How Visual Semiotics Reveals Your Customers’ Hidden Emotions

According to MIT, 90 percent of information transmitted to our brain is visual. In fact, the human brain processes images in just 13 milliseconds, which is 60,000 times faster than text. Since we are visual by nature, shouldn’t we be using this skill to understand emotion?

The challenge

Rational brand and product attributes are easily copied and hard to defend, while emotional connections are unique and ownable – making them difficult to displace and replicate. Brands quickly become interchangeable commodities when they compete on rational benefits alone. However, it’s not easy for consumers to explain their emotions, making it difficult to measure how and why they connect with brands.

What is a brand?

David Ogilvy once said, “A brand is the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” but I would go further and suggest that the intangible sum also includes emotions.

A brand is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name. It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your brand offering—both factual and emotional. A brand name exists objectively; people can see it, but a brand exists only in someone’s mind.

A brand is a promise, it’s also a bundle of attributes, and it can be a special badge of appeal.

A picture is worth a thousand words

In today’s ever-changing world, we have become more visual in how we communicate. I cannot eat dinner out without my wife posting a picture of what we are eating. How dare I touch the food until the perfect picture is taken! My sons and I communicate through memes, and if I have something pressing, I send it through a Snapchat story. Even my texting is a mix of emojis and broken sentences. We share how we feel much more easily without words. I can say more with an image than I can write, and I can do so without the fear of misinterpreted tonality of the written word delivered in the absence of facial and social cues that we all rely on.

Understanding brand emotions

Asking consumers to express their emotional connection to a brand is a bit like an awkward dating game. We can ask them to go through a list of emotions we hope that they feel. But do we have the right list of words? Can we determine the degree or spectrum of the emotion?

While we are emotional beings, we can be really poor at verbally communicating our emotions with others. We go so far as to delegate to others the task of conveying how we feel. Think back to school when you were told that someone liked you – there was a whole protocol on how you had to respond! Sadly, it became more complex as you got older, and checking yes or no on that slip of paper was no longer an option. Yet we ask consumers to engage in this same emotional attribution game with brands.

But, what if we could use images to understand how consumers truly feel about brands?

Visual semiotics is a technique that analyzes the way visual images communicate a message or emotion. It works by decomposing each image into its structural elements and identifying the various emotions associated with each element. Consumers can readily create a collage of images to visually “tell” us how they feel about a brand. This is a common qualitative and psychological technique, as well. Using images to convey emotions is core to our communication building blocks.

With the rise in recognition of autism, using a visual semiotics technique is a primary means of understanding emotion. For non-verbal children, emotions can become even more overwhelming if they do not have access to any means of communication. Using images, they can easily create a set of pictures to convey how they feel.

Brands use visuals to convey that “intangible sum” of a product’s attributes and emotions, yet when we want to understand if the brand story resonates, we rely on text or verbal feedback. Visual semiotics allows the measurement of communication between the brand and the consumer to be on equal footing, telling an emotional story through images, 60,000 times faster than text and in a way our brain is primarily wired to communicate.

Why this matters for brands

Consumers are more open to messaging when the message is delivered in the same emotional wrapper as they perceive the brand. By understanding how different audiences feel about a brand, we can tailor communications with those consumers utilizing the same emotional elements.

To achieve this, we need a more effective way for consumers to communicate with us and how they feel about brands in a natural and visual manner.

Learn about our Visual Semiotics tool – Brand Emotion

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