Time and again, studies show that sight is our dominant sense. 

How we speak, think and describe our experiences reflect our primarily visual world.

“That looks about right to me.”

“She’s a colourful character.”

“I see.”

The unconscious ways that visual assumptions structure and mediate our lives are a source of fascination for me – and for Nicolette Robinson and Giles Thomas of Mimo Brands.

Last year, I interviewed Nicolette and Giles on this blog about their framework for developing brand strategies

Today, we’re chatting about the role of the visual world in brand positioning

Why are visual cues and triggers so emotionally powerful?

Because we are visual beings. So much of our biological make up is dominated by vision. A study in 2015 on the hierarchy of our senses “estimated that 50 percent of the cortex is involved in visual functions.”

And what does this mean for brand positioning?

When a brand is well positioned it enables consumers to actively choose your brand over others.

A key component of delivering this positioning is what the brand looks like, its ‘visual assets’ or ‘codes‘. These codes act as a visual signpost to your brand.

These codes include every visual aspect of the brand including the name, fonts, colours, photography, icons and more.

The ideal combination of codes are those which are relevant to consumer choice and distinctive from competitors within the category. If you get this right, and deliver it consistently, you will give consumers a shortcut to your brand.

So how do these “visual codes” develop?

They’re built up from the visual cues in our daily lives that form part of our cultural norms – how things look around us, from cars and fashion to shop signage and books. Unlocking them for use in branding is a powerful way to develop an emotional connection with consumers.

Why do many brands get this wrong and put so much emphasis on words?

The focus on the written word starts at an early age – most forms of education place the highest value on the written word. This pattern repeats in the workplace.

It also dominates many of the traditional research methodologies used to develop and evaluate brands. Typically we ask consumers to tell us what they think and feel. This reported behaviour is given more significance than observing consumers in their “natural environments” and seeing what they like and do.

Ethnography and semiotics go some way to capturing what people actually do and see, but often there is a gap between actual and reported behaviour.

Can you give us an example of this approach in action, and the difference it makes?

I worked for Doritos on a global brand positioning project, the objective of which was to create a new brand identity that resonated with teenagers and young adults across the world.

The project started with an immersion into the worlds of young people in the diverse markets of Turkey, Mexico, UK and the USA.

Traditionally this would have started by reviewing a shelf full of similar products alongside one another in a supermarket. However, we set about gathering and visually recording as much of our target consumers’ lives before crafting a positioning and developing the corresponding brand identity.

We visited their homes, their bars, their favourite shops as they went about their daily lives and showed us the brands that they loved and that engaged them most.

Across these diverse markets we noticed that the same set of visual codes appeared again and again. We observed that when the snacking moment occurred these young people tended to be surrounded by their favourite brands (and their codes). These main snacking moments around the world were taking place in bedrooms, not kitchens.

We called this bedroom-centred usage occasion “mission control for teens” and we aimed to be a natural part of this.

What else did you find in “mission control”?

Regardless of geographical location or demographic we consistently found the same kinds of brands:

  • Gaming – especially ‘Call of Duty’
  • Personal care – notably Lynx
  • Beer brands with very similar brand identities

All had the same visual cues – high energy, bold and impactful.

This became the core of the ‘visual brief’ for creative idea development. The proposition was distilled into the simple idea of “turbo-charged snacking”.

This drove not only the new more dynamic brand identity but also inspired communications – such as the “Doritos – For the Bold“ campaign – and new product development – from flavours (the spicier the better) to product size (the supersized “Doritos Jacked”).

And the new animated ‘lighting strike swoosh’ and the darker, more intense, dramatic, brave colours helped create a totally distinctive and dynamic set of assets and codes informed by a “visual safari” of the real consumer world.



And what results were achieved from this “visual safari”?

The transition from a disconnected ‘disco flash’ to a bolder almost ‘rock’ identity that wouldn’t look out of place in ‘Call of Duty’ or on a beer brand meant that the Doritos repositioning was heralded as one of the most successful PepsiCo re-launches, and Doritos returned to global sales growth within 6 months.

Thanks for Nicolette and Giles for sharing their thoughts on the critical importance of visuals in branding. That’s something we can all learn from and advice we can integrate into our animated explainers and video productions for sure.

If you have any questions about topics raised in this interview, feel free to connect with Nicolette Robinson or Giles Thomas on LinkedIn, or get in touch through the Mimo Brands website.

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