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A TCI Book Review

Marketing Aesthetics - The Strategic Management of Brands, Identity and Image

Bernd Schmitt and Alex Simonson
Free Press, New York, 1997

Marketing Aesthetics provides an excellent framework with which to assess marketing identity issues, as well as offering many relevant examples of practice in the field. It is quite definitely a new approach to the issue. ".. this book may be viewed as a natural extension of the literature on branding. It moves far beyond this by offering an entirely new management approach to the field of marketing, a new marketing paradigm. Marketing in the past has focused on isolated attributes and benefits. Then came the "branding phase", with a broad consideration of brand positionings but with - except for names - few guidelines for specific actions. This book focuses on the experiential benefits provided by a company or brand as a whole and the aesthetic planning that is essential to developing and implementing a corporate or brand identity. we move beyond the "brand" to the overall aesthetic associated with the product or service, i.e. the entire "trade dress" of the product or service." (pp. xiii, xiv)

The first two sections of this book present a very clear set of concepts and a useful framework within which to address the whole fuzzy area of brand, image and identity. The overall framework that the authors use is that corporate expressions create customer impressions, and that if you manage corporate expressions properly, you can create the sort of customer impressions that will enhance desirability of a company, product or service and thus develop sales.

"We coined the phrase "marketing aesthetics" to refer to the marketing of sensory experiences in corporate or brand output that contributes to the organization's brand identity." (p. 18)

They list several reasons why a company should be concerned about its overall image and identity, arguing that aesthetics can create tangible value for an organization. This is because:

  • aesthetics creates consumer loyalty
  • aesthetics allows for premium pricing
  • aesthetics cuts through information clutter, increasing the memorability of the visual marks of the company, which in turn increases its chance of selection at the point of purchase
  • aesthetics affords protection from competitive attacks
  • aesthetics can save costs and increase productivity, as employees and outside suppliers need to spend less time in creating new layouts and messages
The authors distinguish between the marketing of a brand for a product or product line ('brand identity', and the marketing of an overall image and identity of a company ('corporate identity'). They identify three basic situations for corporate and brand identity:
  1. a monolithic identity, where individual products or companies do not have their own brands or identities: all are subsumed under the overall dominant corporate identity of the corporation
  2. a branded identity, where the brand identities of products or product lines (or even of individual companies within a conglomerate) are featured, and the identity of the parent company is not present in the marketplace
  3. an endorsed identity, which is a hybrid situation where both the parent company and individual products and product lines have identities that reinforce and strengthen one another

Corporate or brand identities are expressed through what they term 'the 4 Ps of aesthetics' which are:


Aesthetic Identity
1. Properties

retail spaces
company vehicles

2. Products

specific attributes of the good or service

3. Presentations


4. Publications

promotional materials
web site
business cards

According to Schmitt and Simonson's formulation, corporate and brand identities are created through styles and themes, which combine to form the expression desired. Styles are sensory (visual, auditory, olfactory or tactile) expressions of an organization's or brand's identity; themes are messages that communicate the values of the organization or the personality of the brand.

Styles can be further thought of as being comprised of 'primary elements':

Style Dimensions Primary Elements and Examples of Meanings

colour (blue is cool and relaxing; red is 'hot' and exciting)
shape (round and amorphous is soft and cosy; square is analytical and hard)
typeface (forward-angled letters denote motion and intent; 'old fashioned' letters evoke traditional associations)


material (silk is sensual; vinyl is practical and inexpensive)
texture (embossed business cards imply expensive professionalism)


loudness (loud sounds imply authoritarianism; quiet sounds imply persuasiveness)
pitch (high pitches imply urgency)
meter (fast beats imply urgency)
melodies (can evoke moods)

Taste and Smell

various dimensions

The authors identify four different style dimensions, which convey different meanings and messages. These style dimensions are:

style dimension #1 - complexity: Minimalist, stark designs may convey impressions of simplicity, elegance, efficiency, etc. while complex images may have traditional or luxurious associations (e.g. Laura Ashley's ornamentalism).

style dimension #2 - representation: This dimension reflects realism at one end and abstraction on the other. While there has been a strong trend towards abstraction in the past several decades, the authors note that some companies are using the design of their public areas (lobbies, buildings) to create representational images of their product or service (e.g. the Disney complex in Florida, where individual buildings reflect familiar images and characters from Disney movies).

style dimension #3 - movement: This dimension reflects how dynamic the organization or brand wishes to appear. Examples of movement conveyed through this style dimension include the Nike 'swoosh' and the FedEx arrow (which is hidden in the logo).

style dimension #4 - potency: This dimension refers to whether an image comes across as strong and aggressive or weak, subdued and quiet. Certain images are designed to be perceived to be loud and 'in your face' (used car and jewelry ads come to mind) in order to capture the attention of consumers. Other images strive for potency through reference to very powerful symbols or established identities (e.g. the Infiniti logo, which is a stylized representation of Mt. Fuji, Japan's most sacred mountain).

Themes act as 'mental anchors' or reference points. They are the explicit messages that are expressed overtly to the consumer (while the style messages are expressed more subtly). Themes can be names, symbols, story lines (narratives), slogans or jingles, concepts (e.g. General Motors' Saturn, which expresses an overall idea of simplicity and integrity to the consumer), or any combination of the above. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages, which the authors summarize as follows:




providing anchors
short and easy to recall

difficult to change
difficult to globalize

● attention-getting
● easy to transfer to other cultures

● can get outdated
● can be ambiguous


● express life styles
● involving

● take time to understand and process
● can easily be imitated

Slogans or Jingles

● memorable even after years
● highly involving
● catchy

● slogans are difficult to translate
● different music appeals to different people


● often innovative
● grand and encompassing

● abstract
● difficult to communicate
● not legally protectable

Combinations of Elements

● create complex themes
● provide multiple anchors and cues

● can be overwhelming
● can contain incongruity

One key strategic choice facing an organization with many products, brands of services, is whether to pursue one theme or several. "A company may choose one powerful representational theme that summarizes its central positioning. Or it may create a multitude of themes that simultaneously represent different aspects of the organization. The strategic choice between a single and multiple themes often depends on the breadth of a company's product line and on how uniform the company wants to appear to its constituents (e.g. customers or end users)." (p.150)

The use of styles and themes combine to create overall customer impressions, that in turn can reinforce certain overall 'representations' that the organization or brand might wish to convey. Schmitt and Simonson discuss such representations that occur over and over again in the business world, including:

  • time (relation to past, present, future)
  • space (city/country; east/west)
  • technology (machine/hand made)
  • authenticity (authentic/derivative - that is, borrowing the core symbols or imagery of another identity)
  • sophistication (cheap/refined)
  • scale (grand/small-scale)
Each of these representations evokes certain images and associations, and thus helps shape the impression of the organization or brand in the mind of the customer. Identity management is the art of juggling all these factors in order to arrive at a consistent and meaningful expression of the organization or brand that will have 'equity' - tangible value to the company.

The third section of the book discusses techniques for measuring and protecting aesthetics. The use of standard market research techniques is discussed (quantitative and qualitative analyses, to discern patterns in awareness, attitudes and buying behavior), as are various measures that an organization can take to protect its identity. (Many of these apply only in the United States.)

Part 4 of the book discusses comprehensive identity management, and introduces various situations where identity management can be expanded to other areas. Chapters are devoted to global identity management (which demands a recognition that different cultures and traditions may regard identity elements quite differently); the management of identity in a retail context; and identity management in the Internet.





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