A distinctive brand asset has two characteristics—it must be ‘unique’ in that it only evokes the one brand, and it must be ‘famous’, meaning that everyone who sees it, thinks only of that brand. Of these two, uniqueness is most important. Ehrenberg-Bass Institute
When most people see a pair of golden arches or hear the “Two all-beef patties, special sauce….” jingle, nobody needs to mention the brand name to know which fast-food chain they come from.
Not everybody loves McDonald’s or Burger King. Still, most people stop for a sandwich, at least occasionally. Since hungry diners know what to expect from these brands, they stand out as popular choices. Families and friends don’t have to discuss the menu because almost everybody believes that BK’s burgers taste better, but McDonald’s wins on fries. Thus, this distinctive branding provides these chains with a valuable asset.
Most importantly, nobody confuses these two brands with each other or any similar fast-food chains because they’ve developed distinctive and unique brand assets, which are also famous. Dig into the art and science that marketers rely upon to develop these critical assets.
Academics call the study of meanings behind signs and symbols semiotics. Humans almost certainly responded to symbols before they invented writing, and people may have this ability to assign meaning to signs hard-wired into their brains. For instance, people can learn to communicate with sign language as adeptly as others respond to spoken words.
In today’s interconnected world, where people interact without always speaking the same language, semiotics sometimes still trump spoken language in importance. For instance, each country’s flag uses simple graphics to express something about the land it represents. The U.S. flag displays 50 stars for each state and stripes for the original 13 colonies. The Canadian Maple Leaf represents hope and prosperity.
The golden arches form an “M” for McDonald’s, but they can also signify an open archway or entrance, inviting hungry patrons to enter. The golden color can indicate quality or at least the standard of consistent quality people expect from a global chain of fast-food burger joints. Thus, marketers should consider visual elements of branding in light of how consumers will interpret them.
Designers who use semiotics use different tactics to achieve the desired result:
- Bottom-up semiotics begins with selecting potential symbols and asking key questions to uncover the meaning people associate with them. For instance, a coffee company might start with various images of steaming mugs or coffee beans and learn how survey groups react.
- Top-down semiotics starts with an abstract concept to find out what sort of ideas or associations it conveys. The coffee company might begin with concepts they want people to associate with their brand, like freshness, aroma, or energy to learn which images people associate with these ideas.
The way consumers interpret logos can give consumers an instantly recognizable and positive reaction to a brand… or not. As discussed on the Big Eye blog, no creative type wants to design a logo so jarring that 50,000 local residents sign a petition to remove it, as with London’s Olympics logo in 20212.
In 2016, Uber changed its logo to represent a “bit” that was supposed to evoke the company’s digital nature, but to most people, it just looked like a backward C. In 2018, Uber relented and changed the logo to its brand name, wasting two years of branding opportunities in the process.
Better examples of distinctive, evocative logos might include:
- The arrow in the Amazon logo points from “A” to “Z” to demonstrate to shoppers they can find almost anything to buy on the retail site.
- Chick-Fil-A’s logo designer cleverly made a chicken out of the “C” to emphasize the main ingredient in most of this brand’s food.
- Burger King’s logo framed the brand name with the top and button of a simple, stylized hamburger bun, making the meaning obvious.
Besides merely designing a logo that might look good on an outdoor sign, brands need to consider other ways to use the graphic. For instance, the same design will probably appear in ads in various sizes and mediums or on packaging. One primary challenge designers face will include designing a distinctive image that can scale and adapt to different sizes and mediums.
According to the National Library of Health, most people demonstrate a preference for a visual learning style. Interestingly enough, that percentage might rise to as much as 80 percent in higher education, perhaps suggesting that the educational system serves that population best or trains students to prefer visual learning. Maybe that explains why most discussion of distinctive branding focuses on images.
Undoubtedly, scientists consider most visual learners, but even people who don’t prefer it also learn verbally. Successful brands take advantage of this by producing distinctive audio. For instance, radio, podcasts, and music stand out as popular mediums.
For example, consider the T-Mobile ringtone, the Windows startup tone, and famous jingles that people recognize decades later, like the Oscar Meyer and Burger King Whopper advertising jingles. According to Live Science, sounds form lasting cognitive and emotional memory connections. Thus, businesses can develop distinctive tones or vocals to make their brands memorable.
Does distinctive branding extend beyond verbal and audio?
As a note, odors can also form strong emotional connections. Still, marketers don’t have a way to broadcast the fragrance of roasting coffee or a chargrilled burger over TV, radio, or the internet. At least, nobody has invented one yet.
All Starbucks don’t look the same, but fans of the brand can’t mistake the universal fragrance of roasting coffee when they step inside the door. Such local businesses as coffee houses, candle shops, and hamburger restaurants often use the scent of their products to attract customers. Even if marketers lack the technology to broadcast smells through internet connections, they can consider using visual images to evoke them, like the steaming cup of coffee in a Maxwell House ad.
Why invest in distinctive brand assets?
Distinctive brand assets help people instantly recognize businesses, with clear associations for brand expectations. Images, words, and even sounds and smells can serve in this way. As in the case of branding mishaps, even by large organizations, businesses need to ensure they’re evoking positive associations that attract customers and not negative ones that might draw scorn. As a DTC branding agency in Florida, we’re here to ensure customers’ memories of our client’s brands are good ones.