The Greys in Branding ...
Updated: May 19
In colour psychology, grey represents neutrality and balance. It is symbolic of a wide range of characteristics associated with humans.
By now, you’ve probably read most of them, if not all that’s out there. I’m referring to the countless “How To” articles on branding- how to create a strong visual identity, how to market your brand, how to entice your customer, how to milk the cow… figuratively, of course. Not in the same bucket. Yeah I know. Despite all these little DIY blog posts, there’s so much left in the greys of branding. And we’re not counting shades. Let’s take a step back for a bit. I’m talking Big Picture here.
You wake up on a fine Sunday morning and decide that, since you’re feeling great, that you’re going to treat yourself to the best coffee you can get your hands on, snuggle into a corner armchair, with the latest edition of Stuff or GQ or Cosmopolitan- whatever floats your boat. If Starbucks pops up in your mind, you immediately push it away (no judgements), telling yourself ‘think premium!’. And then it hits you: today feels like a Tim Horton’s kinda day. And you smile. Why? Because in that flash of a second, your mind decided that’s exactly what you want; all the necessary boxes were checked for the decision-making process. ‘It's a no-brainer’, you tell yourself.
So what were those boxes? Was it the flavour of their brew? Their particular shade of red? The ambience of their outlets? Or was it the barista with the trademark smile? Probably all of this.
Far more actually.
You see, effective branding talks to the subconscious. It’s far more than just colours and words strung together. It’s the overall personality that appeals to the senses- something that is far more complex than just the superficial sum of things staring at you through any of the brand’s touch points. This isn’t a 2 plus 2 equals four-type situation. Let’s go deeper…
So while the quality of the product does matter, more often than not, it also depends on the people behind the experience. A surly cashier, a snooty receptionist, an impatient customer service agent, one of these experiences are enough to put a dent in the image of your brand in the mind of your customer, and if it’s a repeated thing, then you can be sure your customer is going elsewhere. As a brand owner, you have to be mindful that those representing your brand showcase the same form of enthusiasm, sincerity and personality that your brand pillars are. Which brings me to the next point.
Consistent & Humble
When you’re consistently offering a quality product and a quality experience, your audience gets accustomed to it. It always makes it easier for them to stay in your loyal corner, because they know time in time out, you’ll deliver to their expectations. And that’s all they’re expecting. And we do know a thing or two about expectations being met. Then there’s humility; the ability to acknowledge where you missed something or dropped the ball. How you handle complaints goes a long way and says a lot about you as a person and/or as a brand. Now add some humility to the mix and what do you get? A brand personality that’s more human-like. Technology is advancing leaps and bounds no doubt, but it can never replicate a human experience, and not by lack or standard of intelligence (pun intended), but simply because, as a consumer, you subconsciously know you’re dealing with a machine that can manage your requirements well, but anything that’s off the typical path, and suddenly you’re stuck. Only a human can (so far!) apply themselves to getting done whatever it is that needs getting done. This subconscious awareness of a man-to-machine experience is what influences us differently; it makes things less personal, and as humans, we need that personal connection. We crave it in both our personal and professional lives. Because frankly, you can’t have a ‘connection’ with a machine, unless of course it’s an M4 or AMG C63s. Or a Jensen Interceptor. That’s a different ball game altogether.
Now, having a strong brand personality that’s conscious of its actions is one thing, but is it enough? What about tomorrow?
Ecologically inclined brands have a far greater engagement with their audiences, because of what they stand for and what they do for the greater good on a regular basis, even though there’s still so much more that can be done. It’s about taking responsibility to set things right, and drive change where it’s needed the most. Sustainability is gaining more traction because more brands are realising today that we have to hold ourselves accountable to the next generation, whether it's in the space of social, human, economic or environmental factors, these being the four main pillars. From ethical sourcing of materials to waste-conscious packaging, you need to have a forward-thinking approach, because consumers today have a different level of respect for brands that actually care. As they say, love and respect go hand in hand.
You should probably be able to see a defining characteristic by now: emotions. It plays a huge role in how we react to things and/or situations. Renovating your home, taking a family trip, surfing in the Bahamas- all have strong emotional value, which, when you think of it from a different perspective, can be the result of something equally profound: inspiration by something or someone else. Influencers were originally purported to do just this, to inspire people to attain a certain lifestyle or to indulge in a certain brand, though in recent years, that strategy has been questioned a fair bit. Rosa Parks graced us with quite the inspiration herself through a single act of steadfastness over a bus seat, irrespective of consequences. That singular act went on to inspire a whole movement and a whole generation, making history along the way. It doesn’t have to be complicated or overly expensive - just go with your heart, be genuine, stand for a cause, and people will follow.
A System of Values
All these characteristics are what is summed up as your value system, and it applies to both corporations and humans alike. It's a system that keeps you grounded; values like loyalty, humility, compassion, honesty, kindness, integrity, and selflessness all serve as guidance systems for us. Of course, a business is about making money, and lots of it, but it can be done ethically too, and your audience knows and expects this, because only then do they really want to engage with you in the long run.
The Greys of Branding...
So there you have it. The grey areas of branding that aren’t so obvious yet make all the difference between a man or a machine handing you your change at the service counter with a smile. As humans aiming for superiority in the different spheres of life, we will always push the boundaries; we will always look to evolve. But that human emotional factor is something that needs to change by way of conscious action; getting rid of old biases, outdated norms, and ancient standards that will only cause a weakening of brand loyalty. Change is essential to really grow, to connect and to add value to your purveyors.
Change is the only constant. So what are you changing today?