If you work in the energy sector, remove all of the pipes from your images; if you work in medicine, remove references to pills and potions. Credit: Steve Johnson, published under a CC BY 2.0 licence

Using literal representations of what your company stands for risks broadening the gulf between you and your audience by neglecting to appeal to their emotions.

What do you think of when I say the words ‘classical music’ to you? Maybe your brain first jumps to a Bach cantata or the sound of sweeping violins, maybe it conjures up an image of Renée Fleming or Lang Lang. Or, if you don’t consider yourself a fan, maybe you imagine a scene of ageing white men in suits playing in a musty concert hall (in which case, we need to talk). What I am almost certain you didn’t imagine is a particular music score, or that crotchets and minims started flying in front of your eyes – what, for even those of us who play classical music, would be considered a literal representation of an abstract art form that relies on an emotional response.

Repeat the same exercise for energy, for data, for medicine. I wonder how many of you imagine traditional tropes – pipes, lines of code, pills – and how many of you thought about how those things make you feel.

One of the first things I did after I became Publications Editor at the BBC Proms in 2012 was to ban music notes from our imagery. They were peppered all over the place, lurking in collages and used to fill blank areas of pages. By banning them I was forcing my team to think about how we used our design to create feelings in the same way that the music we were representing did, how we bridged the gap between artistic administration and Radio 3 listener at home, how we represented the glorious feeling of the concert hall across all platforms. It was showing, not telling, our audience what the Proms represented.

This was, at the time, a departure from how a lot of classical music design had been created, which focussed on the performer rather than the audience, assuming a certain amount of familiarity with that world and thus closing off entry points for new audiences. The Barbican exemplified the audience-first approach in 2013 with its beautiful ‘Where will the music take you?’ campaign, created by Firedog, and featuring multiple-exposure images of ‘real people’s’ responses to pieces of classical music.
My challenge to colleagues in the STEM industry I work with is the same one. If you work in the energy sector, remove the pipes from your imagery; if you work in medicine, remove references to pills and potions. These are not your audience’s primary concerns – or, indeed, their concerns at all. What are those concerns? Being warm in their homes? Staying well? How can you show them that this is what your company, ultimately, helps them to do?
This requires a certain amount of relinquishing of ownership over your image because by making your core brand identity about you and your business, you have control: ‘This is what we are.’ By making it audience-focussed, by opening it up for interpretation, you are saying, ‘How does this make you feel? And, if you’re interested, we can help you explore that feeling.’ What this approach creates is longevity and trust, and a higher level of engagement with your brand. It’s the first rule of marketing: focus on your audience.
If you’re interested in discussing how we can help your brand speak with more relevance to your audience, drop us a line.

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