Reviewing Visual and Messaging Hierarchies in Marketing Collateral

July 18, 2019

If you’ve spent time on the interwebs, you have likely heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which talks about meeting the most basic needs first – food, water, shelter, sleep – and then moving up the pyramid to self-actualization. And you’ve probably seen some form of the food pyramid since you were a wee child in elementary school. Both of these systems show and structure a hierarchy using a pyramid as the architecture. We can look at marketing messaging and visualizations in the same way, by defining an architecture and applying a hierarchy of importance and relevance. Have you ever reviewed your marketing and company literature to evaluate their messaging and visual hierarchies?

Defining and applying a messaging and visual hierarchy is not as complex as it sounds, but with many things in life, nuance is key to success. Messaging hierarchies are more than increasingly indented bullet points in a PowerPoint presentation, which is its own visual hierarchy. A solid architecture is more than a headline with descriptive paragraphs. Creating and/or evaluating messaging and visual hierarchies begins by balancing what your brand values are with your goal for the piece, then reviewing the literature or content to make sure it is prioritizing the points most pertinent to the goal and your brand values.

Let’s go through an example to illustrate how messaging and visual hierarchy works.

Tradeshow Backdrop

Because Solar Power International is less than three months away, which is just a blip in the design world, let’s look at a tradeshow backdrop example.

Fake company: Solar Charge Co.
The company manufactures solar charge controllers and has a new one coming out. They sell through distribution and are headed to a solar tradeshow where there is plenty of competition. The company is developing a simple tradeshow backdrop.

Design Thinking

Example A – No Hierarchy Applied:

We have a 10×10 booth. That gives us a wall 10 feet wide to make sure everyone knows who we are and what our new charge controller does. Here’s a list of features, and here is our logo. Let’s use a similar feeling to our website.

Example B – Hierarchy Applied:

We have a 10×10 booth. That gives us a wall 10 feet wide.

What is our goal with the booth? Is it to inform? Is it to raise awareness? Is it to attract attention? We want to attract attention to our new charge controller. Our customers already know our company from previous products.

Who is our target audience? What pain point are we addressing that most helps them? Distributors and solar contractors. We’ve spent a lot of time working on the software in this charge controller so it auto detects and offers a system preset for PV arrays and batteries. That will save a lot of programming time on the contractor side. And solar distributors who create kits can send the charge controller preset in the kit.

What brand values are we trying to convey? How does that mesh with our style guide? The more rooftop solar we can deploy, the fewer gas plants need to come online over the next few years, which helps move forward our brand value of planet first.

Backdrop Designs Based on Information Provided

Both backdrops use the same imagery, colors, and logo.

Example A results in a perfectly functional tradeshow backdrop. You know the company, you know the product, and if you’re willing to stop and read for a while, you’ll know the main features of the new Super Solar Charge Controller.

If we look at this in a hierarchical way; the most important piece of information is the company logo (assuming this is a North American solar show, with the audience reading left to right). The second most important piece of information is the product name, followed by a long list of product features.

What this backdrop doesn’t do is apply a hierarchy in which we look at what the piece’s purpose is, who the audience is, and how we can best serve that audience in a short, three to five-second window. That short window is the amount of attention most show-goers will give to any one booth as they are walking around, unless attracted to the booth to find out more.

Example B significantly shortens the message and uses visuals to create a story to attract the attention of their target market.  The hierarchy they apply in messaging is completely different than in Example A. The most important piece here is a catching headline, which addresses the goal of attracting attention. Using the concept of “disruptive technology”, a concept used often in the solar space, this is playing on that concept by calling the viewer to be less disruptive. Immediately, the passerby is asking, “What? How?” We’re pulling them into the “story”. 

Secondly, the backdrop has an answer to a pain point the company’s target audience has – when time is money, how to spend less time – further drawing their target audience into the story.

And finally, we find how the viewer can be less disruptive – by letting their customers get back to their lives sooner. Construction is always disruptive, and Solar Charge Co. just made their customers the hero of this story by showing them how they can help their customers and save themselves time.


As you are reviewing your messaging and visual assets, keep hierarchy in mind. What is the most important goal of the piece? How does this piece serve our target market and customer? What can I do in a visual way to reinforce that message as well as draw the viewer through the piece in a way that is most helpful?

Feeling stuck?

Contact Corbae if you would like assistance in strategizing your collateral and finding the best hierarchy for your message and visuals.