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Marketing folks often talk of the importance of developing a “brand image” or “corporate image,” since these images presumably help the brand from an equity standpoint. Bur rare on lips of marketing professionals is consideration of using “imagery.”

Images or Imagery?

A brand image is a mental model of what a brand stands for. Brand images are important, no doubt. But imagery is something different altogether—it's the process of representing something in our minds using our senses. Imagery occurs when we picture something in our minds and imagine the way it looks, feels, tastes, and so on.

Why should we care about imagery? Isn't this the domain of eggheaded cognitive psych academics? It sure it is, but we can learn a lot about how to make messages more memorable and persuasive if we try to understand what they've learned from years of research.

Imagine It - Understand It

Our academic friends show us that we've got to be concerned about putting too much information in ads. Too much information creates information overload—meaning that consumers aren't likely to either process ad information or remember it. Do those technically laden computer ads ring a bell here? But imagery isn't susceptible to overload. The reason is that the more information you are asking people to think about the more you are building on their imagery of the product. Details provide richness that builds the image. Richly developed images, in turn, help consumers better understand what the product is and why they might want it.

Imagine It - Remember It

Research has also taught us that we usually remember something better and for much longer periods of time if we imagine it. People asked to picture an apple, for example, compared to the word “apple” are more likely to remember apples, pick out apples from a list of objects they've seen on a previous task, and call them to mind when making a choice about what to eat. From a marketing standpoint, this means that whenever possible, we should get consumers to imagine our brand name, our brand logo, and benefits our brand can achieve since the imagery they evoke will create better brand name recall, higher brand recognition, better recognition of logos, and better claim recall—all very important communication objectives.

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image of Debbie MacInnis

Dr. Deborah J. MacInnis is the Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, and the co-author of Brand Admiration: Build a Business People Love. She has consulted with companies and the government in the areas of consumer behavior and branding. She is Theory Development Editor at the Journal of Marketing, and former Co-Editor of the Journal of Consumer Research. Professor MacInnis has served as President of the Association for Consumer Research and Vice President of Conferences and Research for the American Marketing Association's Academic Council. She has received the Journal of Marketing's Alpha Kappa Psi and Maynard Awards for the papers that make the greatest contribution to marketing thought. She is the co-author of a leading textbook on consumer behavior and is co-editor of several edited volumes on branding.