Psychology Of Branding (Dustin Stout)

Dustin Stout


What are we talking about when we talk about visual psychology? What does that mean?

A working theory that I have is actually rooted in a study about music. Why do human beings love music so much?

Scientific studies have discovered that when humans recognize a pattern and we can identify what’s going to happen next, our brain actually rewards us with a dopamine hit. They think it’s an evolutionary survival thing: when we learn to predict our environment—identifying predators, prey, and signs of danger or pending danger—we can better survive things.

So how does that tie into the visual cortex of our brain?

The music part of it is obvious: music has patterns, and when we recognize those patterns, our brain rewards us. I think the same is true with visuals. It would help explain why we’re so drawn to brands that have really great—not just great, but consistent—visual representation: because our brain rewards us.

When we recognize the brand immediately, our brain doesn’t have to do all these calculations and try and figure out who posted this, because we recognize the colors on the logo or whatever it is.

That’s why visual branding and visual consistency is so important: not only are you making it easy for your brand or your audience to understand and interpret, but you’re literally giving them an extra dopamine hit by staying consistent.

If you’re just getting started with your visual branding, what are some things you want to make sure you give thought to, and some applications for making sure the stuff you decide on is going to work?

First: if you haven’t done the work of putting together a brand style guide, you absolutely 100% should.

Visual branding is highly important, and it’s not just about wanting to look good; it’s about wanting to present things in a way that your audience becomes addicted to. You want your audience to fall in love visually with your brand and to get as much joy out of consuming your content as possible. Choosing the right colors, and understanding how colors play into our psychology, is a huge part of that.

You might also be interested in:
Psychology Of Color

There’s one tool that I go to every single time it comes to branding for a new client or creating a new set of social graphics that involves a consistent pattern: Coolors.co, this wonderful color palette generator where you just hit the spacebar and it generates random color palettes. Or you can pick one color, which is what I typically do if I have a specific brand color in mind, and then you can lock it and it will generate a palette that matches and compliments that initial color.

Once you have your brand color palette, and some idea of what you want to visually communicate, the next thing is to find a way to execute and implement your visual brand identity and put it into a set of social graphics, a website, and all sorts of other things that you can present and give freely to your audience so that they just want more from you. Obviously there are lots of tools out there that can help you out with this. I’m very biased towards my own tool, SoVisual.co, but there are also other easy tools out there like Canva.

But there’s more to it than just the color palette or logo. There’s also little characteristics and personality traits that your brand will have, and those can be accentuated by your visual choices. Whether you’re building a website, graphic, ad, or brochure, you want to always make sure that these traits are incorporated.

So how do you find these little choices that you have to make to create a consistent brand? That comes from first and foremost knowing who your audience is.

One of the examples I love to give is a client that I had one time—we’ll call her Maggie.

Maggie was a financial planning coach. She told me that her target audience was typically males between the age of 55 and 65 who have some money and are thinking about retirement and financial planning for their future. Great; that’s a nice, tight direction. I came up with three or four different brand color palettes, type treatments, logo treatments; I don’t know how many different total combinations I presented to her.

She didn’t like any of them.

The reason she didn’t like any of them is because—and she hadn’t told me this in our initial meeting—she was dead set on incorporating the color pink into her marketing. Not a dark pink or a light pink, but bright fluorescent pink. As much as I love the color pink—I think I look great in the color pink, I wear it all the time when I’m not wearing my red—men in their forties and fifties, especially at that time, would not have seen it as a color they would necessarily respond to.

I gave her many different reasons why we should consider other color palettes. I gave her all of this evidence—not just my personal opinion, but data and science psychology. She didn’t want to hear any of it. Unfortunately, we had to part ways; I refunded her initial deposit, and told her I thought she’d be much happier with someone else.

All that to say, it’s extremely important to understand who your target audience is. Is your target audience somebody who embraces femininity? Are they a little rough around the edges? Does your target audience have a snark to them, or are they a little bit edgy? Are they a little bit more clean and conservative? All of those traits of your audience should inform the traits that you bring into your brand.

I got my start early in the early 2000s doing graphic design for my church. Back then, the cool thing in churches was being grungy, and everything was really edgy—all of our graphics were catering to that style. Fast forward to the 2010s, and minimalism became really big design-wise. A lot of the branding and the visual styling had to change just to meet the audience. So really talk to your audience, figure out who they are as people, what their personality traits are, and try to communicate those personality traits visually.

What does it look like for for a 35-45 year old who is in social media on the daily and loves posting on Reddit? How would that translate to visual elements? Would it be sharp elements or would it be rounded elements? Would it be jagged and sort of organic elements; would it be clean lines? What personality traits would you be able to garner from your audience and articulate into visual elements? That’s where you have to start, and you’ll get ideas. Do that exercise and undoubtedly you’ll come up with, “Oh, I think I think our audience really likes…our audience is very…”

I’ll go from our current brand. Right now we’re creating a product that helps people design who want nothing to do with design. They are very simplicity-oriented people. They want things very clean and clear, and they don’t want extra fluff or mess. And so from a visual standpoint, we focus on cleanliness, on clearly articulated messaging, on elements that have clean lines, not necessarily organic or edgy—everything’s very clean cut.

For your brand, you need to really do that investigative work and see what kinds of visual elements or styles would resonate with your target audience.


Dustin Stout @dustin
Entrepreneur, visual marketing, and social media. Founder SoVisual.co. Every day, :point_right: forward. I will not be out-GIF’d.


Tell Us Below:

What do you think your visual branding conveys?

My branding conveys fun and openness. Orange glasses represent my heritage (the Netherlands) and the rest of my brand and voice are ‘you see is what you get’. No fancy smoke screens, no extra fees for being fancy. Just plain help with social media, delivered with a smile.

1 Like

Your smile conveys that, too, Dorien! :heart:

1 Like