Brand trends: Balance familiar and unfamiliar

TRENDAFRiCA September 8, 2014

By Marios Flourentzou, Creative Director, Yellowwood Future Architects

Not all conventions need to be overturned for brand growth. Some conventions are helpful in guiding consumer navigation and priming their expectations.

Differentiation is hugely important for brands, and a lot of marketing money is spent on ensuring brands have differentiated value propositions, positioning territories, experiences and designs. It’s obvious that this is necessary. Consumers need to be able to recognise a brand in a sea of its competitors if there is any hope of building meaning or influencing their purchase decisions in favour of that brand.

The visual imperative to stand out from the clutter is equally important for catching and holding the attention of new consumers in this distracted and overwhelmed era.

For both of these reasons, breaking conventions has become the golden rule for marketers and designers.

There is huge value in breaking conventions, but the full story is more complex and nuanced than that. From a neural point of view, we do notice novelty. The unexpected and unusual catches our attention because it triggers the part of our brain linked to danger. But that which catches our attention does not automatically earn our trust. In fact, the opposite is true: familiarity is more likely to engender trust. The brain conserves energy by relying on memory whenever it can – rather than stopping to consciously think about every possible decision – and so familiarity is a crucial component influencing consumer behaviour.

Familiarity and novelty are both critical in design. Overturning conventions is important for differentiation and for attracting new customers, but it is also necessary to understand which conventions to retain in order not to confuse the customers you are trying to reach. If people don’t even know what your product is, there’s a degree of intrigue and mystery to it, but it could also fail to get a look-in.

In the dairy category, for example, designers need to understand the conventions that make it easy for consumers to find their way to the right product. The colour convention of blue for full-cream, red for low-fat and green for fat-free is useful, and overturning this convention would probably just irritate the consumer by making navigation more difficult. Form is also mostly standardised, with certain tub shapes indicating cottage cheese, cream cheese and crème fraîche – but it is possible to innovate with form without sacrificing consumer experience. Clover fresh milk stands out in this way. Their packs are more like tubes than the standard milk bottle shapes. And Fairview differentiates its packaging while retaining the form conventions of the category – through their use of quirky and often humorous iconography. Their reduced fat camembert cheese box, for example, features a startled-looking cow being tightly squeezed by measuring tape.

BOS disrupted the iced tea category and attracted scores of new consumers by disrupting the packaging conventions of the category. But their bold, bright, graphic aesthetic actually borrows heavily from other iconic South African brands in other categories – such as Lion matches – and their colour scheme is traditionally “African”, being the most common colour combination in African flags. They attained an almost nostalgic sense of familiarity for a brand new product by understanding which conventions to play with and which to throw out.

In our work we always map the colours used in a certain category in order to identify opportunities for differentiation. If a client is launching a bank, or a telecoms operator, for example, it’s useful to know how to stand out from the competition. But knowing where the uncluttered areas are is only half of the analysis. It’s equally important to understand the perceived appropriateness of the colours and colour-combinations that are available. Would consumers trust a pink bank? Could they love a brown mobile operator?

Smart, strategic design can influence consumer perceptions and behaviour to the benefit of the brand. But to do so, designers must have deep insight into the conventions that influence perception and attention. These conventions may be within the category being tackled or just conventional associations that consumers have with certain design elements. Effective design is insightful, and it uses this insight to create the perfect mix of familiarity and novelty for the consumer.


Source: For more on behaviour-influencing design, download Yellowwood’s latest white paper: Changing behaviour, by design.



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