Visual Language

Visual language now is critical for impactful brand stories

Global trend fits well with India’s aesthetic tradition

Shaziya Khan
Vice President, Executive Planning Director
J. Walter Thompson
Shaziya.Khan@jwt.com

Ram Mohan Rao
Director, Client Development
Kantar Millward Brown
Ram.Rao@millwardbrown.com

Images are the new storytelling medium that people relate to. This development has significant implications for brand building. “Speaking visual” is a key trend recognized in a JWT global report based on proprietary research across developed markets and the BRICs. The report found that photos, videos, and other imagery are supplanting text.

Mobile photography and over 350 million photos uploaded daily on Facebook quantify the extent to which our communication is shifting from words to images. This shift holds enormous implications for how brands reach consumers. In fact, over two-thirds of millennials believe visuals are more powerful than text. These young people are comfortable and confident in interpreting images; they consume the visual language of brands with ease. In other words, they get the picture!

A brand’s ability to communicate in images has other benefits. Particularly in developing economies, pictorial communication opens access to new audiences of consumers that have rising incomes, greater access to brands, but low levels of literacy. And studies reveal a link between a brand’s strong visual identity and purchasing.

  • A global Kantar Millward Brown study, which included India, found that the most impactful brands are those that communicate with more powerful brand cues that include a distinctive creative style, consistent slogans, and prominent music.
  • Strong visual cues contribute to a brand’s Salience – its ability to come quickly to mind when consumers are making purchase decisions. Salience is a BrandZ™ metric that contributes to Brand Power, the ability of a brand to drive volume share.
  • In the book How Brands Grow, Professor Byron Sharp argues that brand selection can come down to availability – both the mental availability of the consumer and the physical availability of the product. Memorable visual cues are critical for signalling a brand’s availability.

The good news in India is that the best Indian brand builders “get it.” Visual brand cues are an important aspect of the brands they nurture. Marketers of aspirational Indian brands have enthusiastically embraced the idea of impactful brand cues. By design or by accident, they have recognized a good thing, and, with care and attention, they have invested in building their brand’s visual language.

To share two new examples: Forevermark diamonds boldly went black and white to create an impactful and distinctive presence in the crowded (and colorful) Indian jewelry market. To help establish a visual brand identity, the online marketplace Flipkart launched a series of memorable commercials called “Kids as Adults,” in which children parodied grown-ups.

A glance through Indian brands’ packaging, communications, and events showcases a growing flair in speaking visual. India’s rich aesthetic culture can help inform and advance the use of quality visual language to communicate effectively across diverse categories and national borders.

Brand building action points

1. THINK IN VISUAL LANGUAGE

Retrain brand teams and their partners to become more visually literate. Rewrite reports to make them more visual. Reimagine brand documents using only images. Rethink a brand’s aesthetic, creating or redefining it using visualization tools.

2. VISUALLY ASSOCIATE WITH KEY TRENDS

Associate the brand with an important trend and illustrate that association. The statement could be about fashion, quality assurance, or even environmental consciousness. If well executed, this visual association will signal that the brand is in step with the times.

3. TRANSLATE THE BRAND INTO CUES

Embark on a long-term exercise to translate what the brand stands for into memorable, enduring brand cues. These can take several forms, but a few key ones include: characters (animated brand icons or logos); personalities and talent (celebrities or soon-to-be celebrities); color; music, sounds or jingles; and advertising style or theme.

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