Next time you’re walking down a busy city street, I want you to do a little experiment. Let’s say that every pace you take, you pass a person. If it’s 100 paces to the end of the block, you have passed 100 people.
Now, before you cross the road to the next block, take a moment to think about the people you have passed. Do you remember any of them? A face? A voice? The clothes they wore? Hair colour? Their sunglasses? Their height?
How many of the 100 people did you notice? Three, four, a dozen?
Well, guess what. You’re wrong.
You noticed every one of them. You just don’t know it.
As you approached each stranger, your eyes scanned them. Your eyes were operating under instructions from your subconscious mind.
What were they looking for?
Your eyes were briefed to note facial expressions. Happy? Sad? Angry? Placid? Distracted?
If you looked the passersby in the eyes, did they return eye contact? Were they evasive?
Was their gait purposeful? Assertive? Did they step aside to let others pass?
Did they smoke? Were they eating? Were they fat? Toned? Tanned? Pallid?
How were they dressed? Did they look like labourers? Executives? Clerks? Unemployed? Drug users? Impeccably groomed? Dishevelled?
Your ears were also at work. If the passersby were talking, what did their voices sound like? Strident? Soothing? Deep? High pitched?
What about their language? What did the few words heard say about them? Crass? Sophisticated? Angry? Sad? Did you hear the hard sound of leather heels on the pavement?
If they wore headphones, what music were they listening to?
Now, standing on the corner at the end of the block, I bet you’re struggling to recall these details.
But you didn’t miss them. Your subconscious mind was gathering this information from your eyes and ears. In all but a few cases, your conscious mind had no idea of this intelligence gathering.
So, what was your subconscious mind doing with this data?
Keeping you alive.
In just 10 seconds, your subconscious mind has assessed any new event, new environment or new person and determined if it presents a threat. It’s a skill our ancestors developed for self-preservation. They had to instantly determine if a new beast encountered in the forest was likely to kill them. This assessment would then determine if they ran away, prepared to defend themselves or killed the beast for their family’s dinner.
If our ancestors encountered another tribe, they had to know straight away if they were friend or foe.
Uniforms were invented to accelerate the assessment process. If the approaching soldiers wore red, they were on your side. If blue, they were the baddies.
That same cue works today at sporting events. You feel a camaraderie with strangers who barrack for your team. You know nothing about these people other than the fact that they wear your team’s colours. On that basis, you feel they are people you would like.
When you dress for work, you dress according to the code of your business sector or office. That’s your uniform.
So, what does all this have to do with branding?
At some stage, every brand is a stranger. If you pass 100 brands in 100 paces (and you would if you add up the products you see in shop windows, the business signs hanging from awnings, on shopping bags, passing vans or painted on windows), your subconscious mind has noted them and made assessments.
You have subconsciously come to conclusions about each brand, based on nothing more than the typeface used for their logo, the make of van, the material used for the shopping bag, the packaging in the window display.
But here’s where the impact of that assessment differs from the ones your ancestors made. In those few seconds, you have subconsciously decided if you like each brand.
That judgement has been filed away deep in your mind. Now, subconsciously, you will be looking for other signs that support your initial assessment of each brand.
If you liked the logo, you will find other reasons to like the brand. If you disliked the van driver’s demeanor or his vehicle, you’ll find more reasons to dislike that brand.
Every sense is involved in your audience’s relationship with your brand. They will be influenced by the sound of your car’s door, the ease of opening your packaging, the politeness of your delivery van drivers, the lighting in your reception area, the voice of your service representative, the colour of your website, the aroma in your shop, the texture of your report covers, or the taste of the coffee served in your meeting room.
You don’t know where your audience will first encounter your brand. All you can do is ensure that every aspect of how you present your brand is consistent and every possible point of contact will create a positive first impression.
It takes years to build a powerful brand. It takes 10 seconds to kill it.