Select a conservative font to convey traditional values, choose specific colors to connect you with certain emotions, opt for modern graphics to frame a company as cutting edge, and so on.
We want our designs to establish us as a solution to a problem.
These assumptions have been tried and tested over time, generating solid results for those who incorporate them into their design strategies.
But… you know what they say about what happens when you assume.
One researcher at Kansas University questioned whether this common branding tactic was truly best practice or just a function of habit.
“Coming from a psychology perspective,” says Dr. Noelle Nelson, a professor focusing on marketing and consumer behavior, “we know that it’s not always a sure thing that people are going to take the meaning of any visual design and then apply it where ever we think it should.”
Her recent research focused on how consumers view problem-oriented and solution-oriented designs, what inferences they associate with the designs, and how those inferences get applied. Participants in the study were shown custom-made designs for companies coming from different perspectives, and the responses were surprising.
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“We found that, in the case of safety-related products, the first reaction a marketer would probably go with would be to design a logo that looks like it means safety. And what people actually do is apply that meaning to their environment, which makes them think that they don’t need the safety products quite as much,” Dr. Nelson explains.
To some end, though, this depends on the company. Consumers pay different levels of attention to brands depending on the space in which they operate. The calculus also differs depending on the age of the brand.
“If there’s room to add information, like in the case of new products and new companies, you’ll want the logo to say something about the brand or the product,” comments Dr. Nelson.
Though these insights are certainly valuable, perhaps one of the most important takeaways from this conversation was that marketers in the private sector should probably pay more attention to research going on in academia, particularly as it relates to psychology.
“A lot of this psychological research already exists. When we apply these principles to our marketing, we can understand why consumers behave in a certain way. A little bit more understanding of what consumers are like instead of just what a segment does would be beneficial,” Dr. Nelson insists.
“Marketers don’t think to look in the academic journals first, or they think that because it applies to one small context that it doesn’t have implications for their company. What I would like to see is a little more interaction between the practical side and the academic side so that the research can have a greater impact on what people are doing in their companies.”
In other words, it’s probably time to seek out more than data points.
It brings to mind the old financial disclaimer: past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.
So much of our strategic approach and many of the articles we pass around as marketers rely on what data from the past suggests.
But with psychological research, we can move past acting based on past performance and really focus on generating future results because we have a better understanding of why that past performance was generated in the first place.
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