January 29, 2020

by Nigel Hollis

Given all the hoopla about virtual assistants it seems so yesterday to be talking about the importance of visual impressions in marketing, but not everyone has a virtual assistant, and even fewer use them to make purchases on a regular basis. Most purchases are still made in a physical environment and marketers still need to make sure people recognize and respond to their brand in that context.

My thinking about this topic was triggered by a recent purchase I had to make. Traveling on business in the UK, I discovered I had run out of antiperspirant. Not good, given I had a series of presentations to do in the coming week. I try to go for cool, calm and collected when presenting, not hot and bothered.

So, I had a specific need. However, I rarely shop for personal care products in the UK. I had no clue what my options might be and finding the right display in the crowded environment of Boots was difficult enough. Boots is a big UK retailer, familiar from my past and with good signage, but it still required conscious mental effort to track down the section of the store I needed. (Scan for signage? Ask someone? Use my phone?)

By the time I found the men’s section I had already expended mental effort, and if there is one thing our brains hate, it is mental effort (brains are lazy like that – everyone, not just me). But having found the right display I was now facing the Paradox of Choice: so many brands to choose from. My brain sought to reduce its workload by using a set of heuristics to make a choice. I prefer the roll-on format, I’m traveling so it needs to be under 100 grams, everything that fails a quick scan based on those criteria is ignored.

At this point the L’Oréal Men Expert package caught my eye. It was predominantly black and so stood out from the other options. It had “Carbon Protect” written on it. No idea what that meant (still don’t). Then I noticed “4 in 1” – again, no idea what that represents but four is better than three, right? It felt a good choice (more so than the other brands). Did I know where that feeling came from? No. Did I reflect on why L’Oréal might be a good endorsement? No. Did I read the package in detail? No. The impression conveyed by the package, claims and brand name was just enough to give it the edge over the other options.

Luckily for marketers, most purchasers are not as clueless as I was. They already have some understanding of the category they are buying and are likely to be predisposed to buy specific brands. Kantar’s Connected Shopper studies find that around three quarters of personal care shoppers end up buying a brand that they already had in mind before entering the store and that does not include the people who simply did not find what they wanted to buy. My purchase might be more representative of the one in 10 whose purchasing is actively swayed by in-store touchpoints and, as for me, they cite the package as being the most influential. However, I suspect that most did not deliberate much more than I did when it came to make their purchase. An impression that the product might do the job was all they needed, and they put the product in their basket.

Of course, there are occasions when people what to take time and consider their options. Maybe they are just in the mood to try something new and explore what is available to them but, even then, the impression they already have in their head is going to shape their response to what they see in store. So unless a brand has a clear visual identity imprinted in their memories it will all come down to how well it stands out in store. Either way – whether someone is predisposed to buy or not – a strong visual impression that helps the brand stand out and appeal to a lazy brain is going to be important.

Perhaps you have a different take on the importance of visual impressions?


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