Making the Visual Visceral

Visual Theory

Use the visual aspects of marketing materials, products, and packaging to establish an emotional connection with your customers and prospects.

Would you pay two or three times the going price for, well, anything? It sounds like a silly question, but there are buyers in some marketplaces who are willing to do just that, and a major factor behind that willingness is visual marketing that touches them viscerally.

Back in the 1980s, some big supermarket chains decided to start selling generic versions of various commodity products at very low prices. To keep their own costs low, they packaged these products in plain white containers with simple black lettering. Sales results fell far short of their expectations, and branded versions of the same products continued to sell well, often at double or triple the generic version’s price. Before long, most chains repositioned their generic lines as private-label store brands, with packaging that often resembled the branded competition.

What the supermarket chains initially failed to grasp was an underlying concept that applies to any type of marketing in any kind of business: the importance of visual cues in making a connection with your target audience. Making the visual visceral, so to speak, means forging an emotional connection between visual content—logos, colors, imagery in ads and marketing materials, even product design and packaging—and those you are targeting. An effective way to do that is by creating a strategy that matches your visual content with the lifestyles of your prospects and customers.

Mirror or Magnet?

“When considering using visuals to match your customer’s lifestyle, first ask this question: Do you want your brand to be a mirror or a magnet?” advises Allison Koller, creative director at CBX, a New York City-based branding agency.

Mirror brands reflect their consumers’ behaviors, characteristics, and even appearance, in an effort to fit seamlessly into their lives, she explains. Magnet brands push forward, set trends, and become a force toward which consumers gravitate.

“Either way, having a deep understanding of what drives your intended consumers—and what they are seeking in the category—is essential,” Koller stresses. Painting a picture of a real (mirror) or an aspirational (magnet) world is all about the details, she adds. “That just-right tousled hair, the welcoming paint color on the wall, the perfectly messy pile of laundry next to the couch speak volumes when it comes to authenticity.”

Both the mirror and the magnet strategies can be effective, but the choice is often driven by the type of product or service being marketed. Youthful fashion and accessory brands, for example, may best fit in the magnet space, using raw visuals to paint a picture of a rebellious lifestyle, Koller points out.

“Mirror brands exist more on the edge of real—or almost real. They reflect an idealized picture of what their consumers’ lives are like,” she says.

Lately, more businesses have been adding content marketing to their promotional mix, and what’s hot within content right now is visuals, according to Casey Meehan, founder of digital marketing agency Epic Presence. “Making content interesting and shareable via imagery, graphics, and design elements that break up the text is key, as is tailoring those visuals to your desired audience. You’d be surprised how many people click ‘share’ based solely on the topic, the headline and whether or not it ‘looks’ interesting and relevant to them,” she says.

Finally, no matter what approach makes the most sense for your business, make sure you remain true to yourself, advises Chris Cooley, founder of design firm CMCreative Design.

“Don’t base your brand on trends or what competitors are doing. Your customers are smart. If you don’t genuinely capture your true essence, people will sense it.”

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