Branding & Identity

System 1 language distinctively distilled

(And, why Seedlip is destined to be an icon in the adult drinks market)

I had the pleasure of sharing a platform with Ben Branson recently at an event organised for food and drink start-ups. I have to say there’s a lot to like about Ben and his story, and even more to like about his brand Seedlip. Put simply: Ben may have created the Holy Grail of adult soft drinks – something the likes of Diageo and Coca-Cola have been pursuing for decades.

A sense of occasion

Whilst there is a sense of Zeitgeist about Seedlip: Teetotalism is increasing, drink-driving laws leave no room for error, sugar is on the naughty step and craft brands are on the rise. What clearly underpins the brand’s early success is the power of the need that it fulfils both for the drinker and the establishments that sell it; lots of people have been waiting a long time for something like Seedlip.

For us consumers, going out for a meal or a drink in a bar has a sense of occasion to it. Often, these occasions are when we want to make an impression too. Ordering the same sweet drink we drank as a child often feels like a let-down, no matter how traditional the recipe or how natural the ingredients. Shall we face facts? Even cracking the screw top of the most expensive sparkling water isn’t going to make us, or the occasion, sparkle with brilliance.

Seedlip has lost the alcohol but retains the pomp, ceremony and sense of occasion that comes with the finest spirits. The drink alone demands curiosity and closer inspection, and the addition of a mixer brings it alive, opening up countless variations to savour and explore.

It’s for these reasons that the venues that sell it love it too. A spirit and a mixer always makes a better margin than a beer or a wine, and the choice of what to offer people who are not drinking is now only as limited as the imagination of the person working behind the bar. No longer is excitement for the non-drinker limited too deciding whether or not to have a slice of lemon.

Quite simply, there are more ways to make money out of the person who says “I’m not drinking today”. 

Craft at its finest

What Walton Barker loves about Seedlip is the craft of its design. What Seedlip needs to do is implicitly convince us of its credentials for a special occasion and not be lost amongst the vast array of other bottles on the shelf. The bottle and label do this with aplomb: the bottle clearly alludes to spirits by origin, but does not fall blindly into the nomenclature of vodkas or gins, helping it to gain attention and demand closer evaluation. The label - through the beautifully designed animal motifs (formed from sprays of vegetation) - talks to the more animated form the botanicals inside have taken and create an unmistakable visual asset for the brand; an icon that stands out from the crowd and will no doubt serve it well long into the future.

Was this luck? Almost certainly not. You see, Ben has design in the blood; it runs in the family. Part of what made Seedlip financially viable was the funding it received by Ben selling his share in a design business. Simply, Ben had ideas for the brand and the skill to make them come alive long before the liquid took form. Art & Design in its finest form.

Designing from the shelf

Ben’s Seedlip example is a classic case that supports the notion of design as an art form. Would research have helped or hindered him? Whilst many a designer may detest the idea of research, and point to Seedlip as an example of what you get with a free creative reign, you could equally point at half a dozen other brands in the room that night that were destined to struggle for the very same reason. Innovation has a horrible success rate and the design, not the product, can be the fundamental problem. 

Most FMCG brands enter predefined categories and are put on shelves with dozens of other packs where the shopper can take anywhere from 1-30 seconds to make a choice (or not). Much of our decision-making happens at a subconscious level in the System 1 brain. What we take note of in store is largely a function of what is more easily recognisable and what is relevant to our needs and motivations at the point in time. Recognition and relevance are contextual qualities; good is relative to other brands. Being second best typically means being the first loser on the shelf.

New brands can have a significant advantage by knowing and working with the System 1 language of a category when they are created. Existing brands can leverage this knowledge to help manage design changes and communication activity for their strategic advantage. Understanding the System 1 language of the shelf can be critical to a brand’s success. No matter where your inspiration comes from, the lesson is to make sure ensure you are properly understood wherever you end up. A task which is a whole lot easier when you use a good System 1 interpreter.

For more on how we help brands develop their System 1 short-cut language for competitive advantage please e-mail fran.walton@waltonbarker.com

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Fran Walton has worked in brand insight and consultancy for over 25 years for both agencies and clients alike. Fran has always held a keen interest in the human decision-making sciences. He has applied this knowledge to help brands communicate more effectively in retail environments and across new media, and to drive diffusion of disruptive innovations.

5 things marketers still get wrong about brand assets

In light of Coca-Cola’s global branding design strategy announced last year, we thought we would offer our view, based on our work within academia and in the field, on the 5 things marketers still get wrong about brand assets (or, ‘Codes’ as Mark Ritson refers to them).

1. You shouldn’t ever change brand assets – ever stopped recognising a friend because they grew a beard, dyed their hair or bought new clothes? Thought not. The brain processes brand assets in the same way, so there is always scope for a bit of a freshen-up or a re-styling to fit in as the world around us changes (if needed). Think the new Google coloured ‘G’ – perfect for the small screen of a smartphone.

 

2. A brand assets’ only real role is to create distinctiveness and enable recognition – Distinctiveness is helpful, but conveying meaning is more important. Meaning determines relevance and relevance determines if the brain bothers to notice something - or not. Brand assets need to be implicitly loaded with relevant meaning or communications need to ensure that meaning is strongly connected to brand assets in the brain. ThinkInnocent or the Nationwide animations that tell short stories about events that happen around their home logo.

 

3. Showing the logo during an advert or at the end is enough – In today’s multiscreen world attention is at a premium. Make sure connections to the brand can be made through other cues like advertising style or, sonic signatures such as music, actor’s voices, phrases, key words and jingles. This way you do not fully rely on visual attention for the short moment the logo is displayed. Think Boots No.7, Carlsberg or Intel. You know it’s probably a good idea.

 

4. Having several good brand assets is all that is needed – It can be helpful to have some that can work in different types of media or, at different levels of attention. But it is better to have one brand asset that is superior to the competition’s and that can cut through-the-line at the moment when the shopper is faced with a choice at the shop shelf. Think Nurofen and the power of the target symbol to connect meaning from the advert to the point-of-purchase – you don’t need to (consciously) think about the one that targets pain fast, do you?

 

5. Subjective judgement is good enough to manage brand assets – Brand assets are locked away in the System1, subconscious memory of your consumers. You need different techniques to traditional research and a better understanding of how the brain works to identify the brand stimuli stored in that part of the brain. You also need to know what they do for the brand – recognition, relevance or authentication. Think British Airways in 1997, Tropicana in 2009 and GAP in 2010 – all changes that were thoroughly researched but failed horribly!

Mr Spock had the benefit of mixed-heritage DNA that allowed him to look dispassionately and rationally at circumstances he encountered, but we are not Vulcan. Human decision-making is guided more by implicit, rapid, System 1 reactions to brands and the marketing stimuli they create. Walton Barker offers research methodologies to help understand what elements of a brand’s stimuli drive this process and how they can be developed for strategic advantage. In essence, we help your brands to live long and prosper.

Fran Walton is a Founding Partner of Walton Barker Ltd – a brand insights agency that specialises in the optimisation of brand assets using the latest understanding of how the brain works. For more information mail fran.walton@waltonbarker.com or ring +44 (0) 3302 230 543.

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Fran Walton has worked in brand insight and consultancy for over 25 years for both agencies and clients alike. Fran has always held a keen interest in the human decision-making sciences. He has applied this knowledge to help brands communicate more effectively in retail environments and across new media, and to drive diffusion of disruptive innovations.

Barack? Or, not Barack? That is the question.

Take a look at these caricatures and see which ones you feel are Barack Obama and which aren’t?

 

So was it easy to decide? Did you really have to think about it, or did you instantly know? Recognition is a System 1, subconscious process. It is rapid and instant. Often it is or it isn’t. There may have been times when you consciously questioned if it could be him? But no doubt you went with your instincts. Equally, I will bet you will agree with other people which ones are Barack and which aren’t.

So what’s the point of this? Well, the point is that none of these are a picture of Barack Obama. They are all images of him that have been changed in some way. For some this has affected their ability to be recognised as Barack Obama and for others it has not. If I asked you what makes a caricature Barack or not, you may have said his ears, eyebrows and hair (possibly his teeth). But all these caricatures accentuate some of these features; even the ones that aren’t him. The truth is you do not know!

Beyond your awareness

The reason you do not know is that this information is stored in the System1, subconscious memory. The System 1 memory stores the minimum elements of stimuli it needs to recognise something or someone. Despite us having no conscious awareness of what these elements are, if enough of them are present, or they are close enough to what is stored in the brain, the brain fills in the blanks. With these caricatures, some artists have been successful in capturing enough of those elements to trigger recognition, whilst others have not.

Furthermore, each of the changes have different implicit meaning. If I were to ask which caricatures represent pride and resolve, deflation and defeat, or happiness, I would guess that you know which ones I am talking about instantly.

Winning the moment that matters

We recognise brands in exactly the same way as we recognise people. Visually-based brand assets, like logos, work for brands on the same basis. The System 1 brain does not have a picture stored; just the minimum elements of stimuli it needs to recognise the brand. Like a caricature, there is scope for change before recognition is lost and that change can be made to enhance or alter meaning at an implicit level.

Consequently, brand assets can be strategically improved for competitive advantage. Having better recognition and signalling relevance at an implicit level increases the chances of your brand being chosen at ‘the moment’ that truly matters for a brand - the moment when the shopper decides to pick a brand off the shelf and put it in their trolley, or clicks on it to put it in the virtual basket of the online shop.

De-risking change

Change for brands often presents risk. Most design changes are done based on intuition and guesswork. This tends to have its flaws and occasionally leads to disaster. No one, no matter their experience, can definitively tell you which elements of your brand assets drive recognition based on their System 2, conscious judgement. System 2 rational evaluation of marketing stimuli almost never reveals true understanding of its role and value. It is a post-rationalised guess. That also goes for the responses you solicit in research; your consumers do not explicitly know either.

There are ways to know what brand assets are stored within the System 1 brain and to explore their scope for change and flex. Understanding how brand assets work requires different techniques to traditional research and a better understanding of how the brain makes decisions about brands. At Walton Barker we use our experience of working in branding and design, and our knowledge of behavioural science, to identify the elements of a brand’s stimuli that are truly valuable in the decision-making and buying process. Simply put we can help you make knowledge-based decisions that help you win at the moment that matters and improve the broader performance of your marketing.  

Fran+Office.jpg

Fran Walton has worked in brand insight and consultancy for over 25 years for both agencies and clients alike. Fran has always held a keen interest in the human decision-making sciences. He has applied this knowledge to help brands communicate more effectively in retail environments and across new media, and to drive diffusion of disruptive innovations.