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The Brand As Mental Shortcut

Some day we’ll be able to gather in groups again. Next time you’re in that situation, pay close attention to what happens when a new person joins the group. You’ll find that you form an instant opinion about the newcomer even though you may never have laid eyes on him or her before. In a nanosecond, you notice the person’s bearing, hair style, clothing, attitude, demeanor. You can tell if the person is nervous or perfectly comfortable joining a new group. You see how open and friendly the person is. You can tell if the person is a total stranger or is known to some in the group. You notice how the person is greeted. With enthusiasm or with mere acceptance? And even if you’re aware that this is just a first impression you’re forming, and you may well be wrong, it’s an impression that nevertheless is formed in just a fraction of a second. Now consider that every other person in the room is sizing up the newcomer in precisely the same way. And, in turn, they’re being sized up by the newcomer. And – it can’t be stressed enough – all this happens instantly. The same thing happens with brands.

People use your brand identity to make instant, snapshot decisions about who you are, what you’re like, whether you belong in their life and, ultimately, whether they want to do business with you. From the moment people see your logo, they’re making rapid-fire micro-decisions about your offering, be it product or service. They’re measuring it up and determining if they have any use for it. They’re calculating if your brand is the sort of business with which they’d like to have a relationship, as a patron or even just as a fan.

As the owner or the manager of the brand, it is your job to see to it that it attracts the right sort of people. If your business is selling stuff to the youth market, you’d better have a youthful looking brand and not some old, boomer-attracting brand. If you’re offering services to the C-suite, you need a brand that exudes professionalism and doesn’t come across as clunky or amateurish. Just as a newcomer entering a room is judged, so are brands judged by their markets. In both cases, a determination is made as to whether the person or brand “belongs”.

People adjust their wardrobes to ensure they’ll be seen as belonging in the room. Going to a wedding? Dress for a wedding. Going to a music festival? Dress accordingly. Everyone wants to fit in. No one goes to a business meeting wearing a clown suit.

Ask Boardwalk to design a meaningful
brand identity for your offering.

But what if your business is wearing a clown suit? What if the logo is amateurish? What if the website isn’t interactive? What if your messaging is tone deaf? What if your branding imparts no meaning at all? You may still be able to build a viable business. But, if you do, you’ll find you’re constantly swimming upstream. You’re struggling to win sales in spite of having a brand that repels customers. It’s called cognitive friction. You’re placing barriers in the way of your customers as they endeavor to understand what you’re supposed to mean to them.

Nobody likes cognitive friction. Consumers don’t like it. Purchasing agents don’t like it. People want to see you and get you. Then they want to move on with their lives. You either mean something to them or not. They don’t want to invest time to stop and figure it out. They won’t do it. So your brand has to be clear to them. Instantly.

Some businesses with lousy brands have survived, even thrived. But that’s unlikely to hold true for very long. The world as a whole – and the business world within it – is a fast-moving place. Everything is in flux all the time. And now, COVID-19 has injected a level of uncertainty into life that is unprecedented. That uncertainty will be with us for a long time, if not forever. More than ever, a business needs to ensure its brand identity conveys purpose and meaning to its market. In the words of behavioral scientist, Richard Shotten, “If brands are a mental shortcut (to meaning), and the world is becoming more complex, then brands are more, not less, important.”


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