A brand is an intangible asset. The power and value of a brand lie within the sum of its parts, which can be made up of anything from a logo to the way a website chatbot greets customers, culminating in the knowledge that when you choose a certain brand, you know exactly what sort of feeling and experience to expect. And while the power of brand recognition is incredibly difficult to quantify, there’s no doubt that a strong brand has the potential to influence behavioral changes and purchase decisions.
That’s why building a brand that can be easily recognized is so crucial. Is your brand easily recognizable? Below, we look at some of the biggest brands in the world and what you can do to aid familiarity and boost recognition among your target audience.
What is Brand Recognition?
Brand recognition refers to consumers’ ability to identify and distinguish your brand from another brand through sensory cues — such as visual, auditory, or even tactile — rather than by explicitly seeing or hearing the company or brand’s name. Logos, colors, slogans, packaging, jingles, and even such things as scent, taste, or the way a product feels or sounds, can all contribute to better brand recognition.
Think of the McDonald’s golden arches. You only have to see one curve to know what you’re looking at and what it represents. Luxury car brands pay close attention to details such as the sound a door makes when it closes, all in the name of the brand experience and all contributing, if subtly, to the brand’s ability to be distinguished from its competitors.
Brand Recognition vs. Brand Awareness
Although they’re related, brand recognition is not to be confused with brand awareness. While brand awareness refers to a person’s knowledge that a brand exists, brand recognition is how well people can identify your brand via visual and audio cues. However, don’t choose one over another as brand awareness leads to brand recognition.
Think of it this way: If you didn’t know that Amazon existed (brand awareness), you wouldn’t be able to identify the online retail giant by simply looking at that curved, right-pointing arrow (brand recognition).
How to Build Brand Recognition: Learning From The Best
Recognition of brand doesn’t sprout from nowhere. It’s something you have to build and consistently work on. But how? Start with refining the key visual and audio elements of your brand, ensuring they represent your brand identity. Then focus on establishing these consistently and cohesively throughout all facets of your business.
A brand’s logo is arguably the most important element, and the two terms are often used interchangeably, as people struggle to distinguish a brand from its logo. To create a truly recognizable logo, consider the following:
For your logo to be recognizable, it should be unique. Avoid the risk of being mistaken for a competitor by ensuring your logo speaks specifically to your brand and what it represents.
No other computer brand has an apple for a logo besides Apple. If we weren’t already familiar with Apple products, we might think it bizarre to associate a piece of fruit with a tech giant, yet somehow, it works — because Apple made it work.
At a time when fussy tech logos were the norm, Apple chose a simple design, completely unique in its sector, that made it impossible for consumers to mistake it for another brand.
It can be tempting to cram so many details into your logo, such that it represents all aspects of your brand personality and the promise it makes to customers. Yet some of the world’s most recognizable brands have succeeded with the most simple, minimal designs. Take the universally recognizable Nike “swoosh” for example.
An incredibly straightforward visual cue, yet so much meaning can be inferred from it. It resembles an upwards tick, almost saying “yes!”, while also representing acceleration, motion, power, and speed, and being different enough from a regular check mark that you’d never mistake it for anything but Nike.
A wordmark or logotype refers to a logo that’s made up only of the letters of the brand name, without additional symbols or icons. This classic approach to visual branding aids recognition, as the brand name itself becomes a visual cue. The typeface of each letter becomes synonymous with the brand. Many of the world’s most recognizable brands use wordmarks, such as IBM, ebay, Disney, and FedEx.
Consider one of the world’s biggest brands, Google. The Google brand is so well established in consumer minds that we can glance at almost any one of its daily doodles and instantly recognize it as Google, despite the fact that the doodles are created by different artists and are often quite obscure. Were the logo not a wordmark, Google couldn’t have had as much fun over the years stretching the boundaries of what’s possible with the doodles.
The choice of colour in brand imagery is just as important as the logo itself. It can be treated as its own visual element, as a brand’s signature colors will appear in places where the logo may not always be, such as a website background, social media content, and in-store design elements such as wall paint or cash register panels. Color is such a powerful visual cue for brands, that there are some famous brands that can be recognized purely by its color scheme alone.
If you saw the signature blue and yellow of the IKEA brand, without seeing the logo, do you think you would recognize it? What about the red, orange and yellow of Mastercard? These iconic color combinations are powerful elements that have established these brands among some of the most recognizable in the world.
Do you think you could tell the difference between Facebook blue, Twitter blue, and LinkedIn blue? You may surprise yourself! Without even being conscious of it, we learn these brand and color associations simply by being exposed to them so frequently.
When choosing brand colors for your brand, make sure to do plenty of research into the psychology and perception behind colors and what we tend to associate with different hues, and try to choose something that hasn’t already been used in your industry or sector, particularly by one of your competitors.
Taglines and Slogans
Another important visual and auditory brand element that helps establish brand recognition is the tagline. What do you think of when you read “Because you're worth it”? What about “Finger lickin’ good”? The taglines are world famous, and instantly recognizable as belonging to L’Oreal and KFC.
A slogan is similar to a tagline, although typically more associated with advertising or product campaigns rather than company branding. Play around with some possible taglines and see what sticks. Even small businesses often have highly effective taglines that are recognizable within their industry or niche.
When you hear “Ba Da Ba Ba Bah”, you already know what’s coming. Not only do you know it’s McDonald’s, you may already be thinking about french fries. The “I’m lovin’ it” jingle has been incredibly successful in establishing auditory brand recognition for the global fast food giant. Jingles are powerful auditory cues when it comes to establishing and building brand recognition.
Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHOpsI2brHE
A well written, catchy jingle has the potential to stick with people, and even become associated with fond childhood memories that last a lifetime. While TV advertisements are less popular for smaller brands, jingles can still be used in audio advertising and social media, so it’s definitely worth considering.
Similar to jingles, but not quite the same, associating your brand with original brand music or existing songs by famous artists is another way to create auditory cues that can contribute to brand recognition. When a brand incorporates one song across a range of branding campaign materials, the song often becomes synonymous with the brand in peoples' minds, so that when we hear that song on the radio or in other contexts, we can’t help but think of the brand.
Levis is a brand that frequently licences music to accompany ad campaigns. Brands should be cautious about which songs they choose to work with and focus not just on impact but on uniqueness. Along with multiple TV shows, both Kia and Calvin Klein used Billie Eilish’s popular track “Bad Guy” in international branding campaigns, not to mention the number of brands who have licensed the track for domestic campaigns in various countries around the world.
In addition to visual and auditory cues, the world’s most recognized brands often combine other elements to appeal to and create associations and familiarity through multiple different senses, striving to establish an emotional connection.
You know the smell that fills your nose as you walk past a Subway restaurant. While Subway denies intentionally pumping the smell outside, it’s an extremely valuable and distinctive element of their overall brand, and many people can instantly recognize it as the smell of Subway.
The marketing team behind Abercrombie & Fitch, on the other hand, purposefully have the signature scent “Fierce” sprayed throughout their stores and on their clothing via fragrance distributors installed in the ceilings. The scent is a powerful olfactory cue that distinguishes the brand from competing brands and stores and would be instantly recognizable to those aware of the brand and the scent.
While you may not be able to create a signature fragrance to purposefully pump throughout stores, it’s worth considering what unique scents people may associate with your brand. A company that produces leather goods, for example, may want to be aware that part of what customers love about their brand is the smell of the products or the store. Or, on a smaller scale, an independent yoga studio may find that if they usually burn a particular type of incense, their clients associate that smell with their experience at that particular studio. If the studio changes the incense, or the client goes to another studio, the experience is different. Even the most subtle changes can have an impact.
Where possible, companies are beginning to introduce haptics into their branding efforts. Smartphone brands have started to offer haptic feedback via the touchscreens. For example, when setting an alarm on an Apple iPhone, the phone mimics the feeling of a mechanical wheel clicking over. Considering smartphones have become essential products that are integrated into our daily lives, these subtle yet delightful details have a big impact on branding, and a user would be able to recognize instantly whether the haptic feedback they were receiving was that of an Apple product or another brand, such as a Samsung.
The World’s Most Recognizable Brands
In order for brand recognition to work, companies need to find ways to help people remember and recall their brand, and apply those across all facets of the business. Sometimes this goes beyond those sensory cues and into other areas that require something much, much bigger.
Apple: Products we can’t live without
Looking again at Apple, the big tech innovator. Apple is a global branding success story, recognized all over the world. Apple has achieved this not only through a simple, unique logo and clever use of music and haptics.
Apple has also achieved an ecosystem of products that are integrated into daily life and make us feel more connected. That feeling of connectedness, of I-can’t-live-without-it necessity that we feel towards our iPhone, MacBook, iPad, and the seamless way these products integrate with one another, is something that establishes brand recognition through resonance.
The strong feelings people experience, the attachment they feel to their Apple products goes far beyond what other clever brand elements the company creates. While the branding itself is exceptionally well designed and thought through, it’s difficult to say whether it would have become so recognizable had it not been for the innovative products and the iconic leader of Steve Jobs — who was a brand in and of himself?
Coca-Cola: Consistency and tradition
The brilliant red logo of the Coca-Cola brand has hardly changed in the almost 130 years since it was created. Aside from a few minor tweaks and refinements here and there, Coca-Cola has retained the same colour, typography, and imagery throughout its lifetime as a brand. This long history of consistency in visual branding elements has contributed to how famously recognizable it still is today, as well as giving it a strong sense of stability and tradition.
Once you find a good thing, it’s okay to stick with it. You don’t always have to update and rebrand, in fact, rebranding can often go wrong. Make sure to understand what your brand means to people, and if you want to build brand recognition, perhaps look to other areas before drastically changing the color or logo.
You can design the best logo, create the best jingle, and write the best tagline, but you must put them to work for you in every possible way if you want to establish brand recognition. These brand elements should be present at every touchpoint of your brand, from the website to the packaging. If your visual brand elements don’t align with your logo, it provides an inconsistent brand experience, weakening the brand and undermining its brand integrity.
Take clues from the most recognizable brands in the world and aim for a combination of sensory cues, to establish an emotional connection between your brand and the people it reaches, in order to build and maintain brand recognition that reinforces awareness and allows your brand to stand out above the rest.