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The essentials of branding: Framing and Signalling

Priming your brand for the human brain

Marketing is delivering specific communications which are connective to people. Branding is building the cognitive foundations of that connection.

I describe those foundations as resonances, because humans are pattern-matching machines. Our understanding of the world is based on a complex, individual mental map of our personal history and our exposure to culture, allied to using our system 1 and system 2 brain functions for decision-making.

Creating an effective brand really isn’t much more complex than that, we just need to:

  1. Frame our brand to be felt positively by the likely psychographic profile of our audience, based on their relevant cultural experiences.
  2. Align the signals our brand sends out to match the likely system 1 and 2 brain requirements associated with our value proposition.

The competitive advantage of taking these two steps will elevate your brand above the 90% of businesses who believe branding is just about creating a pleasing visual identity.

Framing: Enabling your brand to be felt

Framing is a relatively simple, cost-effective exercise, but it requires the right kind of thinking and perspective. We’re trying to answer one question: “What makes the value of this proposition feel attractive to someone, based on what THEY know?

It’s very hard for us to see this for ourselves. We’re too consumed by the curse of our own knowledge and all the rational decisions we’ve made about our business that create a mental cage we’re locked inside. That doesn’t make us stupid, it’s inevitable!

It’s also surprisingly hard for other people to tell us this about themselves. Everyone has a version of the mental cage and we simply don’t know exactly why we believe what we believe and why we feel what we feel. We don’t have the mental capacity to retain and access all that rationale, about every little thing, built up over years. This is where the heuristics that drive system 1 thinking come in. The rules of thumb we use to enable rapid decisions about how we feel; curiosity, joy, rapport? Or confusion, anxiety, aversion?

How we frame our brand brings it into suitable territory for positive feelings to occur and avoids the negatives. Now how do we elicit the right feelings via the right signals?

Signalling: Helping people feel how they should respond

Once we’ve worked out the correct framing it has be made connective. The signals your brand gives can be transmitted in several ways:

Visual signals: Colour, imagery, shapes and idents, typography

Language signals: Tone, vocabulary, presentation (spoken/written)

Environmental signals: Use of space, direction, atmosphere

Behavioural signals: How we show traits of dominance, inducement, stability and compliance

Each of these categories can and should be designed into every brand touchpoint. They should align to the core modes of persuasion with the ultimate outcome of feeling exciting and trustworthy.

Environmental and behavioural signals are as important to a website experience, or to the design of packaging, as they are to real-world human spaces. Staff uniforms are an interesting example of a touchpoint that can be seen as all four of these categories, in their design, presentation, wear and relationship to the environment.

Hopefully you’re now feeling this makes more sense as the visual and language signals are what typically constitute traditional brand work. But your competitive advantage can come from looking at the framing that informs this work AND by thinking about environmental and behavioural signalling within your brand experience.

We build strong brand perception
then convert it into lasting brand opinion.


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