Leading companies like Apple, the Walt Disney, Adidas and Starbucks all have one thing in common. They all honor their heritage and ‘brand codes’ while continuing to refine their distinct aesthetic qualities and enhance their desirability factor. They understand that none of the best remains still throughout their lifetime.

Aesthetics is the difference.

Apple’s smartphones have comparable computing power to Samsung’s. Airbnb, Marriott and Craigslist all target the same customer segment. The difference is in the aesthetics. It’s the reason some are willing to stand in line to pay a thousand dollar plus for the iPhone X or pay thousands to deposit to get onto the waiting list of Tesla. Aesthetics explain why Airbnb is by far the number of vacation rental marketplace, beating both the world’s largest hotel group and an incumbent internet company with a twenty-year head start in the marketplace.

For Airbnb, the aesthetics of the booking experience is not only intuitive, also functional. You’re never more than three clicks away to book your destination. Even more important than its user-friendliness, the site is designed to help people and encourage them to visualize their vacation.

 

Modern consumers seek more than material possessions.

Human connection is a complex effort and has far-reaching implications. The modern consumers are no longer driven by material possessions. They increasingly seek depth and meaning in their lives. Therefore, brands must constantly appeal to feelings and arouse imagination. That’s where aesthetic factors come into play.

Because the drivers of modern consumers extend well beyond the commercial motives, brands must drive to unite, touch and delight younger generations of people through their products or services. They must seek and view their customers not as people who merely seek to consume but as humans who ultimately seek to feel alive.

 

How Lego, Bose and Apple appeal to our senses.

At Lego stores, customers young and old play with and learn about blocks, and toy kits in real time and via augmented reality, appealing to sight, sound and touch. At Bose retail shops, wide-open entrances invite you into voluminous public spaces where you can engage in an endless array of audio products. Though it’s arguable about whether Bose provides a superior audio experience than the others, one thing is certain. Bose offers an extraordinary aesthetic experience.

Apple stores operate in a similar fashion. Customers who come into an Apple store, no matter where the store is, can touch products, feel the premium, listen to the quality and experience firsthand the pleasure of using a smartphone before making a purchase. And like Bose, Apple products are not necessarily superior to the rest. It’s the way these brands tell a story and stimulates our senses that  makes them so much more delightful.

 

What drives feelings or delight in consumers?

It can be as simple as making a connection between, say soap and relaxation, cashmere and comfort, classical music and serenity or ice cream and exuberance. According to the designer Ingrid Fetell Lee, joy, happiness and delight – whatever you want to call the intense, momentary experience of pleasant emotion – actually lowers blood pressure, improves our immune system and increases productivity. It can be inspired by symmetry, bright color and soothing sounds.

 

A successful retail experience relies on the five senses of aesthetics language.

Understanding how the five senses – taste, smell, touch, sight and sound – function individually  and how they interact with one another and how marketers can activate or reactivate them in consumers is key to creating and sustaining a company’s competitive advantage.

About 85 percent of consumers’ purchase decisions are driven by how a product or a service makes them feel (call it an aesthetic delight). The other 15 percent is based on a conscious and rational judgement of a product’s features and functionality. Ironically, markers spend as much as 100 percent of their time promoting products based on how they perform.

 

‘Ugly fashion’ can work as long as its ugliness is built on appealing qualities.

Ugliness is never a good thing when it’s built on genuinely ugly qualities like mean-spirtiends or callousness – even if unintentional. Think of the difference between a goofy-looking pug and a growling, grumpy pit bull. Most would find the first image endearing and the second one monstrous. Gucci’s blackface sweater fiasco is a case in point. In 2019. The company recalled the $80 black sweater that had red lips knitted around the opening for the wearer’s mouth. Critics pointed out had Gucci employed more people of color in its design and marketing functions, the weather would have been flagged as inappropriate even before it reached a manufacturing line.

 

Activate and Reactive: Sensory Marketing

Rolls-Royce found out that smell was tied to their profits, when it revamped its production methods using leather-clad plastic instead of wood. Customers didn’t like the odor coming from plastic material. It wasn’t the new car smell they were expecting. Sales declined. Rolls-Royce was smart enough to ask customers why they were rejecting the new model. Customers said the older models smelled deliciously woody while the new cars smelled like the plastic used in manufacturing.

People’s expectations of a product have everything to do with how they interact with it sensorially. Rolls-Royce fixed the problem by working with an olfactory specialist and developing a scent that smells like wood. The scent as apple id after manufacturing the inside of the new cars.

 

Brand codes engage with people’s senses and elevate your brand.

Brand codes are clear, distinct and visible identifiers of a particular brand. They’re the makers – like Chanel’s quilted leather or the New York Times headline font. They’re not the same as the brand DNA, which may include non visible elements like a brand’s history or its values. Strong brand codes are built over long stretches of time and are rarely, if ever, changed.

 

Codes can be seen, felt, heard and even experienced spatially.

Codes are found almost anywhere, in, on and around a product.  Strong visual codes can be found in application and ownership of specific colors like Harvard’s official shade of crimson red, Cadbury’s royal purple and Veuve Clicquot’s egg yolk yellow. Mrs. Estee Lauder chose a pale greenish-blue hue for her skin care jets, bleeding they’d play well against the decor of her customers’ bathrooms. But it also made her jars instantly recognizable from a distance. Today the brand uses a broader array of hues in its products, from a coppery brown to a lustrous white, but the original blue is still reserved for some of its most iconic creams and lotions.

Codes are also seen in space and building designs such as the backlit apple prominently displayed and built into the walls of Apple stores. In addition, Apple stores are easily identified by their wide-open spaces, floor-to-ceiling glass facades and hangar-size doors at the front.

These visual elements not only differentiate Apple from the neighborhood but also invite people in by blurring the delineation between inside and outside. But interestingly, when other retailers tried to copy Apple’s approach, they typically failed, probably because it feels contrived and uninspired. 

 

What makes a code iconic?

Whether it’s a jingle, a mascot or a log, the secret sauce of instantly recognizable brand code contains four key elements. They’re time-tested, precise and specific, ownable and relevant.

Element #1 Time-tested

As anyone what Harley-Davidson means and you’ll receive similar responses: rebellion, freedom, nonconformity and outlaw. What Harley riders share is a longing for freedom and what Harley’s code connote is the promise and thrill of it.

Element #2 Precise and specific

Post-it Notes from 3M are not yellow. They are canary yellow. Hermes owns its distance shade of burnt orange. Louis Vuitton owns its particular shades of brown: old burgundy and dirt. Tiffany’s color is not just any blue. It’s not navy. It’s not sky blue. It’s robin’s egg blue.

Element #3 Ownable

Harvard University sued a private biotech company named Harvard Bioscience for liberal use of its name and its color, crimson. A disclaimer on Harvard’s Bioscience’s website now explains “Harvard is a registered trademark of Harvard University. The marks Harvard Apparatus and Harvard Bioscience are being used pursuant to a license agreement between Harvard University and Harvard Bioscience, Inc.”

Element #4 Relevant

Tiffany blue – a combination of blue and green – evokes a cool, calming sensation. It’s timeless and never out of place. The color is associated with serenity and femininity all of which connect seamlessly with the company’s core saleable products such as gemstones, diamonds, precious metals and exquisitely designed home goods.

 

Final Thoughts

“As I look critically at the fashion sector today, I believe it has lost its raison d’etre (reason for being). When I entered the industry twenty-five years ago, people loved to shop, especially for clothes. They experienced it as a form  of entertainment. Today, with quick, direct digital access to any product you want and a preference for experiences over material goods, visiting a store to buy yet another handbag is not very compelling.

Shopping no longer meets people’s needs or stimulates their creativity. This is also true of most other businesses and industries. As businesspeople we’ve become so focused on the bottom line, on driving consumption of products that fewer and fewer consumers even want anymore, that we’ve lost touch with what we produce. To survive, we need to reinstall a human touch into what we’re doing, and know why we’re doing it.

If there’s anything you take away form this book is that:

Aesthetics matter… and it matters now more than ever;

Aesthetic businesses are built and drive by those with aesthetic intelligence;

People are born with far more aesthetic intelligence than they realize, but like all muscles it must be exercised;

If applied well, aesthetics can strengthen your business, and may even transform it.” – Pauline Brown 

Also check out: The Art and Science of Noticing, Your First Aesthetics Exercise


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Kyaw Wai Yan Tun

Hi, I'm Wai Yan. I love designing visuals and writing insightful articles online. I see it as my way of making the world a more beautiful and insightful place.