According to Psychology Professor Albert Mehrabian at the University of California in Los Angeles, when we communicate only 7 percent of meaning is received through spoken word, 38 percent through tone of voice and 55 percent through body language.
It’s a Golden Ratio of communication to which humans are naturally calibrated to whether we like it or not. This concept has been around for 40-odd years and over that time it has been applied by experts to all sorts of communication from advertising, to business deal-making to hostage negotiation. It’s proven.
The reason it works lies with how we humans process the world around us. We take in and respond to an external stimulus using three ‘filters’. The great majority of how we experience things is unconscious and instinctual, our second filter is emotional feelings and a distant third filter is our conscious thought. That means that we are hard-wired to relate to things primarily with unconscious impressions and emotions, rather than rational thinking. Furthermore, due to something called ‘confirmation bias,’ we often don’t apply rational thought all that objectively. Rather, we tend to emphasize evidence that supports our impressions and feelings.
The fundamental implication for the 7-38-55 Rule in marketing is that what we say is way less important than the impression we present. That means shoppers will respond to a product on a shelf mostly by the design impression it creates and less by messages on the pack.
In marketing, some like to think that shoppers read the label on packs earnestly forming decisions based on rational information. But that pales in comparison to the heavy impressionistic and emotional lifting delivered by design. Manufacturers might fret over quality and feature call-outs and on pack information, but the reality is that it is generally more important to themselves than the buyer.
For FMCG marketers, this means your first consideration for attracting shoppers should be how to create a distinctive and seductive visual impression that lures attention. If shoppers have to get up close and read the benefits of your product before seeing its value then your 7-38-55 Rule won’t be adding up.
The right type of impression and emotion for your brand to convey depends on how you manage three factors:
1. Start with the core drivers of the category
Every category has cues that people will relate to at a fundamental, instinctive level that tell people that this product has an inherent ‘rightness’. In baby products, parents are programmed to relate to a baby’s face. Cleaning products need to look bright and fresh. Food needs to look delicious.
2. Add nuance of the positioning you want your brand to have within the category
What is the part of the market you want to occupy? Do you want to look premium or cheap? Are you all about traditional family values? Are you presenting a scientific break-through?
3. Create elements unique to your brand
What is unique to your brand? How do you create a distinction with colour, symbolism, or form to stand out from competitors and not recede into the shelf? Brands like Coca-Cola, Pics, Lewis Rd Creamery, and T2 all benefit from an unmistakable brand identity within the context of their categories.
Applying the 7-38-55 Rule in your brand design is the key to winning shoppers at a distance with the right immediate impressions and feelings. You can’t rely on people to read the details on your pack. It’s not in our nature.