5 Visual Communication Tools that Build Brands

August 11, 2016 Debra Ruehlman



When you hear the term “product demonstration,” you typically think of a TV commercial showing how your product delivers its brand promise. Over the past 38 years, I’ve created hundreds of product demos for television for some of the leading consumer product companies, including Procter & Gamble, Keurig Green Mountain Coffee, and Unilever. But I’ve also developed several other creative ways to use visual communication, particularly video, to inspire R&D and creative work, test ideas, sell products, and communicate complex technology.

Here are 5 of my favorite visual communication techniques that help build brands:

1. Sights and Sounds

This is a video that highlights your product and how it is used. Every consumer touchpoint can be examined: product design, packaging, the in-store shopping experience, how the product is stored at home, and how the product is used. Video provides endless visual flexibility, from tight shots that examine complex technology to wide shots that demonstrate product use within context and location, and everywhere in between. You might think this methodology can only be applied to existing products. However, it is also an extremely powerful way to demonstrate concepts and ideas for products that don’t even exist yet. For example, one client with a very complicated product idea came to us asking for help. R&D was having a difficult time explaining the technology to their management, much less to people outside the organization. We created a Sights & Sounds video that visually communicated the product idea. This video not only sold the management team on moving forward, it was also shown to investors … and one investor bought 10% of the company!

2. Desired Consumer Experience

This video visualizes how your perfect product fits consumer desires. They are particularly helpful when emotional benefits are critical to category performance and brand differentiation. By design, they are inspirational and aspirational, and provide guidance not only for the initial product design and launch, but for on-going product improvements as well. For example, a consumer experience video that was shot in 1995 provided an R&D team with a clear understanding of the tangible and emotional benefits they needed to deliver from products targeted to address the needs of an un-served segment of category users. The initial product they designed, and each subsequent step-by-step upgrade moves them closer and closer to delivering the desired consumer experience demonstrated in the initial video, which continues to guide their work. Today, that product segment alone is a $5 billion business.

Although these videos are initially used as inspiration for product development, they can (and should!) also be used to gain internal management alignment, provide agency direction, for training, and in sales presentations to customers.

3. Concept Videos

Essentially concept statements brought to life, these videos set up a problem, provide a solution, the reason to believe and a benefit. They look a lot like TV commercials, but are not constrained by timing and are shot “quick and rough”, without expensive props, sets, locations or talent. Because of that, once the “problem” is shot, variations on how the solution is presented, talked about, and demonstrated can be made quickly and efficiently, allowing for testing of various production elements until the best combination is identified. Concept videos also help product development design and build products with greater consumer input: should it be pointed or flat? Pink or purple? Straight or curved? Video allows you to evaluate a broader range of features and attributes, as well as get input from a much larger sample of consumers, without the extra time and expense required to create and build prototypes.

4. Demo Exploratories

Established brands constantly need something new to say. New products often need to explain something complex in a short amount of time. You’re stumped and just not sure what to say or how to say it. Recall that one of Michael Mason’s 5 Principles for Creating Powerful Product Demonstrations is “Go Play!” Demo Exploratories are one way to do just that while tackling these tough communication situations.

A cross-functional team is brought together to ideate against a specific communication objective. The initial goal is to come up with as many different ways to visualize the desired message as possible, without the limitation of legal and protocol constraints. Go for quantity and strive for at least one really WOW! idea. Once all the ideas are captured, the team selects the top ones. Storyboards are created for these leading concepts and shot in a “quick and rough” manner: not perfect, but enough to understand the idea. These videos are then shown to consumers to help select the best ideas for further development and identify any changes that may need to be made. Now you are ready to go into full-up demo development. Take that one great idea and concentrate on making it perfect and legal, following established protocols. Why waste your time on developing protocols for a not-so-great idea?

Demo Exploratories are also used to identify the production elements that work best: which background best shows off your product? Which color of lipstick and what skin tone makes white teeth pop? Which surface best reflects your product’s glow? Which type of pie is the most appetizing? These are all things that can be checked out in a quick and cheap way, rather than when you have a high-priced director, crew, and talent standing around waiting to shoot a final commercial.

5. Signature Visuals

I believe that every brand should have a signature visual that they, and they alone, own.  It might include sound, as well.  These are powerful images that in one quick swoop communicate your brand name and benefit.  Examples are a bottle of Downy fabric softener falling into a pile of towels and bouncing up because the towels are so soft; the sound and the puffy dough that emerges when a tube of Pillsbury biscuits is opened; and the drop of Dawn dish washing detergent moving grease out of the way to reveal the brand logo. Ideas for signature visuals often come out of the work done for the Sights & Sounds, Desired Consumer Experience, Concept, and Demo Exploratory methodologies described above. They can then be confirmed through appropriate protocols and consumer research.

Video is a terrific tool for quickly demonstrating your ideas and can be used in a variety of creative ways to accelerate innovation, communication, and adoption. That said, visual communication isn’t limited to just video. There are also highly immersive and experiential methods to demonstrate your product and/or message.

For more information on new methods to increase your brand equity? Click here to watch the A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words webinar and see how we can help you develop powerful product demonstrations to help your brand grow! 


About Debra Ruehlman: Debra is a Visual Communication expert with nearly 40 years of experience, including 26 years with Procter & Gamble and 10 years as a Visual Communication Consultant for leading consumer product companies. Her career spans television production and writing, advertising production, and product development. She began her Procter & Gamble career in TV commercial production and then transitioned to upstream product development, where she worked with engineers, designers and product researchers to visualize and communicate complex technical concepts and ideas into easily-understood communications for management and consumer evaluation. A YourEncore expert since 2006, Debra helps clients bring their concepts and products to life through highly creative, innovative, and unexpected visual and experiential methods.


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