by Kenneth Rudich
Words alone are often inadequate for communicating emotional nuance, things like mood, tone, timbre, temperament, and pitch.
Take a simple phrase like “You’re really something!” It can be used to convey high praise, glib sarcasm, or even dismay. But until or unless something reveals the intent behind it, getting a proper read can be difficult.
The use of imagery is a good way to fortify gestures, concepts, and words with flavor and meaning.
Emoticons, for example, add clarity. Without them, a playfully light-hearted tone can be lost :-), and something communicated in jest can go terribly wrong :-(.
Or consider how much more powerful “I love you” becomes when accompanied by a dozen red roses, a box of chocolates, or maybe a ring. It enhances the emotional connection, makes it stronger, bolder, deeper, more fulfilling.
Or take a moment to dwell on the difference between a greasy hamburger joint and a fine dining establishment — what you’ll see, what you’ll smell, what you’ll hear, the texture and taste of the food? As you do this, is your brain summoning images to mind or are you meandering among words?
verbal expressions, non-verbal thoughts
It turns out there’s a reason why imagery has such a noteworthy effect. According to marketing professors and researchers Gerald Zaltman and Robin Higie Coulter, it’s because “Thoughts typically occur as non-verbal images even though they are expressed verbally.” So while the brain processes words, the mind frequently creates images to represent them.
In fact, the rule of thumb among communications specialists is that about 80% of all human communication is non-verbal. Said another way, thoughts are not dependent on words. A sound or sight or smell or taste or touch can evoke non-verbal thoughts in the form of feelings, images, or emotions. No words are needed for these thoughts to occur.
Moreover, imagery can override the meaning of words. If you tell me you love me while looking over my shoulder at someone else, which do you think will carry more weight – the gazing past me or the favorable words?
Has anyone ever told you, “Do as I say, not as I do?” And it caused you to look at them with a huh?
In an earlier post, “Creating Value…or Climbing up a Waterfall,” I’d mentioned that the perceived benefits variable in the definition of value is usually traceable to some underlying set of human motives, which may be social, functional, physiological, or psychological in origin. Using imagery to nourish a positive emotional connection with your product or service is a valuable tool in the marketing arsenal. It taps the psychological motive that shapes thoughts, feelings and behaviors; and it can go a long way toward improving perceived value.
A truly effective use of imagery considers the prospect of engaging all five senses if possible, and then focusing them on a singularly desirable association with your product or service. For instance, mull over these questions for a moment:
do you associate a certain perfume or cologne with your significant other?
do you have pet names for one another?
do you know your significant other’s favorite color to wear?
can your significant other touch you like no one else can?
can you prepare your significant other’s favorite food?
Notice the different senses but one focus.
words that create imagery
Even when it’s verbal, as in the form of a metaphor, the imagery can yield a powerful effect. One insurance company connects its services with the phrase “Like a good neighbor.” Other companies in other industries have their own metaphors:
“Hope, triumph and the miracle of medicine,”
“The king of beers,”
“Like a rock,” for example.
In an earlier post, I used the phrase “like trying to climb up a waterfall” in lieu of saying it would be futile or ineffective. Both of these descriptive words would have been perfectly suitable, but I was shooting to create an image that would resonate with the reader, perhaps causing him or her to arch an eyebrow when they came across it.
execution is key
Once you’ve decided on cultivating a particularly desirable association or core image, it is important to execute with clarity, consistency, and continuity. Be cautioned that this advice can appear deceptively simple, when in fact it can easily be mishandled, particularly if you have a lot of other distractions vying for your attention. The penalty for mishandling the execution can range from simply having it become a less effective campaign, to diluting the brand, to actually causing harm.
In part 2, I’ll look at an actual case where the business owner had a mix of great execution combined with poor execution, how that hurt the consistency and continuity of the brand by creating mixed signals, and what recommendations were given to correct it.