Brand Redesign? Apply Behavioral Science to your Refresh

Behavioral science principles for brands to consider when conducting a brand identity redesign.

Brand identity is an important component of a marketer’s brand strategy. It is the vehicle by which marketers grow distinctive brands by building mental availability to create recall in advertising and physical availability to make it easy for consumers to identify brands in buying situations.

Yet marketers face an important and ongoing tension of evolving their brands to be more relevant to consumers and their changing need, as well as staying familiar enough to trigger and reinforce existing memory structures built over time.

In addition to placating changing consumer needs, brands now must manage the fact that the contexts within which they build physical and mental availability are changing because of the disruption that technology is bringing.

Communicating a brand’s distinctiveness now take place in smaller environments like mobile screens and happen in a shorter duration with some ad exposures only lasting seconds at best.

Marketers are adjusting their strategies and their brand identities to win in these rapidly changing environments.

Mastercard’s brand identity evolution

Mastercard recently modified their brand logo, a cornerstone brand identity element, in order to improve its visibility across digital realms.

When asked about this change by Steve Oleski of the CMO Network, Mastercard’s chief marketing and communications officer, Raja Rajamannar, explained that the changing digital landscape is driving their marketing strategy and consumer engagement.

The new and simplified brand logo dropped the typeface “Mastercard” from the logo. According to Rajamannar, the brief was aimed at delivering against pillars of simplicity, connectivity, seamlessness and modernity.

This is the outcome of this decision:

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This poses some interesting questions of marketers and insights professionals that might include:

  • Do they agree with this strategy?

  • Do they believe that Mastercard has executed the strategy well?

  • What are the risks or concerns with implementing this strategy?

  • What could they learn from this and apply it to their brands?

Logos as part of a brand identity evolution

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with this brand identity evolution, it is interesting to note that several well-known brands have simplified their logos over time.

Here are just a few examples (keep in mind the brands made several gradual changes over time):

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Behavioral science principles

Whether you agree with these changes or not, there are some behavioral science and brand building principles that you should consider ahead of a logo or brand identity redesign.

Here are a few quick considerations for the next time you plan to refresh your brand.

  • Our brains prefer visuals over words. It’s generally true that visuals are processed more fluently than words. This leads to quicker processing with less effort. Less work means more positive associations. It’s also been shown that simpler visuals are processed more easily and positively than complex visuals. Hence, simplifying brand identity or executions of your brand in terms of ads and packaging should make life easier for your consumer. 

  • Our brains enjoy solving simple puzzles. Our brain like to solve simple puzzles and fill in gaps. Research on problem solving shows that consumers get emotional rewards in the form of a dopamine boost when they solve problems. Activation of positive affect related brain areas in the prefrontal cortex have also been observed when consumers solve simple problems. Logos that leave a consumer filling in a few simple gaps may lead to mental rewards that feel good at a non-conscious level. 

  • Our brains are attracted to novelty. If you go back 200,000 years ago, humans needed to find fresh food, water and shelter, so our brains are wired to be attracted to new things. The trick to novelty is not to make so unfamiliar that it triggers fear but new enough that it sparks excitement and interest. This is the tension that brand builders face in creating a distinctive brand that evolves enough to stay relevant to consumers but is familiar enough that it doesn’t require excess processing efforts.

  • Our brains use context to make sense of the world. Context drives perception. Anytime marketers change their brand, the biggest concern is that the new executions of the brand won’t trigger the brand automatically. To support this transition, marketers should take advantage of the fact that the brain always processes information relative to context and past experiences. Identifying other distinctive brand assets and the common contexts within which consumers expect to see the brand will help the activation of the brand.

Evolving your brand

Perhaps you’re trying to renovate your brand, refresh your packaging or even launch a new product. Which elements of your master brand you should incorporate?

Here are a few simple questions you might want to consider as a starting point:

  • Who are your consumers and what drives their behaviors?

  • What makes your brand distinctive?

  • Which elements of your brand identity are distinctive brand assets and must not be touched?

  • Which of your brand identity elements need to be evolved and how do you go about doing it?

  • Which brand identity elements are holding your brand back and should be removed?

  • How do you ensure that you leverage context to improve the transition of these changes?

There are simple ways to leverage behavioral science to answer these questions and inform your brief. We have seen marketers and their insights teams deploy innovative and agile audits of their packaging on shelf or their communications to uncover the path forward.

Pressure to Evolve 

Brands will continue to feel the pressures to evolve their brands over time, especially as the context within which these brands are advertised, purchased and consumed become more digitized. The key is to be very careful in evolving your brand and to do so in a way that doesn’t disrupt the memory structures that allow consumers to easily identify their brand.


Jonathan La Greca is VP strategic growth, and Dan Young is chief behavioral scientist at market research firm Hotspex, Toronto. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared under the title, “Is it time for you to refresh your brand?” 




The Value of Small Data in Today's Experience Economy

Small data from consumer insight is gaining traction in the business world.

Knowledge is power and in today’s world data holds the key. From voluminous big data to small data nuggets, data fuels the experience economy.

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Steve Koenig, VP research, Consumer Technology Association, opened the 2019 CES Research Summit by declaring we are in a new age of technology trends: the data age, progressing from the digital age in the 2000s and the connected age in the 2010s. Data, he said, is central to all our technology conversations. Considering the rapid developments in artificial intelligence, an area finally realizing its promise nearly three-quarters of a century after the term was coined, connected devices and the Internet of things – which will be supercharged by 5G, transactional, click, voice and facial data to name but a few – we are indeed inundated.

However, this isn’t just a technology conversation. In this age, data impacts every conversation from business and government to culture and personal lives. In terms of business, while big data has been the buzz word of the past five years, small data from consumer insight is beginning to take its place in the spotlight. 

Insights professionals have always known the high value of customer data. Now the rest of the business world is catching up. The small data collected via surveys, focus groups, interviews and communities is as important to understanding your customer as the big data gathered via transactions, clickstream interactions and behavioral data.

In decades gone by, consumer insight was something that informed areas in silos – such as advertising messaging and effectiveness, brand health or ad hoc inspiration for innovation. The rise in the experience economy, fueled by digital transformation, has resulted in businesses needing to add human-derived data back into the data equation to deliver always-on, real-time direction. This data is now informing all aspects of an organization.

The surprise SAP/Qualtrics acquisition is a clear marker of this trend. While much of the conversation centered on the eye-watering $8 billion price tag, the intent of the deal is notable. With the acquisition, SAP made a bold and, dare I say it, visionary move on two counts. The first is the potential to shift its brand perception as a traditional enterprise resource management company. The second is bringing consumer insights into the fold. In many of the interviews around the acquisition announcement, SAP CEO Bill McDermott talks about combining O data and X data. In his world, this is SAP’s operational data coming together with Qualtrics’ survey, or experience, data. 

This shift in the market, exemplified by the SAP/Qualtrics move, demonstrates that while insights departments may still be small, their reach is extending into all departments. In 2019, we’ll see the role of insights departments as strategic partners grow, moving away from being simply suppliers or validators to key advisors to the CMO and beyond. This is an exciting time for insights.

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Understanding the Customer

Voice of the customer survey data alone isn’t enough to understand customers in their entirety. To really understand your customer truths, you need to incorporate qualitative (or thick) data. Talking to them with Webcam focus groups or interviews, seeing their lives through their lens by conducting mobile ethnographies and communities, delivers the richness of who they are, what they think and how they feel. It provides the readily relatable clues that tie it all together, making the insights from the big data and the numeric small data come to life. My hope is that as insight data grows in importance we will use all available types to inform business decisions.

Zoe Dowling is SVP, research, at research technology firm FocusVision.