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The Law of Prägnanz

When building a business and brand one of the hardest things to do is to keep things simple.

The Law of Prägnanz and also known as the law of simplicity, is a fundamental principle of psychology. Prägnanz is loosely translated from the German as "conciseness". It suggests that people tend to perceive the world in the simplest and most organised way possible. In other words, when we are presented with complex and ambiguous information, our minds automatically try to simplify and organise it into a more coherent form. This is so we can manage it mentally. Recall it. Make decisions swiftly because of it.

The principle of Prägnanz has numerous applications in psychology, design, and branding, and can be used to create more effective and impactful brand positioning strategies. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of Prägnanz and discuss how it can be used to guide strategic brand positioning decisions.

What is Prägnanz?

The principle of Prägnanz was first introduced by Czech-born psychologist Max Wertheimer (1880-1943) in the early 20th century. Wertheimer was interested in understanding how people perceive and make sense of visual patterns and forms, and he conducted a series of experiments to explore this phenomenon.

Wertheimer observed that when people are presented with a complex visual pattern, they tend to group the elements into a more simple and organised form. He identified several principles that govern this process of perceptual organisation, including proximity, similarity, continuity, closure, and symmetry.

The principle of Prägnanz is a generalization of these principles, and it suggests that people tend to perceive the simplest and most organised form of a visual pattern. This principle is sometimes called the law of simplicity, because it reflects the tendency of our minds to seek out the simplest and most parsimonious explanation for the world around us.

In short. If we want our brand to land in our customers mind, we need to keep things simple. We need to communicate what it is we stand for. And we need to then do that one thing well.

"The law of Prägnanz... asserts that every stimulus pattern is seen in such a way that the resulting structure is as simple as possible." - Max Wertheimer, 1923, "Laws of Organisation in Perceptual Forms"

Applying Prägnanz to Brand Positioning

The principle of Prägnanz has important implications for brand building and positioning. It suggests that people are more likely to remember and respond to brands that are presented in a simple and organised way. When brands try to communicate too many messages or ideas at once (a classic mistake!), they can overwhelm consumers and make it difficult for them to understand what the brand is really about.

It's important to know what you would like to stand for in the customers mind. As my readers will know I define a brand as "the meaning audiences attach to you and your offering". Branding is "the management of that meaning". The principles of Prägnanz are therefore essential. We have to keep things simple.

Here are some ways that the principle of Prägnanz can be applied to brand positioning:

1. Focus on a single "big idea" or message

The most effective brand positioning strategies are often those that focus on a single, simple idea or message. I call this "the big idea". This idea should capture the essence of what the brand is all about, and it should be communicated in a clear and concise way.

For example, the Nike brand is all about empowering athletes to achieve their goals. This message is communicated through the brand's iconic slogan, "Just Do It," which captures the spirit of determination and perseverance that is central to the Nike brand.

2. Use clear and simple language

When it comes to brand positioning, clarity is key. Brands that use complex or convoluted language (AKA 'Jargon') can confuse consumers and make it difficult for them to understand what the brand is all about.

Using clear and simple language can help to ensure that consumers understand the brand's message and can easily remember it.

For example, the Apple brand is all about simplicity and elegance. This message is communicated through the brand's clean and minimalistic design, as well as through its simple, uncluttered and straightforward marketing messages.

3. Use visual cues to reinforce the message

Visual cues can be a powerful way to reinforce the brand's message and make it more memorable. When brands use consistent visual cues, such as colours, fonts, and imagery, they can create a strong visual identity that helps consumers to easily recognise and remember the brand.

For example, the Coca-Cola brand is instantly recognidable thanks to its iconic red and white colour scheme, as well as its distinctive logo and typography. Its uniquely shaped bottle is also a huge factor in how recognisable it is. These visual cues help to reinforce the brand's message of happiness and enjoyment, and make it more memorable for consumers.

4. Be consistent across all touchpoints

Consistency is key when it comes to brand positioning. Brands that are consistent across advertising to packaging to customer service, are more likely to be perceived as simple and organised by consumers. This consistency helps to reinforce the brand's message and build a strong brand identity over time.

For example, the McDonald's brand is known for its consistency across all touch-points, from its iconic golden arches logo to its uniform menu items to its standardised restaurant design. I've tried Big Mac's in North and Central America, across Europe, in parts of the Middle East and across my home country of the UK - and guess what, somehow they taste the same! This consistency helps to reinforce the brand's message of convenience and affordability, and makes it instantly recognisable to consumers around the world.

5. Differentiate from competitors

While it's important to keep the brand message simple and clear, it's also important to differentiate the brand from competitors. Brands that are too similar to their competitors can be easily overlooked by consumers, who may have a difficult time distinguishing one brand from another.

Differentiation can be achieved through a variety of means, including unique product features, distinctive visual cues, or a unique brand personality.

The best way though is to truly create an offering which is different and highly valuable. But this kind of radical differentiation is hard. It requires innovation, dedication and thought. But without it a brand is just another "me to" and nobody will miss it if it goes away tomorrow.

For example, the Tesla brand is known for its innovative electric cars, which differentiate it from traditional car manufacturers. The brand also has a distinctive visual identity, with its sleek and futuristic logo and typography, which helps to reinforce its message of innovation and sustainability. Add its CEO to the mix and it is a very unique brand indeed!

20 Prägnanz Questions to ask

So what about you and the brand you are building? If you want to begin to think in a Prägnanz way, here are twenty questions you could ask when analysing a brand you may be building using the Law of Prägnanz:

  1. Is there a single clearly articulated "big idea" strategically driving my brand?

  2. Does the brand's story have a clear and simple narrative that can be easily communicated?

  3. Is the brand's message consistent with its values, vision and mission?

  4. What are the essential attributes of the brand that should be communicated to customers?

  5. What are the main benefits that the brand offers to its target audience?

  6. What is the core message that the brand wants to convey to customers?

  7. How can the brand stand out from its competitors in a simple and clear way?

  8. How can the brand communicate its uniqueness effectively to customers?

  9. How can the brand create a strong emotional connection with its target audience?

  10. How can the brand be memorable to customers?

  11. How can the brand communicate its value proposition in a concise way?

  12. How can the brand simplify its messaging to make it more understandable and appealing to customers?

  13. How can the brand reduce clutter and noise in its messaging to make it more effective?

  14. How can the brand use visual cues and symbols to communicate its essence?

  15. How can the brand use metaphors and analogies to communicate complex ideas?

  16. How can the brand use storytelling to make its messaging more engaging?

  17. What about our product or service is truly unique?

  18. How can the brand use repetition and consistency to reinforce its message?

  19. How can the brand use simplicity and clarity to make its messaging more persuasive?

  20. How can the brand use contrast and comparison to differentiate itself from its competitors?


So. I hope you can see that The Law of Prägnanz is a powerful principle that can be used to guide brand positioning decisions.

By focusing on a single, simple message and idea - and then using clear and simple language, using visual cues to reinforce the message, being consistent across all touch-points, and differentiating from competitors, brands can create a strong and memorable brand identity that resonates with consumers.

It sometimes seems counter-intuitive to refine things down into a concise and simple idea. Usually we tend to make things complicated thinking that at least something will stick. But in todays cluttered market place if you don't make it simple, you'll get lost in the noise.

Ultimately, the goal of brand positioning is to create a lasting impression in the minds of consumers, and the Law of Prägnanz provides a valuable framework for achieving this goal. By keeping the brand message simple and organised, brands can cut through the noise and clutter of the modern marketplace and build a strong and loyal customer base.

All the best in building your brand and deploying The Law of Prägnanz in your business.


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