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OPINION19 February 2019

Behavioural science brand building

Behavioural economics North America Opinion

Drawing on neuroscience and behavioural science principles can help when evolving brand logos writes Hotspex's Jonathan La Greca and Dr. Dan Young.

Mastercard recently modified its brand logo to improve its visibility across digital. According to Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s chief marketing and communications officer, the brief was to deliver simplicity, connectivity, seamlessness and modernity.

This is the outcome:


As an insights leader, what are your thoughts on this strategy and what might you learn from this that could be applicable to your brand? Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with this brand identity evolution, it is interesting to note that several well-known brands have simplified their logos over time.

Here are just a few examples and keep in mind that the before and after includes several gradual changes over time, not a direct change. 


There are some behavioural science and brand building principles that you should consider ahead of a logo or brand identity redesign.

Here are four considerations:

  1. Our brains prefer visuals over words. It’s generally true that visuals are processed more fluently than words. This leads to quicker and less effortful processing. Less work means more positive associations. It’s also been shown that simpler visuals are processed more easily and positively than complex visuals. 
  1. Our brains enjoy solving simple puzzles. Our brain like to fill in gaps.  Research on problem solving shows that consumers get emotional rewards in the form of a dopamine boost when they solve problems. Activation of positive affect related brain areas in the prefrontal cortex have also been observed when consumers solve simple problems. Logos that leave a consumer filling in a few simple gaps may lead to mental rewards that feel good at a non-conscious level.

  2. Our brains are attracted to novelty. If you go back 200,000 years, we needed to find fresh food, water, and shelter, so our brains are wired to be attracted to new things. The trick to novelty is not to make it so unfamiliar that it triggers fear, but new enough that it sparks excitement and interest. This is the tension that brand builders face in creating a distinctive brand that evolves enough to stay relevant to consumers but is familiar enough that it doesn’t require excess processing efforts.
  1. Our brains use context to make sense of the world. Context drives perception. Anytime marketers change their brand, the biggest concern is that the new executions won’t trigger the brand automatically. To support this transition, marketers should take advantage of the fact that the brain always processes information relative to context and past experiences. Identifying other distinctive brand assets and the common contexts within which consumers expect to see the brand will help the activation of the brand.

The next time you are refreshing your packaging or launching a new product and trying to determine which elements of your master brand you should incorporate, the marketing team should ask the following questions:

  1. Who are our consumers and what drives their behaviours?
  2. What makes your brand distinctive?
  3. What elements of your brand identity are distinctive brand assets and must not be touched?
  4. Which of your brand identity elements need to be evolved and how do you go about doing it?
  5. Which brand identity elements are holding your brand back and should be removed?

Jonathan La Greca is vice-president strategic growth and Dr. Dan Young chief behavioural scientist at Hotspex.

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