Elmwood’s chief provocation and strategy officer, Greg Taylor, on how design can impact the non-conscious and drive brand effectiveness and why 2019 should be the year your brand design is out of the ordinary.
First up, why the imperative for extraordinary design in today’s world?
Enlightened brands know they need design to be extraordinary because technology has driven seismic change in consumer behaviour and expectations. Put simply, the pace of change means brands need to stay ahead of consumers if they’re to stay ahead of their competition.
Loyalty is dead. No one owes brands anything.
Many though simply don’t get this need to be extraordinary. Which is probably why since 1920 the life expectancy of businesses has dropped by about 80% from 67 years to just 15, according to the Yale School of Management.
But what is extraordinary design and what can it do for you?
Extraordinary design is meaningful, memorable and iconic. By iconic I mean simple and distinctive; design that works in the blink of an eye – think sport, think tick, think beer, think red star, think smartphone, think iPhone. Some brands have indeed hardwired your memory structures to their simple and distinctive icons: Nike, Heineken and Apple being a handful of examples.
This is how ‘first to mind’ wins, by building such distinctive memory structures.
It all comes down to how we’re neurologically hard-wired to make decisions. Iconic brand design works in part because the brain is lazy and likes to take shortcuts.
One way it does this is to notice ‘difference’ first, hence the need for design to be simple and distinctive, to be remarkable and extraordinary: No one remembers average. It is the iconicity of design that builds mental availability and this is what makes it so valuable.
The fact that 95% of decisions are driven by the non-conscious – as Harvard Business School Professor Gerald Zaltman pointed out to us – has been known in the neuroscience world for some time. Yet brands tend to spend the majority of their budget trying to decipher the 5% of our rational decision-making. This is despite the fact that advances and cost savings in neuroscience and implicit testing methodologies mean that brands now have the opportunity to shift their focus from designing brands based on the science of post-rationalisation (referred to in the research world as ‘System 2’) to understanding and designing for the non-conscious power of their brands (what’s termed ‘System 1’).
Brands that tap into this by building distinctive memory structures through the power of iconic, extraordinary design are the ones that non-consciously effect decision making. After all, it’s our System 1 thinking that drives the instantaneous decisions that govern most of our lives.
But what about those design elements that aren’t distinctive; design elements and codes that are useful because they are universally understood; how can we optimise these, too, to support our iconic design?
Sometimes it’s good to borrow, even steal! So as well as distinctive memory structures it’s possible to use borrowed memory structures very effectively. Think medals for quality, hand-drawn typography for authenticity. On their own, they are not enough but when balanced with distinctive, iconic design they offer reassurance – the ‘ying’ if you like to distinctive memory structures’ ‘yang’.
Brand owners like Unilever, Heineken and Mars Wrigley are starting to think about how they create iconic brand assets that play into our predominantly non-conscious, emotional decision making – leveraging both distinctive and borrowed design codes which nudge us towards choosing their brands over those of their competitors.
For instance, Unilever’s Dirt is Good (DiG) laundry franchise (Persil, OMO, Surf Excel) has recently liberated its distinctive ‘splat’ in off pack communications in order to make it more iconic whilst introducing a kids-inspired hand drawn secondary typeface to convey living life to full, getting outdoors and embracing dirt because dirt is the mark of life’s experiences.
And we have also worked with many successful challenger brands to ensure the levers of distinctive and borrowed design work in their favour, with design that can flip a category entirely on its head.
Take Saucy Fish Co: a launch brand which managed to differentiate itself in a category that traditionally had some appalling design codes: wet, white fish lying lifelessly in a white chiller cabinet, like a fish morgue, creating a rather unappetising barrier.
Using the premium borrowed memory structure of black from confectionery and cooked meats in this white fish morgue environment transformed the design into a surprising, distinctive design asset. This, alongside a ‘tell it as it is’ name, provided simplicity and reassurance and Saucy Fish Co is now a £100m, global brand.
Heck Sausages is another testament to the extraordinary power of design. Unlike wet fish, this time there was no barrier to desire to cook. This meant we could be more distinctive with the brand name as well as the colour palette. However, we also borrowed – using textured board for the packaging and see-through windows, conveying handcraft and also transparency and therefore confidence in ingredients. Heck is currently 4th in the Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100 league table, with sales having grown 159% a year to £5.7m this year.
These may be extraordinary times but extraordinary design’s ability to implicitly hardwire brands through unique combinations of distinctive and borrowed memory structures enables you the opportunity to maximise their non-conscious power. Couldn’t be any more explicit than that.