Elevate your E-Commerce Brand with Optimal Newness, Concrete Language, and Fluent Devices

Elevate your E-Commerce Brand with Optimal Newness, Concrete Language, and Fluent Devices

Nadeem Manzoor, Director of Innovation & Analytics | November 24 2023

Creating a lasting impression in today's fast-paced digital landscape is no small feat. With attention spans fleeting and consumer expectations as dynamic as the trends themselves, carving out a memorable brand identity is nothing short of an art form. How do you captivate an audience inundated with options, while making things feel fresh and new, yet provide them with the comfort of embracing the familiar?

In this article, we explore the delicate balance between familiarity and novelty, and the interplay between fluent devices and concrete language. When it comes to elevating your e-commerce brand, optimal newness, concrete language, and fluent devices are three critical elements that can help set your brand apart in a crowded marketplace. 

Let’s take a look at how e-commerce brands can revolutionize their branding game by mastering the art of optimal newness, concrete language, and fluent devices. 

Optimal Newness: Balancing Familiarity and Novelty

As humans, we’re wired to like things that feel new, but have a dose of familiarity. Consumers seek innovation, but too much deviation from the familiar can lead to resistance and fear. The sweet spot for e-commerce branding lies in finding the balance between the familiar and the novel.

Various studies support the idea of optimal newness as it relates to consumer behavior and preferences. Research findings demonstrate that consumers are more likely to embrace innovation when it aligns with their existing knowledge and experiences. 

For example, the cognitive ease and familiarity bias suggests that individuals are more likely to prefer information that is easy to process mentally. This phenomenon plays a very important role in consumer decision-making. When presented with a new product or idea that aligns with a consumer’s existing knowledge and experiences, that feeling of familiarity makes it mentally easier for them to process. They are more willing to accept the innovation and perhaps make a purchase. 

Furthermore, it’s a well-known fact that we are creatures of habit. Routines provide a sense of comfort and security. When a new product or service fits seamlessly into an existing routine or enhances it, consumers are more likely to adopt it. That ‘comfortable’ or familiarity feeling aligns with their lifestyle, and consumers are more willing to accept the new product or service.

Ultimately, optimal newness, which strikes a balance between novelty and familiarity, can trigger positive emotional responses and engagement in the brain. Consumers do not want a radical departure from the familiar but want something that feels new and fresh while aligning with their knowledge, habits, and routines. Brands that leverage these insights can enhance consumer acceptance and long-term success in the world of e-commerce. 

Understanding Apple’s Branding Strategy

Steve Jobs, Apple’s visionary co-founder, has openly studied human psychology, specifically how to get people to change and try new things. He argued that there are competing demands in people's lives that they are both attracted to the new and they also fear it, which has guided Apple’s branding strategy. Atlantic writer Derek Thompson said it best when he said that the goal to sell something is “if it’s familiar, make it surprising; and to sell something surprising, make it familiar.” 

One of Apple's ingenious tactics was the use of design skeuomorphism—incorporating familiar design elements into new technologies. This made the transition to novel products smoother for consumers, as they encountered the ‘new’ in a context they already understood.

You can see how this applies to some of Apple’s products like the iPhone and Mac. 

For example, the notes app on the first iPhone showed a lined yellow piece of paper like a normal legal pad spiral lining in the binding. It featured a handwriting font that made it feel like you were handwriting a note. While this design choice might feel random at first, it was very purposeful. It gave consumers an element of comfort. And, with a completely new and innovative product, Apple strategically chose to incorporate those familiar reminders.

Similarly, the original Macs featured a trash can on the computer desktop. To delete a file, you would drag it to the trash can and hear the sound of crunching paper. An animated piece of paper would be crunched up and thrown into the trash, just like you would throw a paper out in the trash underneath your desk. Not only did Apple leverage familiar visual cues, but they also used familiar sounds to make consumers feel comfortable. 

The Apple iPhone is a classic example of the MAYA Principle, a concept from the field of industrial design. First introduced by Raymond Loewy in the early 1950’s, MAYA stands for “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.” The iPod was released almost two decades ago, with just a fraction of the tech features we know and use today. With each new release of the iPod and the iPhone, Apple trained us as consumers to adopt new ways of behaving and using their technology.

If you were to compare the original 2007 iPhone to the newest iPhone, you would have two very different phones. We’ve seen changes like the removal of the home button and headphone port, shape changes, and size changes between bigger, smaller, and thinner, etc. However, the familiarity remains, but the app icons remain squares with rounded corners, the charging port location, and the Apple logo positioned on the back and center of every iPhone.

It’s easy to see that Apple’s success in the tech industry isn’t merely about cutting-edge gadgets – it's about creating a holistic brand experience that focuses on the importance of making innovative technology approachable and user-friendly. 

Optimal Newness: The Takeaway

Wondering how to apply optimal newness in your e-commerce branding strategy? Here are a few effective strategies you may be able to leverage: 

  • Incremental Product Innovation: Instead of making radical product changes, focus on incremental innovations that build upon existing products or services. This approach minimizes the perceived risk for consumers.
  • Approachable and User-Friendly Designs: Prioritize user experience in design, ensuring that any new features or changes enhance usability. 
  • Consistent Branding Elements: When introducing new features, maintain consistency in key branding elements like logos, color schemes, and messaging. A consistent brand identity will provide a familiar anchor amid the introduction of new elements. 

Concrete Language in Branding

The impact of language on consumer memory is profound. Concrete language, which conveys specific and tangible details, is more memorable than abstract language. 

In 1972, Ian Begg, from the University of Western Ontario created an experiment that started with him reading out 20 two-word phrases to listeners. Some phrases were concrete, like ‘white horse’ or ‘rusty engine,’ whereas others were abstract, like ‘basic theory’ or ‘apparent fact.’ 

Afterward, Begg asked participants to recall as much as they could. Unsurprisingly, people remembered 9% of the abstract words and 36% of the concrete words. 

Begg surmised that it’s because when we hear a concrete phrase, we can easily visualize them. In other words, it makes them “sticky.” In contrast, abstract words create no mental picture, slipping quickly from our memory. 

Creative and content teams can take note from this concept and communicate with clarity and specificity are more likely to leave a lasting impression on consumers. Avoiding unnecessary complexity will help consumers process and consume information, boosting recall and brand recognition. 

Apple effectively uses concrete language in its marketing. For example, when promoting the iPod, they emphasized "a thousand songs in your pocket" instead of focusing on abstract attributes like storage capacity. This powerful, simple, and concise statement was a huge competitive advantage for Apple. Competitor products touted storage capacity in gigabytes, which is much harder for a consumer to grasp. However, you can easily grasp that a device will hold 1,000 of your favorite songs.

The Takeaway: Concrete Language

Simplicity in communication is key and can have a powerful impact on how your brand is perceived and remembered. Here are some ways to use concrete language in your marketing creative:

  • Be Super Specific: Instead of using vague or abstract terms, use specific and descriptive language. A great example is instead of saying “high-quality materials,” specify “durable, organic cotton fabric.” 
  • Create Vivid Visuals: Paint a clear picture for your consumers with your language. Use descriptive language that touches all of the senses, conveying how your product might feel, taste, or smell. 
  • Tangible Comparisons: Make familiar comparisons to familiar objects that evoke emotions or sensory details. For example, a new fragrance or perfume might say that it smells “As refreshing as a crisp, fall morning.”
  • Avoid Jargon: Steer clear of industry jargon or abstract terms, especially if you are in a difficult to understand industry. Opt for straightforward, simple language to make things easier to understand. The more concise, the better. 
  • Focus on Benefits, Not Just Features: Consumers want to know, “What’s in it for me?” Clearly articulate how your product benefits the customer rather than simply stating a feature. 

Fluent Devices: Characters as Brand Anchors

Fluent devices, like characters or mascots, serve as powerful brand anchors and create lasting connections between brand and consumers. They can facilitate easier recall and recognition. Think Tony the Tiger, the Michelin Man, the Aflac Duck, or the Geico Gecko. 

Why are fluent devices so powerful? They serve as unique visual and emotional identifiers for a brand, which can be incredibly helpful in a crowded marketplace. For example, you may not be able to recall the name of an insurance company, but you know there is a cute little Gecko that’s tied to one. This distinctiveness is crucial for brand recall. 

Humans are wired to remember stories and characters far more effectively than abstract concepts. These characters and fluent devices provide a narrative and visual representation, making it easier for consumers to remember. As a result, it fosters a stronger connection with the audience. 

Finally, fluent devices and characters create a strong narrative for the brand. Fluent devices have the power to become protagonists in the brand’s narrative, allowing for engaging storytelling. Brands can leverage these stories across channels like social media, TV, or packaging, creating a cohesive and strong brand. 

The Takeaway: Fluent Devices

If you’re considering leveraging a fluent device like a mascot or character to create a lasting connection with your audience, here are some tips and considerations to keep in mind:

  • Personify Your Brand: Create a character that embodies the personality and values of your brand. Make sure the character resonates with your target audience and evokes positive emotions.
  • Be Consistent: Consistency is key. Ensure that your fluent device is integrated across all touchpoints. For example, Flo from Progressive appears across marketing channels like TV, social media, print, and more. This will strengthen the association between the character and your brand.
  • Humanize the Character: Develop a narrative around your character or fluent device. Share its backstory or experiences. This will help humanize the character and deepen the connection with your audience. You can leverage social media to create engaging content like memes, short videos, and user-generated content to bring your fluent device to life. 
  • Stay Authentic: Like most things in marketing, the key to successful fluent devices is authenticity. Ensure that your character aligns with your brand values and doesn’t come across as forced. 
  • Analyze ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ Metrics: Regularly assess how your audience is engaging with your fluent device and track metrics like shares, comments, and likes, as well as conversions, to guage its effectiveness.


Leverage Optimal Newness, Concrete Language, and Fluent Devices with the Experts at Function Growth

E-commerce brands can find success from embracing optimal news, and communicating with concrete language and fluent devices can help strengthen your brand strategy. By striking the right balance between the familiar and the novel, and by utilizing clear, straightforward language, brands can create a lasting impact in the hearts and minds of consumers. And, to boost recall and recognition, you can create a memorable character that connects with your audience. 

Want to learn more? Listen to our latest podcast on the Consumer Behavioral Lab where we discuss how Apple successfully utilizes behavioral science principles like optimal newness, concrete language, and simplicity to drive innovation. 

If you’d like to unlock the power of behavioral science to accelerate growth for your brand, get in touch with the experts at Function Growth. Function Growth uses behavioral science to supercharge growth for direct-to-consumer brands. They operate across a wide spectrum of services as a one-stop-shop and integrated strategic partner for brands with high growth potential. Get in touch with Function Growth today.