What comes first, the verbal nail or the visual hammer ?

By | August 12, 2017

In her book ‘Visual Hammer. Nail your brand into the mind with the emotional power of a visual’, Laura Ries, takes her basic proposition and then hits it so many times in so many ways that the Nail does get deep into your mind. Yes, VISUAL HAMMER matters.

I was wanting to read this book after a short but interesting presentation by the author Laura Ries at Gofest 2017. It was not something new; marketers and advertising agencies have known it for long, but no one, including Al Ries, could bring it in focus the way Laura did. No one ever denied the importance of right images for the right brand connect. Laura added the need of frequency, consistency and a strategic intent to it. ( Her session at Goafest 2017 was one of the Top 5 sessions)

Marketing is like Woodworking. No matter how good your hammer. You have to consistently hit your nail to make your brand successful. (Page 79).

Her father Al Ries gave the advertising and marketing fraternity the well used and abused concept of Brand Positioning that is still relevant after decades. And now Laura Ries in his first independent book brings in the “Visual Hammer”- the emotional link to the branding process and owning a particular image in the mind of target groups.

The use of a visual hammer and a verbal nail is a thread through the book and is well presented to drive home the point, thus giving the brand a strong relevant association of a visual, supported by words. Nevertheless, while the Hammer may be the force, the verbal slogan, though, idea that the brand must own is the Nail. And the Visual must support or take birth from it. What gets finally embedded in the mind is the nail. Hammer just acts as an effective device to push that in permanently.

The right nail with the right hammer working in tandem over period of time; yes, that is what you want to be doing with the brand.

Caution. Your LOGO and TRADEMARK are not the visual hammer. Visual Hammer must be a visual that says a lot more than what you see. It brings alive what the brand stands for. The pink ribbon (fight breast cancer), the Green Jacket (Golf masters), Coke and Absolut Bottle, Red Soles, Red Cross, Golden Arches all are Visual Hammer.

The 10 visual tools that the brands can use to develop and build their visual hammer are shape, color, product, package, Action, Founder, Symbol, Celebrity, Anninal and Heritage.

She stresses, ‘Take words versus visuals. Words are weak. Theyre not memorable, and they lack credibility. Conversely, visual hammers are memorable and emotional. (page 62)… Visuals are powerful because people tend to believe what they see and are skeptical of what they hear. Typical remark: I know Its true. I saw it with my own eyes. (Page 63).

This is true even in a country like India, where print is the most credible media and every day, we are exposed to visuals that keep dropping the trust quotient. The answer to this thought emerges on page 78 Unlike the visual hammers; verbal nails actually become more credible as time passes. Initially, consumers are skeptical of claims like BMWs “Ultimate Driving Machine’. … but over time and with repetitions ( and deliveries), the credibility of a verbal claim actually increases.’ Anyway the visual hammer is also an aid for the brand to associate and own a thought ( verbal) in the mind of the consumer.

The best way to further probe into the proposition is to walk through all the examples that Laura presents in her book. I have one issue. We are talking about Visual Hammer and all the images, including when we are referring to use of colour, etc. are in Black and White. What a fake!

She takes positions on well-known brands. She states her POV, as to what went wrong. In an unbiased but preacher style she suggests what could have been done in a very take it or leave it approach.

Mostly, it sounds good, but at some stage, it becomes an irritant.

Laura Ries comes with a very string belief not open to discussion. It is my way or no way approach. At the start, the image one has of her is of a very likeable teacher who is making all efforts for you to understand. Unfortunately, by the end of the book, she is the hard task master, the headmistress of the school you do not want to listen to. Did I get the ‘Visual Hammer’ right?

That does not take away from her quality narrative and a strong valid argument that is tough to find fault with.

Laura presents a case for the brands to be original, simple, developed for longevity, being first and prempt competition, unified hammer and nail pairing and a definitive need to select the precise verbal nail before selecting of the visual hammer,

When she says verbal ideas can get stronger as the years roll by, a reason for keeping slogan alive for decades. … Yet, Most of the American companies do the opposite. They keep changing thir slogan every few years. Its the unintended consequences if the annual slew of creative” awards… You cant be a successful advertising agency today unless you can win your share of awards. And you cant win an advertising award if you used last years slogan, Its not “creative.” That is its not new and different. ( Page 19) I will readily add the Indian Companies, short tenured CMOs and people believing that advertising campaign can solve any problem to the list.

Here is an advice that I keep giving to my clients. She puts it far better than I ever could. Marketers make a major mistake when they copy-test verbal slogans before using them. It doesn’t matter what a consumers first reaction is. … what matters is how consumers feel after they have heard your advertising slogan about 50 or 100 times.’ And she adds ‘But how can you know in advance how they might feel? You cant. But one rule of thumb is t make sure your visual hammer is strongly linked to your verbal nail’ ( page 79)





It’s common knowledge that marketing deals with three items- the spoken word, the printed word and the visual. The mind responds to each of them differently. Laura Ries explains it… to grasp the meaning of a printed word, you need to perform an extra step. You have to translate the visual symbol represented by the type into aural sounds your brain can understand. That takes time and effort… visuals are different. If you are attracted to a visual because of size, shape or its unusual character, it makes an immediate impression without the need for an aural translation.’ ( Page 136)

The problem is not usually the hammer. The problem is usually the lack of an effective nail. GET THE NAIL FIRST. Yes, the nail is more important, but the hammer is more powerful. Not an easy concept to grasp— that’s why LAURA RIES says she wrote the book.

Read it to refresh your own understanding. Maybe it will help you refocus on things you have become blind to. Things that may have been de-prioritised due to constant demand and crisis management or listening to the management rather than the brand. It does have reference to umpteen cases that you can use whenever the need arises.

By Indian standards, the price of the book (Cover price is Rs 832 and Amazon price isRs 625) is high. If you use Kindle, the Rs 247 is what you should opt for.

BLOG / 57/2017/book review/8

One thought on “What comes first, the verbal nail or the visual hammer ?

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