Familiarity breeds content

Chief Creative Officer Paul Taylor discusses the importance of familiarity in branding.

  • Opinion
  • BrandOpus

Familiarity breeds content - eye image

How do we, in the world of brand design, create, transform and develop thriving brands that will not only survive, but soar, in an increasingly competitive landscape?

When considering what a brand stands for, the notion of ‘familiarity’ plays an important role. If the brand idea evokes a sense of familiarity it will resonate and connect with its audience; a necessity in its bid to be successful. It is important however to distinguish the difference between ‘familiar’ and ‘recognisable’. When something is familiar it is, by definition, “well known from a long or close association”. To recognise something however is merely to “identify (someone or something) from having encountered them before”. At all costs, brands must avoid the path of recognition that leads to being the same as the category or the competition. The idea must be familiar, not recognisable. In the same way you would describe a good friend or member of your family as being ‘familiar to you’ as opposed to ‘recognisable to you’.

This sense of familiarity could lead you to conclude that the ideas we evoke in a brand must pre-exist to ensure that they are familiar to the consumer. This is not the case at all. The real art is the ability to introduce new ideas to brands that are so familiar they are instantly adopted without a conscious acknowledgement of the change. The most successful rebrands are when the consumer is relatively unconscious of any change. Whilst the brand appears ‘unchanged’, they respond to it differently, playing back a whole different set of associations that puts the brand in a new light. The ‘familiarity’ of the new brand idea creates a connection that is deeper rooted, suggesting that we have created new associations that affects us more strongly than what our conscious mind is capable of.

A good example of this is the McCain brand identity redesign. Despite being one of the world’s most recognisable brands with an identity that was unchanged for over 50 years, the brand struggled to achieve the level of consumer engagement necessary to help maintain their ambitious growth targets. The key to engaging was through a significant shift in the way the identity works. It was necessary to break the manufacturing-like functionality of the previous black rectangular identity and replace it with an idea that would engage through its familiarity. The sunshine identity acts as a metaphor for warmth and positivity. It evokes a sense of wholesomeness and comfort in the context of providing food the family will enjoy.

In testing, despite a ‘radical’ change in the way the brand looked, consumers failed to notice that the identity had changed at all. But, the way that they now respond to it and are compelled to buy McCain over the competition, marks a great success. The unconscious connection has been made, and therefore they are more likely to repeat purchase in the future based on the familiarity to the brand, rather than their recognition of it.

Whether you are a new brand creating an identity for the first time, an established brand seeking a new perspective, or a brand with a clear story that is just not resonating visually; conjuring a sense of familiarity creates a compelling connection between your audience and your unique story. The result will be a more effective brand with the ability to improve commercial success.

In the world of brands, familiarity breeds content, not contempt.

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