Branding is Emotional: Why Designers Should Combine Both Art & Science

By: Haylee Powers

Think of your favorite brand, maybe a clothing brand, makeup or even food. Why do you like this brand? Why do you identify with this brand? What feelings does this brand evoke?

Brand strategists have studied neuroscience and psychology to create a deeper understanding of how our brains work as it relates to brands we love and choose over and over again. They have discovered design can be used as a tool to create something beautiful and taken a step further—when combined with strategy—it can make a real impact on customers. In branding, perception is everything. Take wine, for example:

“Pour a bottle of Gallo into an empty 50-year-old bottle of French Burgundy. Then carefully decant a glass in front of a friend and ask for an opinion. You taste what you expect to taste.” -Al Ries

Imagine the recipients of the wine swirling and sniffing, believing that they are sampling an aged gem. They could be completely hoodwinked into believing that’s exactly what they are tasting based on what they believe. This quote is powerful because it demonstrates that our human brains are fickle. What you see (or rather, what you perceive) is what you get. The way that you can control the perception of your brand or product through design and strategy is mesmerizing.

Creating an emotional brand can be executed through a powerful brand story and brand experience. Color, packaging, and typography come into play as well, as do product photography, copywriting, pricing and a compelling unique selling proposition. Brands that have been designed to be compelling are powerful. These brands often create a strong loyalty and resonate strongly with their consumers. Powerful brands create consumers that defend their favorite brands superiority—ever hear the Android versus iphone debate? Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi said that powerful brands create “loyalty beyond reason.” Roberts found that people remain loyal to brands they like even when it is not rational.  

In Daryl Weber’s book Brand Seduction, he highlights an interesting study that displays the power we give certain brands and how this goes beyond the rational. He wrote, “In Pharmaceuticals, though private label brands (store brands) have a larger and often growing share of the market, it is amazing that the much more expensive branded products still sell as well as they do. In CVS you can buy 300 tablets of advil for $20.99, or .70¢ per tablet. The CVS- branded ibuprofen—which contains the exact same medicine at the same dosage, and is held to the same safety and effectiveness standards by the FDA—costs only .24¢ per tablet. When you put the Advil name on the bottle, the same product becomes three times more expensive.”

Advil has a strong brand strategy and design, whereas the store brand CVS has taken less time to develop a brand identity and strategy around their ibuprofen. When brands are branded intentionally to be powerful, they sink into our subconscious and we begin to perceive them to be better.

Your brand experience is shaped by the way in which you are looking at a product or service. We tend to make a lot of associations on a subconscious level. When we first see a product we take it in visually, we then begin processing the information through the thalamus and the amygdala. The amygdala, where memory and emotion combine, gives meaning to what we see and creates a gut feeling about the product. The hippocampus also plays a large role in associating an emotion with a product or service—it’s responsible for encoding details and facts into the long term memory.

The way in which you first see a brand or product is shaped by the environment you are in, the colors and even the music playing on the stereo. Everything you take in gets filtered through your brain and the past experiences you have had. Having a holistic brand experience that involves as many of the five senses as possible allows the message to seep deep into our subconscious. The outcome can either be a positive experience or a negative experience for your customer, depending on how you orchestrate the experience.

The way goods and services are priced is branding, the way the packaging feels in the customer's hand is branding, the music on the stereo, the colors you use and drinks you serve are branding. Not to mention, the feeling of joy or awe that the customer feels when engaging with a product—this is also branding. Branding encompasses so much more than a beautifully designed product. It’s not so much “what you see is what you get” but rather, what you perceive is what you get. When I design for a brand, I take into account the way the client wants the brand to be perceived and the emotion they want to sell.

Branding is emotional, and not in a sappy way but rather in a scientific way. The subtle ways our emotions guide our decision making is amazing. Art and science have been at odds with each other for a long time, but I think it is about time we combine the two as we see their power to make branding more compelling and effective.


Haylee Powers
Haylee Powers is a Denver based designer and brand strategist working with companies as large as CBS and as small as the solopreneur next door. She founded Bad Bitch Branding in 2016 to empower women through brand strategy and design. She spends her time coaching female entrepreneurs and startups on their brand strategy as well as designing brand identities.