The colour a company uses to brand itself conveys how trustworthy they are, the quality of their products, how fun they are and much more. So, you need to have the right colour to succeed.

Paul Bottomley and John Doyle authored a study: The interactive effects of colors and products on perceptions of brand logo appropriateness where they demonstrated that the relationship between brands and colour are based on the perceived appropriateness of the colour being used and the particular brand personality you are trying to portray.

Does the colour fit what the brand represents? An obvious misfit would be the colour pick with a somber and serious lawyer firm brand or a funeral home. While the colour of pink might differentiate the brand, it might not built a solid brand message. Because there are so many brands today, it is getting harder and harder for new brands to build their own unique brand colour positioning, so they are pushing the limits of what is appropriate. In every business category, there is an outlier who isn’t following the colour code like Orange’s orange, T Mobile’s neon pink, Veuve Clicquot’s bright yellow, Yahoo’s purple, and BP’s lime green.

If you want your brand to be synonymous with a colour, you need to use your colour everywhere. The store environment or anywhere it makes sense. A fleet of planes painted orange with airline attends wearing orange uniforms (EasyJet), a fleet of brown delivery vans with drivers wearing brown uniforms (UPS), the tastefully accent colour of robin egg blue surrounding gold, silver and diamonds with the iconic blue box (Tiffany & Co), and flooding the exterior and the interior of the store and staff in yellow and red (Shell and McDonald’s). The colour is part of the brand experience.

I wonder how many brand colours were the results of the whims of the graphic designer exploring the next trend or the personal taste of the CEO’s spouse. In the case of Facebook, the founder Mark Zuckerberg is red-green colour blind so blue was his choice.

Well thought-out colours can help define a brand’s value, strength and positioning, which will boost awareness and customer recall and differentiate the brand from the competition. If chosen effectively, it can even set the emotional stage for the overall brand experience.

The right colour does matter.