As political elections over the past couple of years have shown, humans are often powered by feelings rather than facts. We’re emotional and have many cognitive biases, whether we acknowledge them or not, and unconsciously lean towards the irrational over the rational. Furthermore, we’re sequential beings and look for stories and narratives in all areas of communication.
This irrationality should be embraced by start-ups, with a considered approach to visual images in their marketing and product design. By using visual and language patterns to embrace cognitive biases, they can really make their brand memorable and stand out from a crowded market.
Stories beat facts
When creating a product or a service, it’s the job of the engineers and designers to think from a functional perspective, but it’s up to the marketers to step away from the what to the why.
Today, people connect with companies and products on emotional grounds, so stories have never been so commercially important. They are intrinsically linked to your purpose and are the foundations behind why you do what you do. As such, it’s imperative that entrepreneurs think about their narrative and ‘why’ early on in their businesses journey. From conveying the problems you want to solve or the passions that led you to create your product, having a unique story to tell will differentiate you from competitors. This is not only beneficial for the product and marketing, but also an organisation’s culture, as this is what will emotionally charge an audience.
The execution of this is key. It’s all too easy to overcomplicate this, so instead keep it simple. Using carefully crafted visual and language patterns, along with your brand’s story, the aim is to convince your customers to feel something. People want to buy into your values, your commitment, and to be inspired – storytelling is a compelling way to achieve this.
Think differently to stand out
With nearly 660,000 new businesses established in 2017, there are many start-ups offering similar services and products. So, the perennial question is: what can you do to make your company stand out? Thinking and acting differently is important.
Because their product is new, many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of positioning themselves in the same box as their competitors in order to feel like they belong in their category. While this may seem like a logical thing to do, in fact, thinking differently and finding what makes you distinct, quirky, and easily recognisable will ensure you’re more memorable.
Moreover, finding your own voice based on your individual story, is vital if you are to remain in people’s memories. Take, for example, Adidas’s “Impossible is Nothing” campaign from a few years ago. Although grammatically incorrect, there is an element of weirdness that jars with our natural way of reading and understanding, rendering the phrase – and therefore the brand – easily connected and recalled.
Embrace cognitive biases
As mentioned earlier, we all have cognitive biases, of which there are many. For example, when you see someone wearing a doctor’s coat, you may automatically perceive them as a knowledgeable figure of authority; or, perhaps when you picture an airline pilot, your first response is to think of them being a man. However, it’s worth spending time exploring these and thinking about how you can use visual images in particular to encourage emotion in your audience and to strengthen your brand’s story even further. For example, GitHub and Mailchimp both use the ‘baby face bias’ with their logos in order to appear friendlier than the competition. This is where we see things that are cute or baby-faced as more innocent and honest. A simple aspect of design that can change the way that your brand is perceived.
Yes, a product needs to be functional, reliable and usable – but it also needs to be pleasurable, fun, and quirky. This is where the value of ‘bizarreness’ or ‘humour’ effects becomes most apparent: humans have a tendency to remember the things that are considered bizarre, humorous, or visually striking over things that are considered more mundane or everyday.
It’s important to remember that humans tend to look for patterns and stories even where there are none. For example, we perceive things that are grouped together or things that look similar as a unit and look to make connections between them. Creating stories and patterns will help you tap into these unconscious biases, enabling you to effectively hack people’s behaviour.
Embracing our cognitive irrationalities in order to engineer how your product and brand are perceived by your audience should be top of the agenda for any start-up. This will become the foundation of future strategy and growth. If you can combine these design elements with your brand’s story, you will have a powerful tool to ensure your start-up’s success.
Ted Persson is EQT Ventures’ operating partner with focus on product design, UX, storytelling and branding. In this role, he helps portfolio companies with product development and design, branding and marketing. Prior to joining EQT Ventures, Ted co-founded a number of successful digital agencies, including Speedway Digital Army (1997), Abel & Baker (1999) and Great Works (2002). Great Works has been part of the North Alliance (NOA), Scandinavia’s leading communications and technology network, since 2014. He currently acts as an advisor to a number of creative schools and start-ups, including Hyper Island and Atsoko International.