4 things all the best visual brand identity research projects have in common
The right research at the right time is key to identifying insights that shape a differentiated, meaningful visual brand identity. That’s what Juli Beard, Director of Research at Mindlab believes, having worked with market-leading organisations including Boots, Diageo and the NSPCC. Based on her experience, here are the four things she thinks all successful research projects have in common.
1. They don’t ask consumers what they think
Always avoid placing the onus on consumers to come up with ideas, or putting them in the role of brand planners or designers. Asking them direct questions such as, “What do you want this brand to look like?” or “What is your perfect brand?” is rarely useful at a creative level as consumers have no idea what we’re trying to achieve as researchers, or indeed as the brand.
To get insights beyond “change this element,” or “Make this font bigger,” instead tap into people’s implicit perceptions of a brand. We do this by mapping out their associations with a huge volume of imagery – often 300 to 400 images. We find people’s intuitive links to the brand as well as competitors and concepts so we can see how well imagery aligns with what the company wants to stand for, and what consumers are looking for. That helps us see the elements and emotions that can be uniquely owned.
In this way, we spot patterns in perceptions of colours, shapes, materials, tone of voice, even experiential spaces. How does that differ by environment – TikTok vs. in store for example? It’s about identifying visuals and branding that align with the company’s future vision, and the bridging points that will move the brand there in the minds’ of potential buyers.
2. Research starts right away
For brand refreshes in particular, research can’t be carried out too early. Measuring existing assets to find out how consumers perceive the brand now will provide grounding and guidance that prevents you running off in the wrong direction.
Before starting to create a brand, there’s also plenty that can be done early on – working with competitive content and abstract visuals, for instance. Even imperfect ideas of colours, themes and pictures you might pursue will provide useful building blocks for later thinking.
3. Emotion is essential
Research can also look at the emotional connection consumers have with a brand. What is their real gut reaction to products and content? It’s only once you’ve found those pearls that it’s time to move towards creative development.
Often research is limited in these stages of development, with designers and brand planners relying on academic semiotic principles alone, or if anything only running some light-touch qualitative sessions. This can work well enough in some instances, but could we go further? Our research gets to semiotic insights on a quantitative scale, providing the confidence that you have mapped out a large number of people’s associations, rather than relying on an academic viewpoint alone.
4. Thinking is future focused
Consumer research generally creates snapshots of people’s perceptions right now so there’s always the potential for shifts in all sorts of different directions. Things like semiotics aren’t set in stone and people’s perceptions change over time depending on what’s happening around them.
But what we can be thinking about to future proof our research is: what does the company want to stand for in the future? And then what does the accompanying identity look like? It’s almost decoupled from the current brand as consumers can sometimes only imagine so far in one direction. 20 years ago, could you have thought that McDonalds would be so focused on sourcing produce locally?
Research like this is also future focused because it’s not just used to validate a single campaign, but rather creates toolkits for comms and design that can be used to develop compelling materials for all sorts of different contexts. For us, it’s about creating insights into the identity that can be used for years to come, whether it’s in creating new product designs or even just individual social media posts. We don’t just have effectiveness in mind, but also efficiency for our clients.
This is the first of three articles based on interviews with Juli Beard due to be released over the coming weeks. Keep an eye out for the next in this Mindlab Experts series which will reveal the top visual brand identity trend you need to know about.