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Think Before Designing Your Logo: How Marketers Can Capitalize on the Power of Perception to Influence Beliefs About Brand Performance

Think Before Designing Your Logo: How Marketers Can Capitalize on the Power of Perception to Influence Beliefs About Brand Performance

Felipe M. Affonso and Chris Janiszewski

Brands are constantly updating their visual identities. Intel recently went through its third visual brand identity refresh in half a century, and its new logo has iconic symmetry, balance, and proportion. The underlying geometry is apparent in the design. Could visual design characteristics influence consumers’ perceptions about the brand?

In a new Journal of Marketing article, we find that a sense of order and structure can reinforce claims about a brand’s utilitarian benefits. Intel’s visual marketing not only communicates the company’s vision and positioning but also reinforces them through specific design properties. We identify a variety of design properties that can influence perceptions of structure in visual elements, including symmetry, balance, geometry, regularity, proximity, and similarity.

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It is well known that customers are subliminally influenced by visual marketing tools such as logos, packages, and retail displays; they use them as a basis to make judgments about brands delivering on their promise. For brands that promise utilitarian (functional, instrumental, and useful) benefits, we find that consumers are encouraged by visual designs perceived as more orderly and structured. This suggests marketers can capitalize on the power of perception to influence beliefs about brand performance, which ultimately influences product interest and choice.

Utilitarian vs. Hedonic Brands

At the other end of the spectrum are brands such as Pepsi, which promise benefits related to enjoyment, pleasure, and experiences—collectively referred to as hedonic benefits. In this case, marketers can benefit from using visual design properties that convey lack of structure. The visual elements of Pepsi’s marketing communications are relatively more asymmetric, free-flowing, unbalanced, and irregular. Our research suggests that these characteristics reinforce consumers’ beliefs about the performance of hedonic-positioned brands.

In short, we find that visual design characteristics that encourage structured perceptions of visual communications (such as when the visual elements have high proximity, high similarity, and symmetry) can reinforce beliefs about utilitarian-positioned brand performance. On the other hand, visual design characteristics that encourage unstructured perceptions of visual communications (for instance, when the visual elements are asymmetrical, have low proximity, or low similarity) can reinforce beliefs about hedonic-positioned brand performance. These reinforcements occur because structure and lack of structure have specific associations that consumers use to make inferences. Our suggestions are supported by a series of carefully designed experiments, both in the lab and in the field, and an analysis of industry data.

First, we found that in a large-scale field experiment, when a perfume was positioned as utilitarian (“Long-lasting. Great for work and everyday occasions”), consumers were more likely to click on the advertisement depicting the perfume with a visual design perceived as more structured than its unstructured counterpart. When the perfume was positioned as hedonic (“Delightful. Great for special and fun occasions”), consumers were more likely to click on the advertisement depicting the perfume with a visual design perceived as more unstructured than its structured counterpart.

Second, when consumers made choices considering functional goals (such as choosing a restaurant that provides a fast and reliable experience), they were more likely to pick a restaurant perceived as structured. However, when the choice involved hedonic goals (such as choosing a restaurant providing an entertaining and exciting experience) they were likely to pick the option perceived as unstructured. Importantly, we consistently find that these effects, across a variety of visual marketing communications, induce a structured versus unstructured perception in different ways.

Finally, we find that for brands perceived as more utilitarian, structured perceptions are associated with greater financial brand valuation and customer-based brand equity than unstructured perceptions. The opposite is true for brands perceived as more hedonic.

This research offers actionable insights for marketers and visual design specialists working with design, advertising, social media communications, visual merchandising, and the appearance of retail environments. Specifically, the findings suggest that perceptual structure can be used as an efficient marketing communication tool. And it can encourage consumers at the point of purchase, being a relatively costless way to reinforce brand positioning.

Lessons for Chief Sales Officers

  • Brands may want to consider using design elements that encourage structured/unstructured perceptions of logos, products, product packaging, and retail store design if their brand is primarily associated with utilitarian/hedonic benefits.
  • The implications of our research extend to many other visual marketing communications, including print advertisements, website layouts, and app user interfaces. Marketers can take advantage of our findings and anticipate the consequences of key visual design decisions.
  • Brands could benefit in the long term from shifting the structure of their visual marketing communications to align with their brand positioning.

Read the full article

From: Felipe M. Affonso and Chris Janiszewski, “Marketing by Design: The Influence of Perceptual Structure on Brand Performance,” Journal of Marketing.

Go to the Journal of Marketing

Felipe M. Affonso is a PhD candidate in marketing, University of Florida, USA.

Chris Janiszewski is Russell Berrie Eminent Scholar Chair and Professor of Marketing, University of Florida, USA.