Picture This

Ever do this marketing activity before? 

You assign everyone in your sales and marketing organization to bring one picture to your strategy planning meeting. The image can be a photograph or an illustration.  The image should depict the core aspect of your brand. Another way of saying this is If you cut open your brand, what would it look like inside?  Is your brand like the sunset set in Hawaii (calming and refreshing) or is it quirky and off-beat like Frank Zappa? 

Everyone gives the images to the facilitator who posts them like wall paper for all to see. Then each participant gets a Post It Note and has to stick it on the image that best represents the brand. It is an interesting exercise and one that often helps inspire productive team discussions about what your brand represents and how important the visual is compared to the text.

Imagine if you did this same exercise and asked everyone to bring something in writing that explains the brand essence?  Words suck at this task. Pictures are more powerful ways to communicate experiences and to support branding. 

With inflation, a picture is now worth 10,032 words
We are visual animals who receive marketing messages and communications through pictures. Words are infrequently read particularly in ads and especially when the consumer’s radar is on full alert. But pictures sneak through our alarm system and can help flesh out the brand and begin to tell a story.

When words are in direct contradiction to pictures, the picture wins. Laura Ries is a brilliant marketing consultant who wrote an article recently in the American Marketing Associations Summer 2012 MARKETINGMANAGEMENT issue.  She used this fascinating image that illustrates this contradiction. When you see the image below you assume someone put the wrong words on the photo. But as Laura explains in her article, 

"Most people would not consider the opposite: That someone put the wrong picture on the capture. The visual always dominates the verbal."

All rights reserved - Copyright Laura Ries
Published in Marketing Management Magazine Summer 2012 issue

Please read the full article to learn more about this phenomenon and some of her very interesting ideas on this subject of the primacy of the visual. You have to join AMA to read the article online.

Back to my off-site strategy activity; the successful picture that gets the most votes in this exercise is usually a crisp and clear depiction of the benefit that a consumer derives from the brand experience.  It could be safety, comfort or value and the ad might not even mention any features.  The best examples do not show the product but the feelings that are evoked by using the product. 

Power in Pictures: 
What this exercise shows is how powerful the image is and versus the printed word. As you start to see through this lens it means you are starting to see how your customer or a consumer sees your product or service.

What companies sell is not necessarily what customers buy. I may sell a physical product (shoes, computers or brownies) but what the customer perceives is an important benefit that they get from use of your brand.

I may sell a remarkable hammers or screw drivers but what the customer see is the possibility of being a craftsman like his grandfather.

Selling connections not hammers

I may sell software to help you write a book but what the customer is buying is a megaphone to tell their life story as a record for his community.

You aren't selling software. You are selling an opportunity to share stories 

I may sell camping gear made of recycled materials but what the customer is buying is a chance to be at one with nature.
Through the gear I get harmony with nature
I may sell pesticides that keep bugs away from lawns so they can be plush and green, but what consumers buy is the play space for their family to roll around. 

I sell lawn pesticides but my customers want a place to play

Homework assignment: What job does your product or brands do for your customers? How successful are you at helping them see the solution to your needs?  

Close your eyes and tell me what image you say when the following brands are mentioned like Sears, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Tom’s Shoes, Outback, Dell, Amazon, Urgent Care, Zappos, Walgreens and Gap, M&M’s, Corona and Ben & Jerry’s. (or anyone that comes to mind)

Great brands with real power have to solve problems. The clearer that picture is in your mind is the goal for the brand team at each business. As Laura Ries points out in this article, owning a visual image is perhaps even more important than owning a word in the consumer’s mind.

What single image represents the core of your brand? 

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