6 Senses Your Branding Design Needs to Account For

Branding is more than just copywriting and graphic design. Here are the six areas you need to account for when crafting your brand.


What is the first thing you think of when I say branding?

Your knee-jerk reaction was probably some memorable slogan or iconic graphic behind a brand engrained in your mind. Branding is definitely the force behind those memorable slogans and iconic graphics, but there is much more than just that.

When you’re intentionally developing a strong brand, you have to account for the full picture.

There Are Marketing Communications Assets

From a marketing communications perspective, there are a particular set of assets you’ll be relying on on any given day. This is your centralized vocabulary, messaging, font sets, textures, colors, logo usage and graphic parameters.

All of these specifications should be carefully considered. They should be rooted in truly who your organization is, where it is moving on a daily basis and clearly communicating that to the world. By centralizing these, you’re spreading consistency from department to department regardless of how communication is happening. A direct mail campaign is in alignment with your email campaign and your website.

And Then There’s Everything Else

The first thing we all think of when it comes to what the practice of branding touches is those marketing communications assets. The truth, however, is that branding needs to account for more than just those mediums. It needs to account for every interaction—spanning from asset to ambassador—and lead with something that’s been intentionally crafted.

You Need to “Design” These Interactions

Design isn’t accidental by definition—rather, design is purposeful and planned.

It’s important to not only be aware of these individual areas, but to design the interactions they have.

The Six Senses Your Branding Design Efforts Need to Account For

#1: What’s Seen

There’s a reason that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Human beings process images 60,000 times faster than words.

That fact alone is enough to boggle your mind.

Preaching to the Choir Here

When it comes to the visual representation of a brand, we’re all on the same page. We all know that we need to have something that’s appealing and spot on.

Behind Every Visual, However, Is a Great Story

Too often, agencies and companies dive into the visual stage of the process too early. They do this before refining and drawing out the truth behind who the organization is.

The truth is this—in order to make sure all thousand of those words represented by the visual are spot on, we need to refine the narrative of the organization. Without doing so, we run the risk of designing something that fundamentally disagrees with who and what it represents.

The Morale of the Graphic Design Story

Visual is important. It’s critical. It’s vital.

All that being said though, don’t be overly eager to dive into the visual. A visual brand is only as good as the level of clarity of the story behind it. Dive into the story first and foremost. Challenge it. Pull it out. Discover the ideal customers and the full scope of what’s at stake.

Once you have all that, let it powerfully influence and inspire your design. When you do that, you’re in position to design something truly eye-catching. But more than that, you’re designing something that tells the right story with every single pixel.

Environment Counts Too

The environment your brand operates in is on the visual spectrum as well (and bleeds into other areas as you’ll soon see).

For a restaurant, this is creating a specific experience with décor. For a professional services company, this is the office space. For the marketing agency this is that office and the way your team dresses.

Environment makes all the difference and is a powerful contributor to the overall brand experience.

#2: What’s Heard

We’re beginning to embark from the mainstream discussion of branding.

What’s heard is incredible important. Visuals are powerful, but audio is an equally if not more formidable force to be reckon—and familiar—with.

It Isn’t As Abstract As You Think

A true brand stems from that central story I climbed on my soapbox about just above. When you truly refine the story and what the brand is, you have everything you need to think through these other, not-so-obvious arenas.

When it comes to what’s heard, it’s not as abstract as what you might initially believe.

Prime example, what happens if I call your company and I’m on hold? What kind of music plays?

Confession—we use Gusto for payroll. It’s a nifty service that I recommend 110% if you’re looking for a software and service to help facilitate payroll. Gusto has a light-hearted, but clean brand identity to it. Their language isn’t bogged down in big words—it’s relaxed, but effective. When you’re on hold, can you guys what kind of music they play? Calming ukulele melodies.

It might seem like a “duh” moment when I say it, but it was an intentional decision from the Gusto team to craft this subtle experience stemming from their core brand identity.

It’s More Than Just Hold Music

It goes beyond this.

Let’s say you’re a professional services company. Often times, you have control over the music playing in your office space (unless you’re in our old office space where music was uncontrollably playing through the entire building).

Your office isn’t just a place where your team members hanging around that office space—it’s a location where partners, visitors and prospects are coming in and out of on a daily basis. The kind of background music you play in the waiting and conference rooms can be an intentional choice. It should also be decided based on your core, brand identity.

For example, for our office, we aren’t going to have 90’s pop songs playing in the background of a new client meeting. It just doesn’t fit our core brand identity. Some Frank-Sinatra-esque music? Spot on.

Back to Marketing Communications—the Way Ads Sound

We took a detour, but we’re back to marketing communications.

A no-brainer here is if you’re organization is putting out radio ads (traditional, Pandora or Spotify). Everything the listener hears should reflect your organization’s brand identity. This includes the script (which should be rooted in messaging and brand personality), the way the person’s voice sounds and your music/sound effect selections.

On another note, this could be the music/voices in your videos.

#3: What’s Tasted

Further from the mainstream with this sensory consideration.

It’s Apparent for Food/Drink Brands

For a restaurant, brewery or coffee house this is relatively easy to achieve because the central offering has to do with taste. The food and drink industry is judged on its taste. They live and die by the tastebud.

What I would say to anyone in the food and drink industry is this—make sure whatever you’re doing is darn delicious. When things are delicious, people come back and spread the word. More than that, however, add some items that are unique only to you.

Food/Drink Brands Have More Pressure Though to Stand Out

There are so many places that offer the same kinds of dishes, but the ones that jump to the top of my mind have things totally unique to them (at least in their 50-mile radius). Here are some things I think of from the Pittsburgh area:

  • Coffee Buddha’s Autumn Arnold Palmer (half tea, half cider)
  • Pretty much anything Draai Laag Brewery makes (unique French-Belgian style for the Pittsburgh brewery scene)
  • Church Brew Work’s Cajun Ketchup
  • Noodlehead’s Pork Belly Steam Buns
Image borrowed from Yelp

Image borrowed from Yelp

How Taste Fits into Other Brands

There are food/drink brands, and then there are the rest of us. What role does taste play in the way our brand influences taste?

It might not be as far-gone as you think.

For our agency, we don’t just offer visitors any ole coffee. We offer fresh-ground exotic roasts from all over the world. When someone comes in, we grind the beans and brew them Chemex style. We pride ourselves as a boutique that handcrafts unique work. That core brand identity continues through the coffee we serve to our visitors and team.

For you, it could be offering a particular piece of candy. It could be brewing your own beer for your clientele to enjoy with your own label. Square 2 Marketing—an inbound agency in Philly—has their own label of root beer.

The key to uncovering your the communications vehicle for taste might take some creativity, but push to find it.

#4: What’s Touched

Environment has a lot to do with this. What’s the quality of that leather couch? That table? That chair someone’s sitting in? What’s the door knob on your front door feel like?

It also can take us back onto the marketing communications path. The material of a business card, card, letterhead, brochure, t-shirt or coffee mug.

A big theme behind all of these things is quality. Quality is communicated through touch. Human beings are experts at determining quality just by picking something up. Maybe a business card looks really high-quality, but then we pick it up and notice it’s flimsy and light-weight. Same goes for any kind of product or environmental element.

This goes back, again, to the core brand identity. The way you orchestrate touch is critical to continue communicating consistently with that identity.

#5: What’s Smelled

Food/drink brands again have no problem with this … to some degree.

As a restaurant, the place should be filled with the aroma of the delicious food you’re making. As a coffee shop or brewery, the same rules apply. If for any reason this isn’t the case then you need to make a serious change. The first thing that anyone will do is smell your food before it arrives served to them. If what’s around—not even necessarily caused by the food—doesn’t smell pleasant then their experience has just more or less been ruined.

For Products

This is often one of the most underrated areas of branding design, but it’s as important as what’s seen.

If you’re a product, make sure that the products you’re creating don’t have a foul odor to them. It doesn’t matter how affordable or fancy you’re able to smell—smell can ruin it.

Case and point: my brother and eye used to order shoes from a company that sold high-quality, handmade shoes at an affordable price. The catch? Their shoes smelled like straight gasoline. It not only turned us off, but didn’t give us confidence to wear those shoes out in public for fear we would smell like gasoline.

It wasn’t an isolated incident. We tried re-ordering and re-ordering, but every pair that came our way smelled like gasoline. The root was at the brand’s assembly. Whatever they were using or doing was causing the odor. We returned the shoes and never ordered again based on smell alone.

The morale of the story here is to pay attention to how your product smells. If it reeks, you’re going to face obstacles.

For Other Brands

Again, this might be another case where you’re sitting there wondering, “How does this apply to me?”

What’s smelled might play a more subtle role in your brand’s identity, but it’s important to evaluate. Smell can turn people off pretty fast.

A school I used to attend used to utilize vinegar-based cleaning products for cleaning on the campus. You could always tell when things were cleaned because—as you can guess–everything reeked of vinegar.

They did this to save money, but I wonder if it was worth the savings. What kind of impression will a visitor get of the school if they can’t help but sniff the foul odor of vinegar everywhere?

On another front, what does your office smell like? Does it reek of last week’s lunch? Maybe you haven’t taken the trash out for a while and that place is good and ripe. This isn’t going to fair well for any visitors.

#6: What’s Thought and Felt

Thought and feelings are sensory elements drawn from the overall experience.

What people think and feel about your brand is the total of what they see, hear, taste, touch and smell.

For your brand, some of elements might happen first, followed by the rest. For you, someone might discover you online, see your website. Then, maybe they’ll set up a phone call and hear what you have to say. From that, they might come into the office where they smell, touch and taste the environment.

It’s More Than Just That Though—It’s How You Act

This is a sensory area for a reason. Beyond influencing the other senses, your brand can directly influence what people think and feel about you by your actions.

How did your brand behave as a result of that crisis? Of that disgruntled customer? Of that injustice? Of that situation? Of that need?

All of these are direct factors contributing to what people will think, feel and ultimately say about your brand.

Go Craft Intentionally

Again, it’s important to thoroughly evaluate and intentionally influence these areas. Branding design should craft an experience in alignment with the core brand identity. By accounting and strategizing for these areas, you’ll communicate your story effectively and consistently at every turn.

The result? Outrageous success.

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