The key visual - a plea for a marketing lens

Google "Key Visual"! There are dozens of definitions of the term, from Duden to marketing lexicons to Wikipedia - current articles are almost completely absent. Obviously, this topic is no longer considered important in brand management, in the discussion hype of Big Data, Content Marketing, Mobility etc.. This can have consequences. Neglecting this topic not only costs money but can trigger or accelerate the erosion of brand identities in the long run. How do you handle this issue for your brand?

People think in pictures and brands need a "face"

So far, nothing has changed about the fact that we humans predominantly think, perceive and feel in images. Likewise, the scientific finding still holds true that brands that distinguish themselves through strong and relevant images find it particularly easy to build relationships with their customers and retain them in the long term.

It is often postulated that the relationship between brand and customer functions similarly to the relationship between two people, in the interactive age more than ever. Then it is only "natural" and almost compellingly logical that brands are given a visual "face" that people can identify, to which they can orient themselves and decide whether they want to enter into and maintain a relationship with this personality. It doesn't matter whether it's B2B or B2C. Key visuals can be such a brand face.

Key visuals are real performers & workhorses

The increasing digitalization of advertising communication does not make this claim obsolete at all - on the contrary. In a world of multimedia stimulus and information overload and unmanageable complexity, key visuals also make people's lives a good deal easier. Key visuals are ultimately patterns. People have the ability to remember patterns and to quickly recognize and decipher them. Brand communication that is constructed as a pattern is associated with a brand faster, more sustainably and more effectively. Familiar campaign patterns are better recognized, recalled and understood than others and become more consistently anchored. Key visuals have been proven to mean more effectiveness and more profitability. Your service portfolio is considerable and one can expect a lot from you.

Key Visuals

  • communicate, because they signal what the brand stands for at its core, what makes it special. Chosen correctly, they are a strong identity-forming factor, they are the face of the brand.
  • condense, because they allow complex brand or product characteristics (rational and emotional) to be conveyed in a bundled form.
  • simplify, because they make the brand message striking and memorable and can have a rational and emotional effect in equal measure.
  • strengthen, because they help the brand to be more assertive in the advertising environment.
  • anchor, because pattern-oriented brand appearances are remembered better and more long-term. Brand communication is more and better assigned to the right brand.
  • link, because they bracket brand communication across the ever-increasing number of channels and create a high degree of synergy for the brand identity.

Key visual concepts can be constructed in very different ways. They can be single-image concepts with a recurring image or, for example, a key-visual mechanism in which a central element is repeatedly restaged (Marlboro Cowboy, Lila Kuh). It can be a whole brand world (Krombacher, Marlboro), a person (Ratiopharm Twins, Saturn Tech-Nick) or symbols and icons (the green windjammer from Becks), real elements or persons and equally artificial ones. Here are a few central points of orientation according to which a key visual concept should be structured:

1. Develop from the brand

Ideally, a key visual is developed from the brand identity or its central essence. The more organically it arises from this, the easier it will be for consumers to identify with it and understand it. Anything that has a tangible and recognizable inner logic will also be understood and accepted more quickly.

2. Give a meaning

The key visual is not just a pretty picture idea, but hopefully also a real message. It should convey a concrete benefit, whether emotional or rational. The purple cow is not only a likeable bovine animal, but embedded in the ideal world of the Alps, it signals high-quality raw materials (the good mountain milk) and traditional production competence. The Krombacher lake (as the brewery's house lake) stands for pure purity and the Marlboro cowboy for masculinity and freedom.

3. Pay attention to relevance

The meaning given to the key visual, the value proposition, must of course not only come from the brand, but it must also have relevance for the customer.

4. Simplify

A key visual means condensation. Overloaded with too much meaning, it doesn't communicate, it doesn't work, and it doesn't make its mark. Simplyfication is a recipe for success that should not be underestimated.

5. Use clichés too

Using clichés in communication is not platitudinous or trite. Clichés mean using established and learned images and messages for faster and more effective communication. Building on established life experiences and life wisdom works better and is cheaper than always starting the learning process completely from scratch. The success stories cited here are nothing more than just that. Don't worry, there remains infinite room for creative, independent and differentiating profiling even in the use of clichés.

6. Enable variability

One should not create the key visual as a dead end. The chosen image should allow the brand to be staged anew again and again, to transport new offers and new messages. This can be achieved if the key visual is designed either as a brand stage or as a changeable personality. Or the key visual is not understood as a one-dimensional image idea, but as a mechanism. The Ratiopharm twins are not just a key visual, but also a mechanism, a knitting pattern that allows a lot of variability and flexibility, even with changing actors.

7. Avoid overlapping

A key visual is not an end in itself. It must always lead as directly as possible to the brand in perception and association. Strong key visuals that are outstandingly effective but distract from the brand and its message are pointless. This can happen quickly, for example, if you rely on erotic signals. There's no herb against genetic conditioning. It's similar with celebrity endorsements. The stronger the celebrity, the greater the risk of overlay. Celebrities certainly have their advantages, but good ones are very expensive and consequently require a hefty advertising budget to make their use worthwhile. Good key visuals, on the other hand, are more affordable and usually more successful and sustainable than celebrity advertising.

8. Image and words

You can strengthen a key visual concept if you support it with a key message. Ideally, you create Siamese twins of enormous profiling power from image and word. See twins/Ratiopharm and "Good prices. Get well soon." or the iconic Dr. Best with "The smarter toothbrush yields." It's always worth thinking along these lines, too.

Key visuals are not creative products of chance, but the result of a targeted search as part of a strategic process. Powerful patterns do not fall to you. They need to be worked out - 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. Then they also offer the great opportunity to have a profiling, winning and lasting effect in the above sense. I love key visuals and find them more important than ever for branding and brand maintenance in a time of increasing disorientation, in the digital world as well as in the analog one. And they pay off, for your brand too. Let's not neglect them. Which key visual are you?

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