Getting top of mind is about being present in the minds of your audience when they are actively in buying mode. But how can you use brand heuristics to achieve top of mind?

Brand heuristics play an important role in the associations we have with brands. We use heuristics in our creative work to inspire emotion, attention and action and to build shortcuts in consumer’s minds. It’s one of three core principles we use in our BeBoLD methodology, our unique approach to behaviour-led design. You can find more about that here. 

What are brand heuristics?

The word heuristic is derived from a Greek word that means “to discover”. A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows us to make judgments quickly and efficiently. We use the term “brand heuristics” to mean all of the visual and verbal assets of a brand – logos, typography, graphic devices and colour, photography style and sound. 

A good example of the power of strong brand heuristics can be seen in this Dorito’s ad. The brand’s logo doesn’t feature in the ad but the brand is still instantly recognisable through the use of the triangle shape and reference to that unmistakable orange dust that ends up all over your fingers and clothes.

Using behavioural biases in brand heuristics to achieve top of mind

Our brains make mental associations using language, colour, symbols, sounds and images. You can use these elements to create shortcuts in the minds of your audience. There are a number of cognitive biases that you can use to help you build strong brand associations to make your brand more recognisable and easier to recall.

Familiarity bias – We have a tendency to prefer more familiar options, even if they aren’t necessarily the best option for us. This concept is especially important for branding as it can encourage repeat purchases. Consumers use their previous buying experiences as a frame of reference, perhaps unconsciously, and often make the assumption that if the purchase was a good decision on one occasion it makes sense to buy it again when they come to replace the product. An example of this would be the McDonald’s golden arches – we see them everywhere and they are immediately recognisable to us, which creates familiarity.

Mere exposure effect – Related to the familiarity bias is the mere exposure effect, where we have a tendency to like something more when we see it more often. To take advantage of this insight you need to consistently amplify your assets to maximise exposure for your brand.

Bizarreness effect – When something is bizarre we are more likely to notice it. You can apply this thinking to naming, colour and other design elements to create truly distinctive branding in your category.

How we’ve used brand heuristics in our work


Sharps were a hugely successful bedroom brand but they wanted to transition to a new space in the home by building out their brand from fitted bedrooms to beautifully organised spaces. We helped them to become an even bigger player in the  furniture market by building on their brand heuristics and amplifying them to encourage familiarity among buyers.

Sharps rebrand brand heuristics

Housing Units

To help Housing Units to win new customers and reassure existing ones, we accentuated and simplified their brand heuristics. 

We did this by identifying a number of key brand attributes such as their highly recognisable green colour, their wide range of products across departments in store, their expert staff, their Christmas Grotto and their restaurant and cafe. We breathed new life into these elements using the familiarity bias to accentuate and simplify them.

Fancy a chat about what behavioural-led design could do for your brand?

If you’d love to find out what brand heuristics can do for your brand, we’d love to hear from you. We deliver everything from insights, strategy and brand building, to big ideas and tactical execution. Contact us here.