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The Importance of Perception in Branding
Perception: The recognition and interpretation of sensory information or how we respond to information.
Perception can be a funny thing.
I’ll have a good day at work and now I’m driving home. Along the way I can smell the spring air through rolled-down windows. I can see that the Bradford Pear trees are blossoming and the grass is starting to turn green. I feel so good that I’m compelled to tell people about it. I smile as I text my friends how grateful and blessed I am. I may not understand why at the time, I just know that my day was a good one.
How about this one?
I’ll have a good day at work and now I’m heading home. Along the way I notice that they’re tearing down a favorite landmark. In front of me is a bumper sticker promoting a politician (don’t ask) or an idea that I disagree with. Gawkers are staring at a car parked on the shoulder causing a slow-down in traffic. I fire off an frustrated text. When I get home I’m not feeling as happy as I was when I left work. I may not understand why at the time, I just feel that my day wasn’t all that great.
What happened? How were these commutes different? Even though they started out well, the things I observed along the way changed the story. As we all process external input differently, we tend to formulate opinions based on observations that contribute to how we perceive the world.
This is why it's important to understand how people can and will create a story around your company based on their perception of your brand.
External stimulus creates a narrative
As a designer and illustrator I’m hyper-observant and I can process a boat-load of information just on my morning and evening commutes to and from work. As I’m bopping along to my music, my eyes are constantly scanning for - and processing - stimuli. I’ll take these bits of data and create a narrative which I’ll call “the story of my commute”. What did I see? How did it make me feel? Did the information I collected along the way create a positive or negative experience? The individual pieces put together will influence my perception of the world around me. A problem arises when this collection of stimuli I’ve gathered along the way begins to influence my perception of things. This is why it’s so important in design to consider the value of all the individual pieces that make up a brand - the perception of your company (or individual) - and how they can both work for and against you.
Individual pieces make up the story
Consider the alphabet. When we look at each letter we see individual components. But when they are formed into logical and well thought-out units, these individual components become words that help us understand truth. They are no longer individual, random pieces but a single item. The same can be said for branding. Many customers fail to understand (or aren’t taught) how all the pieces (logo design, web design, content creation, email marketing, social media, and print media) are necessary in telling their story clearly and accurately, and how they go together in influencing people’s perception of their company. It’s sometimes hard to convince customers of the value of how individual components help their brand because they’re not told about the value - and danger - of perception. Therefore it’s so important to teach our customers how these individual pieces work together to create a dynamic, cohesive unit that communicates one consistent message.
Why is this important? Because your story can influence how a potential buyer feels about your business.
Perception in branding
One of the ways people process stimuli is visually. This is important because, in design, information is gathered through our eyes. This is where the value of good design comes in. If each individual piece is skewed or deviates from the narrative (the message or story the company is trying to communicate) then the message become muddied. This creates a problem when dealing with the public’s perception of a company because it’s now open to the individual’s interpretation, or perception, of the company based on the data or stimuli they receive. This is why it’s so important to control the narrative.
The value of good design
I’ve heard it said that good design is “invisible”. What this means is when it’s done correctly, good design does not need to announce that it’s good design. Our perception - the recognition and interpretation of sensory information - can be controlled by creating design that won't evoke a negative reaction. Usually a person can spot what’s wrong with a design, even if they don't understand why. This occurs when we sense that things just don’t “feel” right. This is our natural reaction to clutter or disorder. When you walk into a person’s home, we subconsciously take inventory with our senses. What does it look like? How does it smell? The result is that we're making judgments based on our perception of the environment around us. We smell that they have cats. We see they don’t pick up after themselves. They shop at Pottery Barn. For better or worse, we will formulate opinions based on what our senses take in.
The same goes for branding. People will make snap judgments based on how they feel when they come in contact with your business. Whether it's finding you online or walking into your store, they will judge you based on what they see and the experience they walk away with.
This is why it’s so important to control the narrative of your brand. The first way to do this is to hire a professional with experience in branding and design.
The second thing you can do is evaluate what you're trying to communicate at each stage of the creative process. You do this by running your decisions through the filter of “does this resonate with my story”.
This is what I like to do to help develop and control the brand narrative with my clients:
For me, the client interview is probably the most important step of the creative process. Measure twice - cut once. This is when you can discover the essence of the business, the personalities and complexities as well as getting to the meat of what’s not working for them. Over the years I’ve cultivated a number of questions designed to get the client talking. This is extremely valuable when the time comes to brainstorm ideas. This is also where narrative building begins. I’ll get some great ideas just by listening to a client talk about their company. In fact, I’ve left every interview knowing - at some level - how I can attack a project. It’s important to evaluate what you learned and identify any potential issues that may pop up that pertain to perception. Put yourself in the customer’s or public’s shoes to determine how your client’s desires will influence how they think.
Tell them what you’re going to do
Proposals work really well in discovering if you’re on the same page with your client or not. Based on your interview you’ll set forth tasks, expectations, and timelines to complete the process and can jar loose any issues that may arise along the way. It’s important to be clear on your objectives and deliverables as your client may have a few questions as to what you are promising to do. Believe it or not, this is another element of the creative process as you can learn what is and isn’t important to the client and how it may or may not affect the public’s perception of their business.
Bring the client in on your brainstorm sessions
Brainstorming is the best “check-and-balance” method to use in discovering whether or not an idea will work or not. Since you’re bouncing ideas off each other, each member of the team can re-enforce a good idea or discourage a bad idea based on what is learned in the interview. Also, when you brainstorm ideas with your client, you begin to cultivate a strategy of how to execute the narrative and begin relationship building. I’ll bring all sorts of people into a brainstorm session because I know that everyone brings something unique to the table and will provide different perspectives on an idea. The brainstorm is very helpful in discovering, cultivating, and controlling the story of your brand.
Tell the story
Now it’s time to do the work. These steps are crucial in my creative process to discover - or uncover - what lies beneath a client’s motivation and how they want to tell their story. Once you’ve set the narrative it will drive your decision-making when it comes to developing every component of their branding from their logo, to signage, to content creation, to their web site - to anything really. Put together they should form a cohesive brand message that’s consistent and will not confuse the public. The result should be a positive experience for your audience which should work towards altering - or controlling - their perception of the brand.
Do you have a branding story? Let us know how you feel about this article or give us your insights on perception in design.