On the importance
of looking the part

(A marketing lesson from a bowl of chili)


Which tastes better to you?

You may have heard me from time to time harp on the importance of never mistaking a brand’s trappings for the brand itself.

This is not to say that brand trappings don’t matter. They do. To illustrate, I have invited a bowl of chili to join us.

A chef I know never serves chili without perching atop of it a fresh slice of shiny yellow bell pepper. Finding it hard to imagine that the slice contributes much in the way of flavor, I asked him why he bothered.

“A bowl of chili,” he explained, “isn’t much to look at. You don’t see still-life artists painting bowls of chili. The dash of yellow dresses up my chili and makes it look like it tastes better. If people expect it to taste better, it will.”

Do not scoff. Cheap wine with an expensive label fools even the experts. And audio cables with high price tags trick audiophiles into hearing a difference that isn’t there. It works the other way, too. Mix a few drops of blue or red food coloring into a bottle of milk. Blindfolded, the family would likely not notice the change. Drop the blindfolds, and watch how quickly everyone agrees that the milk doesn’t taste right.

In marketing, besides being what you claim (the brand), it’s important to look like what you claim (the trappings). Even the most cerebral and detached of us find it assuring when airline pilots show up in crisp uniforms, orchestra members don formal attire, and safari guides sport pith helmets.

Now consider a payment app. It’s a given that it needs to work and be easy, even a pleasure to use. But if you want people to embrace and use it, it must not just have but look like it has those qualities. This is where brand trappings come in.

Apps are not so different from food. While looking great cannot save an ill-conceived app, not looking appealing can do injustice to a great one.

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