branding is like placing enough pieces of a puzzle to recognize the full picture

imagine you are in front a box full of puzzle pieces. 100 of them. your objective is to recognize what the final picture of the puzzle is in the least amount of time.

technically, you don’t even have to put the pieces together. you might just look at a few pieces and recognize something that gives you a hint. for example, if the image is a sports car, and you happen to be a fan of those, just seeing a logo, the shape of the back lights, a color, and/or a wheel could give you all the details you need to recognize it (if a puzzle had sound, then I bet some would even be able to recognize the car from its distinct roaring engine). if I show the same puzzle to my mum, she will probably not make any sense of it. maybe even if she completes the puzzle.

now, imagine that you are not specifically knowledgeable about sports car, but you are at a sports car salon with a few friends. and that the car on the puzzle happens to be somewhere around you. there again, the context helps you recognize the image probably with just a few key pieces. no need to struggle with the full puzzle.

and if you only need 5 or 6 key pieces to recognize the picture, is it easier to find them faster in a box with 100 other pieces? or in a box with only 20? remember that the objective is not to complete the puzzle.

branding works very similarly.

imagine that in your branding toolbox, you have the following elements:

  • a logo
  • a name
  • a tagline
  • a few key colors
  • some iconic shapes
  • a sound
  • a music
  • a famous person
  • a font/typeface
  • a recognizable product design
  • a specific smell

and so on. and so on. and so on. the list can be very long.

well, not all of them might always be needed in all contexts for all audiences. you might even risk overbranding your execution if you insist on always using all of them. keeping in mind that you are usually not the only brand occupying a specific space or context either. so if every brand in a space is mixing all their puzzle pieces together, recognizing one image becomes even more complicated. you would just end up overwhelming your customers with unnecessary cognitive load.

with the overstimulation of the modern world, many companies have actually realized the benefits of de-branding. since, most of the time, just a few strategically and thoughtfully chosen pieces will be more than enough. coming back to our puzzle pieces, de-branding would consist of removing pieces one by one until removing one more would make it impossible for your customer to recognize the picture in a given context. if there is a piece you can remove and still keep the integrity of your story, remove it! very often, in branding like in many other things: less is more.

so think it through. find the right pieces of your puzzle according to the audience and the context. don’t overcharge your customers with your branding. don’t add to their cognitive load. just give them what they need to connect with your brand. to know it’s you. but not to the point of your identity distracting them of why they’re there, or overwhelming them with your ego.

don’t forget: it’s about them. not you.

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