What can carry millions of memories, and fit on the head of a pin? What’s the most powerful way to share an experience? And the most important ingredient in great advertising?

If you looked at the Oxford dictionary definition, you wouldn’t think it was a symbol. In fact, you wouldn’t think symbols were very inspiring at all:

 symbol, n.¹

A written character or mark used to represent something; a letter, figure, or sign conventionally standing for some object, process, etc

But for me, symbols are not only the best way to achieve brevity and emotive storytelling in B2B – they’re key to any creative communication.


First, let’s look at how symbols have played a transformative role in human communication throughout history, pre-dating even written language.


The power of symbols, through the centuries

Cave paintings and other forms of prehistoric art served as symbols to convey information about hunting, rituals, and the environment. The ancient Egyptians and Chinese used hieroglyphics and symbolic language to represent not only words but also concepts, numbers and even sounds.

Symbols have conveyed meaning, ideas, and information across different cultures and languages for millennia. They represent values, capture entire belief systems, and allow ideas to leave a lasting legacy. Flags, national emblems and religious symbols, like the cross or crescent, are really powerful examples of how symbols also convey cultural and religious significance.


Why symbols matter even more, in the age of social

Today, we are surrounded by symbols – more so than ever before.

Social media and messaging platforms rely heavily on symbols to communicate and evoke a sense of emotion and association, particularly useful when targeting audiences with limited attention spans or in contexts where brevity is essential.

Emojis are a perfect example. The heart symbol immediately represents love, care, or compassion. It conveys an emotional message without the need for detailed explanations. Meanwhile, the thumbs up or checkmark expresses a sense of approval.

This rapid translation of ideas or emotions has become even more essential in today’s world. Our audiences are bombarded with content, and marketers have milliseconds to capture attention.


Bringing brevity and emotion to marketing

Symbols can clearly capture ideas in a tiny space.

But they do more than condense messages. They evoke emotions, tell stories and create memorable brand experiences.

What would Nike be without its famous Swoosh? One tick captures big dreams and constant motion – and it carries years of memories from emotive advertising campaigns. The Sony PlayStation symbols are also iconic. Simple geometric shapes from a game controller, each symbol expresses what the button does. You can imagine pressing and playing, just from the square, circle, triangle and cross.

These powerful associations with symbols help simplify brand identity and create a main-line into our memories which short-circuits explanations. This allows our audience to connect with the brand on a deeper level.


More than big brand ideas – symbols in B2B

So, symbols can captures a brand’s values and mission – big picture stuff, right?

Not always. In my role, I’m always looking for a better, more creative way to communicate for product and brand campaigns alike. We need to convey complex propositions and crazy technologies in a single image and a few words. This often involves digging beneath the surface of technologies or processes, to find something truly emotive.

Symbols help distil complex ideas into single, easy-to-understand images or graphics. They often carry universal meanings and tap into shared experiences, essential for global B2B companies.

Take this campaign for ABB, as an example. We used the infinity, lock and tick symbols to convey benefits instantly. By placing these shapes into a food and beverage factory – transforming each graphic into a working machine with bottles or bread whizzing around conveyor belts – we intrigued our target audience.


Let’s leave a lasting impression

Symbols are a rich canvas for creative professionals in marketing communications. They offer us a powerful means of connecting with audiences, telling compelling stories and helping build brand awareness.

By understanding the nuances of symbols and their cultural contexts, we can craft innovative and effective marketing that leaves a lasting impression on audiences. As always, making the complicated simple.


We make the complicated simple.