Visual Hammer by Laura Ries: foreword to the Polish edition.

Jack Kotarbinski
8 min readMay 8, 2017

We live in the world of visualization. Textual content stops drawing our attention. We look for images, schemas, and user-friendly presentation of data, which allows us to understand it better. From the perspective of communication, marketing has always been a visual domain. The first advertisements were simply a picture. Where the recipients did not know any letters, alphabet or language, universal images always proved to be helpful. Today, when everything becomes “simple and smart”, visualization, i.e. infographic or clear-cut brand identification within a project, key visuals, standards or colour scheme, is omnipresent. The world of marketing is the world of the image. But how to ensure the highest position of one’s brand in the minds of the customers in such a world?

Not so long ago a large marketing campaign on the media was enough to position a brand. Nowadays, when we are bombarded with the advertising content almost everywhere, marketers face customers’ resistance or even their refusal to participate in the process of communication. Being present and standing out in the mind of a client poses a challenge for every brand. Marketing departments or advertising agencies have now a much greater variety of tactics enabling them to create transmedia advertising campaigns on multiple platforms. It seems that this potential is still not fully exploited in Poland and the standard advertising strategy involves physical presentation of the product, playing the “golden oldie” again and again.

Today, however, it is not about hammering a given message into the head of a customer, but about creating engagement, interest and willingness to follow the dialogue between the client and the brand. Aggressive and pushy advertising is not the best way to achieve this goal. Contemporary consumers will more often wish to eliminate it from their environment than to engage into any kind of interaction.

Brand positioning in our minds has always involved both the verbal and the visual elements. The image was combined with a catchword or a slogan. The history of advertising has from the very beginning been connected with visualization forming associations and conveying a particular message. This was how the clay Babylonian tablets advertising the services of a writer, a shoemaker or a vendor of healing ointments looked like.

Also in the ancient Pompei various inscriptions, signboards or notices advertising brothels, wineries or bath houses could be found.

For our minds the image has a much greater emotional load than written text or sound, and it is the emotions that create the fundamental bond. The concept of visual content presented by Laura Ries is based on the so called “nail”, which is the term used to describe the message positioning the brand in our minds, and the emotional “hammer” ensuring getting the idea into a customer’s head, which together with the nail creates a set of desired associations. A marketing message may concentrate on the advantages of the brand, the unique features of a product or its utility, but it may prove to be ineffective for a simple reason — it may not be visually associated in a proper way or even be inconsistent with the main growth strategy of a brand. Today it is a significant element for Polish firms which too often focus on yet another advertising creation (which sometimes happens to be quite peculiar) or on a specific idea for a campaign, but fail to concentrate frequently enough on a thoroughly designed and consistently implemented positioning strategy. My impression is that Polish marketers often attempt to use aggressive marketing and “push” the product onto the client who is going to try to avoid it in all possible touchpoints.

On the other hand, well-designed communication projects or ingenious campaigns quickly go viral on the Web.

The visual message diffused in social media can take various forms: Vine is for making short looping video clips, Snapchat gives its users a chance to create their own stories from what is going on around them, while Periscope lets you broadcast live videos. Marketers must understand the specific character of the tools of the transmedia world and be able to use them to communicate together with the agency. Nowadays every brand, in the same way as a personal brand, is a sender of its own story and the creator of finding a unique idea on how to reach an unambiguous position in a customer’s mind.

Customers have stopped paying attention to uninspiring brands. Competition in the marketing communication is so fierce that every sender strives to evoke particular associations in our minds. The race to stand out permanently and to unambiguously position a brand does not end. Brands seek their unique and authentic attributes which will help them create an emotional message. For some of them it will be unique innovations, while for others a true story and tradition. Polish brands take advantage of the power of their local character not often enough or have considerable problems with making it unambiguous and turning it into a “visual hammer”. Laura Ries emphasizes the unique potential of this element which helped to build the undeniable power of American brands. Polish marketers may find it very inspiring in the process of positioning their own brands.

The author also focuses on the key instruments used to create the right visual message, which include: simplicity of associations, the right colouring, packaging and symbols, the meaning of personal branding or elements of personification.

The simplicity of shape or form ensures that the visual is associated with the brand fast and without any ambiguity. Various social experiments have proved that we do not need to see the writing to recognize a product. The colouring of brands and packaging as well as the design and visualization of products is a broad issue which involves the psychology of associations evoked by colours, their combinations or the search for the one, unique solution. However, trademarking a colour or a composition of colours is not an easy task itself. The company needs to prove that a particular colour is clearly associated

by its customers with a given brand. Colour patenting has been possible since 1856 when a British chemist William Henry Perkin discovered aniline dye when trying to find a cure for malaria, thus contributing to the revolution in dyeing of textile products. Contemporary most well-known trademarked brand colours belong for instance to: Kraft Foods — purple for its Milka brand, Coca-Cola — red, Nivea — blue, Orange — orange, Red Bull — the colour combination blue/silver. A unique, exceptional colour or a combination of colours will always produce strong associations because the perception of colours does not require any special effort; it is easy, automatic, fast and universal.

It is a challenge for a marketer to design an exceptional product (or its packaging) so that it is possible for it to become a visual hammer. One inimitable example of such a design is the trademarked Coca-Cola bottle, which is recognizable in every part of the world. Other unique examples include: Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Desigual clothing, Louis Vuitton handbags, iPhones, Manolo Blahnik shoes or James Dyson vacuum cleaners. It is worth emphasizing the role of the Dyson brand, which reflects the idea and the style of its designer and focuses on the extraordinary visual value combined with a perfectly functioning product. These two unique features (design and quality) let the brand gain competitive advantage as well as the status of an exceptional and a one and only product. It is true that big brands have to deal with the problem of copying their style and imitation, but it does not change the fact that a brand which appeared as the first in its category (or established a new category) creates the standards for the first products of this kind. Such vision was projected by the iPhone design onto the entire category of smartphones produced today by a number of other brands besides Apple.

The search for key elements of the visual, emotional hammer also involves action and movement which are far from static and express the changeability with moving picture, animation or components ensuring unambiguous identification. While television is in this respect still a mass medium, the Internet provides unlimited opportunities of interaction. Modern technologies such as virtual reality, a great level of personalization or using thebig data, provide unique opportunities for the upcoming decade. Whether these opportunities can be fully taken advantage of, depends on the marketers. The boldness in the use of new technologies as well as the ability to create media attraction are now exceptionally positive elements of building competitive advantage.

Moreover, the “visual hammer” creates space for the role of bosses and company owners in the process of brand positioning. Laura Ries writes: “If you want your company to be known, make its president known as well.”

In 1980, during his trip to Japan, Steve Jobs asked the boss of Sony why all his employees wore uniforms.

Akio Morita answered that after the war people had not had clothes so the company had provided them with uniforms, which over time had become the company’s mark. Jobs thought that a similar idea may prove useful in Apple and so he asked the Sony designer, Issey Miyake, to create something distinguishing. The designer proposed vests, which did not generate enthusiasm among Apple’s employees. Nevertheless, Jobs still believed that such distinguishing feature is needed, even if he was to wear it himself. But he did not wear a vest. Instead, Miyake designed a black turtleneck which, paired with jeans, became a pop culture icon. According to Ralph Rucci, a fashion designer, combining these two apparel pieces is one of the most original outfits created in the fashion world. Contemporary bosses cannot be dull, bland or cloying. In the process of communication in the transmedia the “visual hammer” is necessary also in the context of brand ambassador or brand hero. Small firms in particular need to stand out in the media, which requires them to create their owners’ personal branding.

Brand positioning in the modern world, i.e. the “nail”, and communicating the brand, i.e. the “hammer”, require the use of unambiguous, visual metaphors, simplification and stories. Marketers strive to find simplification, but also to surprise their customer, to stir up unique emotions as well as to stand out and be permanently recognized on the market. Customers in turn are bombarded with myriads of messages every single day and they become a society of a millisecond in which any attempt to turn their attention to something must be quick and effective. Today doing this is much harder than it used to be — in the public domain of communication practically everybody competes with everybody. Brand positioning without a visual hammer, which makes customers’ associations unambiguous, does not stand a great chance of succeeding.

The book of Laura Ries is an excellent publication recommended primarily to all entrepreneurs, marketing teams, brand managers, advertising agencies and every person who wants to develop their brand in a professional manner.

Highly recommended.

Jacek Kotarbiński | @kotarbinski |

Visual Hammer. Nail yout brand into the mind with the emotional power of visual,

© 2015, Laura Ries

Polish edition copyright © 2016 by Helion S.A.

Wizualny Młotek by Laura Ries

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Jack Kotarbinski

Economist, Keynote Speaker, Best-Selling Author, Marketing & Innovation Strategist, digital influencer, blogger, entrepreneur, top columnist Forbes Polska