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Thinking in Colour

Marketers develop brands as complex analytical propositions, yet consumers tend to digest them in a more direct, sensory mode. Charles Wrench describes how visual positioning techniques can be used to foster brand integration.

Let’s start with a simple question: what do we mean by ‘brand integration’? Well I don’t mean achieving a consistent use of a logo or an end line. achieving a consistent use of a logo or an end line. And I don’t mean strongarming half a dozen agencies to work together. While these are all worthwhile, of course, the definition I have in mind doesn’t concern itself with client or agency inputs.

My definition of brand integration starts with the customer’s takeout. For me, ‘integration’ is when your customers have a coherent experience of your brand promise whenever and wherever they come across your brand. Why is this an important distinction? It’s important because is suggests a slightly different approach to the process of integration.

As marketers we tend to be very left brain in our brand construction: we analyse, define, segment, brief, measure. We see our brands as complex constructs. We add definition all the time.

But our customers tend to be more right brain in their brand consumption: they are less complicated, more visceral and visual about brands. What’s more, the right brain is where we experience our strongest emotions; love, hate, passion, etc.

For customers, the brands that rise to the surface amongst the thousands that seek their attention every day are the ones that are most clear, most striking, most powerful: not the ones that are most complex.

This suggests two things to me:

First, that you do not serve the cause of brand integration well by endlessly adding layers of definition to your brand: the capacity to integrate is better served by simplifying your brand’s special difference, than by adding to it.

Ideas that can be captured in just a few words can be more easily expressed and more easily understood.

Secondly, that we need to be more right-brain orientated in the way we define our brands.

Visual positioning
One way of doing this is to define them visually as well as verbally. When you think about it, many of the ways we seek to influence customers’ perceptions are visual: many of the people who communicate your brand are visually oriented; the most potent media are substantially visual.

And yet we typically define brands almost entirely verbally.

I would like to suggest a simple way of at least partially bridging this right brain/left brain gap.

By conducting a simple exercise that we call Visual Positioning.

This is a process of defining a brand visually across a number of different subject matters: for instance as a colour, a style of type, as an animal, or as a piece of furniture. You remember that old marketing ploy: “If this brand were an animal, then what animal would it be?” Well this is no more complicated than that.

What makes this exercise valuable is doing it not just for your brand, but also for your competitors’ – and not just for your brand today, but how you see it developing in the future.

What makes it really valuable, especially in terms of achieving Brand Integration, is when you conduct this exercise as a team, ie, when you get all your agencies together and do it as one.

When you do it together, Visual Positioning is not just a mental mapping exercise, it is also a valuable medium for bringing all your team and partners to a common understanding of your brand.

A Visual Positioning we developed for BP, Britain’s largest and most profitable company, shows how even a brand of this global scale might be meaningfully expressed on a single page. Let me describe it.

We have a brief statement of BP’s relevant differentiation, or what you might call their special difference. This is the brand captured in 100 words or less.

Then BP has reduced this further to a single, simple, audacious thought: Beyond Petroleum.

This idea immediately sums up their intent to confront the traditional paradigm of fuel as a dull and damaging product and sets the company’s vision as one of getting beyond this paradigm.

This intellectual definition has then been supported and further defined through the Visual Positioning – which provides something of a right brain picture of the personality of this future BP.

Finally, at the bottom in yellow text, there is one further element – BP’s brand values.

Charles Wrench
Landor Associates, London
Making Brand Integration Happen

This article originally appeared in volume 10 of WPP's Atticus Journal.

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About the author
  • Charles Wrench