More than just visual creativity: the science of brand


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When buyers think about making a purchase they usually first think about the brands that sell products or services in that category. For example, Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services would likely come to mind for IT buyers looking to purchase cloud computing services. Knowing about a brand is a massive first step towards buying a brand.

Well-executed marketing helps make buyers aware of which companies sell which products and services.


An under-discussed problem in marketing is that nearly half of brands are today mistaken for their competitors. In other words, most marketing today triggers buyers to purchase a competitive brand, not the brand doing the marketing.


Against this backdrop, it is worth noting that some brands are so iconic that they can’t possibly be mistaken for another brand – even when you purposefully change their names to invite confusion.
What is it that select brands do that makes them instantly recognizable, even when we try to obscure their identity?


Create an unique brand

Select brands spend years and significant dollars marketing brand assets that are distinctive to them and become unique to the audiences they reach.
Those distinctive assets take a variety of colors, shapes, words, and sounds that make certainly brands distinctively so.




For example, the fonts, colors and shapes (think bottle) for the blue and grey brand below are unmistakably Absolut. Most consumers could identity these as are belonging to Absolut and, perhaps equally important, almost no consumers would associate them with a competing alcohol brand.


Similarly, the distinctive fonts, colors, and shapes (think cars here) for the yellow, red, white, and green brand below are so clearly Ferrari that they wouldn’t be mistaken for a competing car brand.

Brand building like this is generally believed to be an artistic endeavor and not a scientific one, but that’s not entirely true.


Improve your brand with science

Let's explore the scientific side of brand building through an unlikely source: Vincent Van Gogh. You probably know Van Gogh since he is one of the most famous artists of all-time. You probably also know that he cut off his ear and so you likely think of him as an emotional artist. But I see Van Gogh as a disciplined scientist and think brand marketers can learn much from his approach to brand building.


I say Van Gogh was a disciplined scientist because he was highly structured and exceedingly consistent in his approach to painting. First, his style of painting – known as impressionism – was relatively distinctive. Second, his habit of painting his own face – because he was too poor to afford models – was another distinction.


But Van Gogh also practiced a scientific approach to color use – based on color theory. That, in combination with his repeating strokes and consistent face, makes him, perhaps, the most distinctive painter in history. The scientific concept behind color theory is that you pair opposite colors on the color wheel (e.g., red and green, yellow and blue) in order to bring out their contrasting nature, making each color pop more.


Van Gogh was undoubtedly a visionary artist, but I think he also deserves credit for his equally visionary attempt to make his work more vibrant and memorable by bringing scientific rigor to his paintings.
So, what does the scientific rigor of Van Gogh have to do with brand building? Well, brand managers should also try to develop distinctive brand elements that, individually and collectively, make a brand unmistakably itself.


How to apply science to your brand?

In the same way that Van Gogh used Color Theory, we believe that brand managers should use the Distinctive Asset Grid seen below from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Strategies.


Brands should take inventory of their assets – colors, fonts, shapes, characters, sounds, etc. – and for each asset determine the level of uniqueness and fame.
Fame is measured by how many of the people you are trying to influence link your brand to a specific asset. For example, nearly everyone can link McDonald’s and The Golden Arches.


Uniqueness is measured by how many of the people you are trying to influence link your brand – and only your brand – to a specific asset. While almost nobody suggests any other brand when seeing The Golden Arches, the color red might trigger both McDonald’s and Wendy’s.


Brands should calculate and place each of their core assets on the Distinctiveness Matrix and, based on the results, prioritize assets that score highly on both axes. This approach makes sure that all marketing works to build strong brand recall for the brand and the brand only.
How might a marketer apply this thinking on LinkedIn?


Start by making sure that highly unique assets are designed into each and every update you post to the platform. You want people to know that you are Microsoft and that they should buy Azure, your cloud computing solution.


The more regularly you reach potential buyers with unique assets, the more linked with your brand they become and the more famous your brand becomes.

That’s the science of brand.


(Source: LinkedIn,