Don’t Speak: Non-Verbal Communication in Branding

Liam Mooney - May 19, 2015

When it comes to branding, there are many elements to consider beyond overt verbal messaging. From colours to symbols to even smells, consumers absorb these non-verbal elements faster than text and as a result, companies large and small should adopt a more complete approach when defining their brand.

Since consumers form more of an emotional connection with graphics rather than text, businesses can communicate some of their “personality factors” and values through them. A company can choose to make themselves look more professional, contemporary or traditional. For example, the colour red is youthful, bold and exciting. Brands such as Coca-Cola, Netflix and Nintendo want to be associated with these traits; they’re part of their personality. Circular logos, such as the Target bullseye, suggest community, friendship, unity and love.

Even how you smell says something about you. The name of this aspect of non-verbal communication is olfactics, and it plays a vital role in communicating information as well as associating smells with memories. Perfume is the most obvious case; for example, a scent can be girly, classic, or bold. People also associate smells with places such as restaurants and dentist offices.

Scent is one way that non-verbal communication can be applied in a positive or negative way. Smells can be pleasant or unpleasant, and opinions may vary regarding them. Clothing brands Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch use their strong perfumes and colognes to create brand remembrance. You might not necessarily like the smell, but you remember it.

Another important non-verbal communication process is haptics, which essentially means communication through touch. From textures to temperatures, something even as simple as the weight of paper can have an effect on the way your brand is experienced. For example, heavier objects signify competence and seriousness, hence the tendency toward heavier business cards.

A recent example of a brand adopting this type of immersive experience is Marriott Hotels’ Teleporter, introduced late in 2014. Using Oculus Rift technology, guests are able to virtually travel around the world, from the beaches of Hawaii to the streets of downtown London. They can physically see, feel and smell the non-verbal aspects of their environment; for example, an ocean spray in their face or the rumble of waves under their feet. This makes it so that Marriott can sell more hotels rooms through means other than words.swimmer

What does this mean for the future of marketing and branding? Companies should place more emphasis on these non-verbal elements. It takes more than a catchy slogan to sell something, especially an entire brand; a multi-sensory experience is crucial if a brand wants to influence, impact, and connect with their audience.

An image may be worth a thousand words, but a brand is about multi-sensory impact.

Illustration by Emma Cochrane