How Visual Branding Affects Your Products’ Perceived Value
My mom’s go-to wedding shower gift for many years was a set of metal measuring cups. She knew that the receiver wouldn’t guess they had cost $50, but she loved her own and knew that they would be appreciated in time.
For my mom, the value of the metal measuring cups was that they looked better and lasted way longer than plastic ones, whose measurement markings wore off, handles broke, and that occasionally even melted. The $50 was worth it, even if at first the newlyweds only noticed the “looked better” part.
Your customers are constantly making value judgments about your products. They are thinking:
“the fabric looks durable, so it will probably last a long time”
“I like the design and it fits my budget”
“this t-shirt is so freakin’ soft, I will lounge the hell out of it”
Beyond the tangible benefits, your customers might also be thinking:
“these jeans were made by a company that pays fair wages”
“this is a brand that my friends all love, so they’ll be excited for me if I buy it (and maybe a little jealous”
“this swimwear was made from recycled plastic, which matches my desire to care for the planet”
On the NPR podcast, How I Built This (December 25, 2016), one of the founders of eyewear brand Warby Parker explained how they came up with their pricing. Most of the eyewear industry is owned by just one mega corporation that jacks up the price of glasses. The founders of Warby Parker wanted to sell theirs for $45, but were advised that customers wouldn’t trust the quality of a product priced 90% lower than the competition, so they ended up selling their first glasses for $95. It wasn’t driven by margins; it was driven by perceived value.
Visual Branding and Perceived Value
Your visual branding can communicate every aspect of your brand, from its target audience to its personality (youthful? sophisticated? adventurous?) to its societal or environmental benefits. As such, it can be used to support and elevate your brand’s perceived value: how much a product is valued in the mind of the consumer.
One of the most basic ways to communicate value is by giving your visuals room to breathe. Consider it this way: a 1-page document crammed with text or a 2-page document with wide margins and space for a couple of large photos. Which page below looks more high end?
This concept applies to all areas of your visual branding: how you display your products on your ecommerce website, the layout of your business cards and hangtags, the type of lifestyle photography you use to show your garments in action, the layout of your website’s homepage, the way you merchandise your brick and mortar shop. Give your products the space to be seen.
High-end finishes aren’t just for kitchens
If you’re positioning your products as luxury, or even semi-luxury purchases, people are going to want to feel the quality. And if your hang tags are made from the thinnest cardstock available, your customers will notice.
If you’re not part of the paper and stationery world (and I’m guessing you aren’t!), here are some things that communicate value:
Thicker paper. I love 18pt (around 100lb) card stock for business cards and hang tags. It’s thick, but not too thick. (My current business cards are actually 32pt which is overkill.) Paper thickness is something that even non-paper nerds can appreciate. When I hand someone my business card, they know that it’s special. Choose the best paper that you can afford.
Uncoated paper. There is something luxurious about being able to feel the texture of the paper. Matte and glossy coating have their place and can make colors look more vibrant, but wherever possible I like to use uncoated paper.
Letterpress printing. Old-style printing presses are all the fashion and the indentations of the machine into the paper – that used to be seen as a flaw by skilled press operators – are now a sign of luxury.
Metallic foil. Want to really impress your customers? Use gold foil. It’s trending right now, but also not nearly as pervasive as other trends because of the cost. I wouldn’t use this widely across your branding (see: $$$), but if you are sending out invitations to a special launch or doing some smaller print run it’s a great way to wow people. P.S. Want the metallic look without using foil? There are some more cost-effective options like metallic inks or Moo’s gold foil that isn’t actually gold foil. BUT DO NOT FAKE METALLIC. You will lose all of your glamour points if you do that.
You can also communicate your value on your website by making sure it loads quickly and looks up-to-date. You can go a long way with a simple, modern theme from reputable ecommerce platforms like Shopify or BigCommerce. But if you really want to kick it up a notch, hire a web designer and web developer to create a custom (or customized theme) website with special details that are hard to add to pre-made themes.
I don’t recommend every brand use every single high-end feature. Bankrupting yourself on fancy stationery is obviously a bad idea. But think about where you can afford to add special touches and what suits your brand.
The design itself
There are so few universal rules for visual branding design – maybe even none – but here are a couple that I mostly stick by.
Don’t be too literal. If people can only tell that you sell clothing because there is a dress on your logo, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, use your branding to evoke a feeling in your customers. Dig deeper into what makes your brand special – something that not all of your competitors could use in their logos or branding.
Avoid fonts that came standard on your computer. They aren’t inherently bad, but do you want your customers to associate your brand with their college papers? Lots of people outside the graphic design industry have strong opinions about fonts they know and there’s no point in getting them riled up because you picked Comic Sans, even if you love it.
What about communicating ethics?
Your customers’ value system is most likely not just about getting the most for their buck. More and more consumers are aware of where products are made, who made them, and if it is eco-friendly.
If your business has a social or environmental mission, use it to become your customer’s preferred choice. Incorporate slogans and phrases into your visual branding that tell your audience exactly what your business values. If you have an outspoken environmental mission, be very careful about your packaging. Use biodegradable plastic bags, recyclable packaging, and tell your customers that you are using it! Or use minimal packaging and opt for a simple but thoughtful unboxing experience.
Build a brand story
Whether or not your customers are aware, every aspect of your brand affects how they perceive its value. A slightly thicker hang tag won’t add a huge amount of value on its own, but together with the rest of your branding and your products, it will build a story about what your brand is and who it is for.
Elise Epp is a graphic designer for fashion startups, boutiques, and makers. Her made-to-measure visual branding and websites capture the heart of her clients’ businesses and provide a solid foundation for growth. She has been pursuing an ethical wardrobe since 2015 and loves cats, feminism, and ice cream.