“How do I stand out and succeed?” Is this a question you’ve been asking about your business? If so, you’re not alone, as just one month into 2021, the outlook for businesses is changing daily. Among the global pandemic, a shift to virtual and distanced operations, an uncertain economy and volatile stock market, and a nationwide shift in consumer attitudes toward justice and equity, businesses both big and small are asking a similar question. The global branding agency Main & Rose, which is known for working with brands like YouTube and The United Nations, has devoted itself to solving this question for their clients. Its secret? Psychology. By harnessing the subtleties of how the mind works and what drives us as humans to take certain actions and not others, their team has uncovered secrets to success that involve what colors, fonts, and words to use in marketing and what never to use. Here are some of their top time-tested and evidence-backed tips for branding success, based on psychology:
1. Color TheoryThere’s more to color than meets the eye. Top brands leverage color theory, the science of how different colors mix, match and contrast, to shape our emotional responses and persuade us to trust certain products. This matters because studies suggest that people make a subconscious judgment about a product within 90 seconds of initial viewing, and up to 90% of that assessment is based on color alone. Investing in the design of a logo and branding that are iconic, recognizable, and intriguing based on their color and the emotions evoked is an absolute must for branding in the modern era. Much of this is subconscious: blue calms the mind, red increases appetite, purple denotes royalty, white evokes purity, and so on. You can easily see this play out by glancing at the apps on your phone. Your food delivery apps are likely red, while any medical apps will often appear in shades of blue. Be smart when aligning your design with your values, product, and audience.
2. Symbolic StorytellingA key component of design psychology is symbols. Not only are symbols eye-catching and potentially iconic (think of the Apple symbol), but they can be representative of a business’s values and entire philosophy, powerfully reinforcing the identity of the brand. When designing a logo, or even simply designing your business’s website and digital copy, be intentional about what you want to convey. This rule is evidenced by the sense of luxury evoked by the Mercedes logo, the friendliness and sense of welcome of the McDonald’s arches, the sleekness and desirability of the Nike check. Shapes can be powerful: nearly 20 percent of logos are circles, which convey a sense of stability, community, and security, whereas most people perceive squares as rigid and outdated. Other logos incorporate figures relating to the brand, such as the Puma cat or the leaf in the “i” in Tropicana’s label.
3. Personal ConnectionMain & Rose Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer Beth Doane explains that, “Even before the pandemic, personal connections were the foundation of smart and successful branding. People have an inherent and hard-wired need to connect with and relate to others, which can be an even more powerful motivation than the desire for a product or service itself. We want to signal we belong to something and throughout history belonging often meant survival. The psychology of this is powerful for every company to understand.” Now that social distancing means that we can’t see friends and loved ones, the human need to connect is stronger than ever. Smart businesses will recognize and take advantage of this, working not only to build traditional relationships with their target audiences, but also to create communities centered around their brand and brand values to attract and then retain, long-term, high-impact customers. Once they do, they also can benefit from the halo effect, whereby a customer’s positive feelings about one product or feature of a company spill over to the entire brand.
4. Loss AversionThe Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman popularized the notion of loss aversion, which states that people tend to prefer avoiding losses rather than achieving gains of a similar size. What does this mean for branding? First, it explains the success of marketing strategies such as free trials and rebates: once customers already have something, it’s extremely hard to give it up. Similarly, loss aversion can also be taken advantage of by framing your brand in terms of something desirable that a consumer would not want to lose, the marketing version of “fear of missing out.”
5. Tell a StoryThe number one rule of branding, at any point, is a focus on storytelling. Most people, but millennials in particular, don’t care as much about buying more things; they want to be inspired by a narrative. Particularly now, it is essential that your brand is centered on a story and core values that speak to this moment — healing, community, unity. Humans have a natural urge to connect with people, and our need to feel as if we are part of a larger, greater narrative has never been so strong. Take advantage of this at every step.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com and was written by Darrah Brustein