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The Power of Imagery in Building Your Brand


When it Comes to Branding, Images Just Work

Kids who haven’t learned to read know to expect a 4-piece chicken nugget dinner when they see a bright yellow “M” on a cherry red background. Anyone who’s ever seen a computer knows what it means when they see the silhouette of an apple with a single leaf and a bite taken from the side. So, what makes these icons so widely recognizable? Did these logos play a part in the success of these companies’ branding campaigns? How can you effectively use imagery to build your brand?

I’m glad you asked.

The two main things that will help you incorporate imagery into your branding strategy are simplicity and intention. Let’s start with the latter.

Determining Purpose is Just the First Step

Granted, the first step is often the hardest, but once you make it, you have something you didn’t have before: momentum. The images you use don’t have to be perfect or even pretty, but they must recall your product, to an almost Pavlovian degree. Look at the original logos for the two corporate giants: McDonalds and Apple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depending on your generation, you might recognize SpeeDee from the early McDonald’s days, but the image on the right isn’t as widely recognizable – Apple’s original logo. The one thing these two logos have in common is that they are no longer used to represent their companies’ brands.

While the McDonald’s mascot represented its two main selling points (i.e. burgers and timeliness), the company realized that the two golden arches that served as support structures for the building’s architecture were more readily recognized by their customers. The logo was changed in 1962 to reflect this imagery, and that yellow “M” is now one of the most recognizable icons in the world.

Apple has a similar story. It was  inspired by the iconic apple that allegedly fell on Isaac Newton, sprouting an epiphany that changed the way the Western world understood the laws of physics. This logo lasted only one year before Steve Jobs commissioned a redesign in 1977 to something more modern. They focused on the one thing that actually mattered: the apple itself.

In both of these examples, the companies wanted to use imagery to promote their brands. But, before they could create any kind of imagery that would stick, they had to pour a great deal of thought and intent into those images. When they saw that their ideas didn’t represent the brand well, they responded and reevaluated, and the willingness to change in order to get it right was clearly effective.

Keep it Simple

At the end of the day, we’re talking about a yellow “M” and a silver apple. These aren’t complex graphics. The simpler the design, the more memorable the logo. Think about all the cultural icons that use (and own rights to) the simplest geometric shape: the circle.

 

And, this is only a handful. You probably know what company each of these represents, and you probably have at least some kind of emotional response to each one. Simplicity plays a huge part in what makes these images successful.

The Bottom Line is…

People respond to imagery. You determine whether they respond positively or negatively to your images. Determine who you’re trying to reach, research what imagery that audiences responds to positively, and then adopt it into your own branding campaign. Even if it means completely redoing your company logo… (If McDonald’s and Apple did it, it’s probably worth considering.)

If you’re a nonprofit organization that wants to raise money for a cause, incorporate a ribbon. If you’re promoting a green initiative, get people’s attention with rolling hills and windmills. Social media? Use modern typography and make everything look like a clickable button. That might be over-simplifying, but as I said before, images just work. The key is to make them work for you, and not against you. Put some thought into it and keep it simple, and you’ll be surprised how effective imagery can be in promoting your brand.

Discussion

  1. Insightful post, enjoyed learning about the evolution of the two mega-brands. There’s an important lesson in both cases that reinforce the “apple shouldn’t fall too far from the tree.” In other words, a brand icon should support the overall promise and values of the brand and not be created in a vacuum out in left field. If you have to send for your free kit explaining what the logo stands for, then you’ve probably missed the mark. Thanks for posting and sharing.

    • Rob, I like the way you worded it: “the brand icon shouldn’t be created in a vacuum.” All too often, companies just hire a designer with an impressive portfolio and say “make me something pretty.” It’s funny how this strategy actually doesn’t fool anyone – it’s easy to spot a logo or media piece that has little or no purposeful thought behind it.

      Great input.

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