Globalization, low-cost technologies and saturated markets are making products and services interchangeable and barely distinguishable. As a result, today’s brands must go beyond face value and tap into consumers’ deepest subconscious emotions to win the marketplace.
The Role Of Brands Is Changing
In recent decades, the economic base has shifted from production to consumption, from needs to wants, from objective to subjective. We’re moving away from the functional and technical characteristics of the industrial era, into a time when consumers are making buying decisions based on how they feel about a company and its offer.
BusinessWeek captured the evolution of branding back in 2001:
“A strong brand acts as an ambassador when companies enter new markets or offer new products. It also shapes corporate strategy, helping to define which initiatives fit within the brand concept and which do not. That’s why the companies that once measured their worth strictly in terms of tangibles such as factories, inventory and cash have realized that a vibrant brand, with its implicit promise of quality, is an equally important asset.”
I’d take it a step further and suggest that the brand is not just an important part of the business — it is the business. As Dale Carnegie says:
“When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion.”
It’s Time To Get Emotional
In a borderless world where people are increasingly doing their research and purchases online (75% of Americans admit to doing so while on the toilet), companies that don’t take their branding seriously face imminent demise.
Enter emotional branding. It’s a highly effective way to cause reaction, sentiments and moods, ultimately forming experience, connection and loyalty with a company or product on an irrational level. That’s the ironic part: Most people don’t believe they can be emotionally influenced by a brand. Why? Because that’s their rational mind at work. People make decisions emotionally and then rationalize them logically. Therefore, emotional branding affects people at a hidden, subconscious level. And that’s what makes it so incredibly powerful.
Neuroscientists have recently made great strides in understanding how the human mind works. In his book Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things, cognitive scientist Donald Norman explains how emotions guide us:
“Emotions are inseparable from and a necessary part of cognition. Everything we do, everything we think is tinged with emotion, much of it subconscious. In turn, our emotions change the way we think, and serve as constant guides to appropriate behavior, steering us away from the bad, guiding us toward the good.”
Emotions help us to rapidly choose between good and bad and to navigate in a world filled with harsh noise and unlimited options. This concept has been reinforced by multiple studies, including ones conducted by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, who examined people who are healthy in every way except for brain injuries that have impaired their emotional systems. Due to their lack of emotional senses, these subjects could not make basic decisions on where to live, what to eat and what products they need.
Recognize your emotions at play. Rice or potatoes? Saturday or Sunday? Say hello or smile? Gray or blue? The Rolling Stones or The Beatles? Crest or Colgate? Both choices are equally valid. It just feels good or feels right — and that’s an expression of emotion.
Emotions are a necessary part of life, affecting how you feel, how you behave and how you think. Therefore, brands that effectively engage consumers in a personal dialogue on their needs are able to evoke and influence persuasive feelings such as love, attachment and happiness.
Creativity Is Critical
What does that mean to marketers? Good ideas are increasingly vital to businesses. And that’s good news for creative professionals and agencies.
A Wall Street Journal article titled “So Long, Supply and Demand” reports:
“Creativity is overtaking capital as the principal elixir of growth. And creativity, although precious, shares few of the constraints that limit the range and availability of capital and physical goods. In this new business atmosphere, ideas are money. Ideas are, in fact, a new kind of currency altogether — one that is more powerful than money. One single idea — especially if it involves a great brand concept — can change a company’s entire future.”
As Napoleon Hill says:
“First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.”
Emotional Branding In Action
Let’s look at some examples of branding and campaigns that go for the heart and, in some cases, hit the mark.
WestJet Christmas Miracle
WestJet Airlines pulled on heartstrings this past holiday season with a video of Santa distributing Christmas gifts to 250 unsuspecting passengers. The Canadian airline expected around 800,000 views but blew their competitors’ campaigns out of the air with more than 35 million views.
How the WestJetters helped Santa spread some Christmas magic to their guests. (Watch on Youtube)
Coca-Cola Security Cameras
While surveillance cameras are known for catching burglaries and brawls, a Coca-Cola ad released during the latest Super Bowl encourages us to look at life differently by sharing happy, moving moments captured on security cameras. You’ll witness people sneaking kisses, dancing and random acts of kindness.
All the small acts of kindness, bravery and love that take place around us, recorded by security cameras. (Watch on Youtube)
Homeless Veteran Time-Lapse Transformation
Degage Ministries, a charity that works with veterans, launched a video showing a homeless US Army veteran, Jim Wolf, getting a haircut and new clothes as part of an effort to transform his life. Degage Ministries told Webcopyplus that Wolf has completed rehab and is turning his life around, and that the video has so far raised more than $125,000, along with increased awareness of and compassion for veterans across the country.
A video of a homeless veteran named Jim, who volunteered to go through a physical transformation in September 2013. (Watch on Youtube)
Creating Emotional Connection
While neuroscientists have only recently made significant strides in understanding how we process information and make decisions, humans have been using a powerful communication tactic for thousands of years: storytelling. It’s a highly effective method to get messages to stick and to get people to care, act and buy.
The stories that truly engage and are shared across the Web are typically personal and contain some aspect of usefulness, sweetness, humor, inspiration or shock. Also, the brand has to be seen as authentic, not manufactured, or else credibility and loyalty will be damaged.
I discussed the Coca-Cola video with Kevin McLeod, founder and CEO of Yardstick Services, who suggests that most brands merely try to connect the emotions of a real moment in life to their brand.
“The Coke video is full of wonderful clips of people doing things that make us all feel good. I’m not going to lie, it got my attention and is very memorable. At the same time, I’m intelligent enough to see what Coke is doing. With the exception of the last clip, none of the “good things” in the video are related to Coca-Cola.
The ad primes us by making us feel good and then drops the brand at the end so that we connect those emotions to the Coke brand. It’s very shrewd. Part of me thinks it’s brilliant. The other part of me thinks it’s overly manipulative and beguiles a product that can’t stand on its own merits, of which caramel-colored, carbonated sugar water has few.”
McLeod puts forth sharp views about Coke merely stamping its brand on a video compilation, which could very well have been IBM, Starbucks or virtually any other company. However, while he consciously found the video to manufacture emotions, he still enjoyed it, stating that it makes us all — including him — “feel good.” So, despite McLeod’s skepticism and resistance, it still made an emotional connection with him. There’s the desired association: Coke = feeling good.
Folks make decisions emotionally and then rationalize them logically, therefore, emotional branding affects people at a hidden, subconscious level.
To get the most success in creating an emotional connection with people, stories should explore both brand mystique and brand experience, and the actual product or service should be integrated. A brilliant example is The Lego Movie, released by Warner Bros earlier this year. The Lego brand delivered a masterful story, using its products as the stars. The brand got families and kids around the globe to shovel out well over $200 million for what could be the ultimate toy commercial.
Designers, developers, copywriters and marketers in general should take a page from moviemakers, including the late writer, director and producer Sidney Lumet. He gave the following advice on making movies: “What is the movie about? What did you see? What was your intention? Ideally, if we do this well, what do you hope the audience will feel, think, sense? In what mood do you want them to leave the theater?” The same could be asked when you’re developing a brand story: What do you want the audience to feel?
Even product placement, where everything from sneakers to cars gets flashed on the screen, has evolved into “branded entertainment.” Now, products are worked into scripts, sometimes with actual roles. A well-known example is in the film Cast Away, in which Wilson, a volleyball named after the brand, serves as Tom Hanks’ personified friend and sole companion for four years on a deserted island. When Wilson gets swept away into the ocean and slowly disappears, sad music ensues, and many moviegoers shed tears over… well, a volleyball.
Making Brands Emotional
Connecting people to products and services is not an easy task. It takes careful consideration and planning. US marketing agency JB Chicago found success sparking an emotional connection for Vitalicious, its client in the pizza industry. Its VitaPizza product had fewer calories than any competitor’s, however, its message was getting lost among millions of other messages. Explains Steve Gaither, President of JB Chicago:
We needed to bring that differentiation front and center, letting the target audience, women 25-plus interested in healthy living, know they can eat the pizza they love and miss without consuming tons of calories.
A relationship concept was formed, and a campaign was soon launched with the following key messages: “You used to love pizza. And then the love affair ended. You’ve changed. And, thankfully, pizza has too! Now you and your pizza can be together again.” The agency then tested different ads, each centered on one of the following themes:
- 190 calories,
- “You and pizza. Reunited. Reunited and it tastes so good.”
The brand idea outperformed the other ads by a margin of three to one. Bringing a story into the equation resonated with the target audience.
Gaither also shared insight on a current story-building project for StudyStars, an online tutoring company whose brand wasn’t gaining traction. JB Chicago overhauled the brand and created a story to demonstrate that StudyStars is a skills-based tutoring system with a deep, fundamental approach to learning, one that ultimately delivers better outcomes.
“We needed to find and build camp at a place where skills-based tutoring intersects with the unmet needs of the buyer. We needed a powerful brand idea that enables us to claim and defend that space. And we needed to express that idea in a manner that is believable and differentiated.”
Seeking a concept that would look, feel, speak and behave differently, JB Chicago crafted the brand idea “Master the Fundamentals.” It suggests that learning is like anything else: You have to walk before you can run, or else you will fall. So, the agency is setting up a campaign, including a video, to show that students who fall behind in school due to weak learning of the fundamentals don’t just fall behind in the classroom — their struggles affect every other aspect of their lives.
Here’s a snippet of the drafted script:
Title: Pauline’s Story
We see a beautiful little girl in a classroom. Pauline. She is 8 years old. We can also see that she’s a little lost.
A quick shot of the teacher at the chalkboard, teaching simple multiplication, like 9 × 6. Back to Pauline. She’s not getting it.
We see Pauline again at age 12, again in class. She is looking at a math quiz. It’s been graded. She got a D.
There’s a sign hanging from her neck. The sign says “I never learned multiplication.”
We see Pauline again, now at 15. She is home. Her parents are screaming at each other about her poor academic performance. The sign around her neck is still there. “I never learned multiplication.”
We see a young waitress in a dreary coffee shop. It takes us a few seconds to realize that it’s Pauline, age 18. She is tallying a customer’s check.
A close shot of the check. Pauline is trying to calculate the tax. She can’t do it, so she consults a cheat sheet posted nearby. She’s still wearing the sign. “I never learned multiplication.”
She figures the tax out and brings the check over to an attractive collegiate-looking couple, who thank her and head for the door. She watches them leave.
Their life is everything hers is not. Their future is everything hers will never be. Slate (text) states StudyStars’ case, and the video ends with an invitation to visit studystars.com.
JB Chicago created a story that draws us in and links to emotions — possibly hope, fear, promise, hope, security and other feelings — according to the person’s mindset, experience, circumstance and other factors. The key is that it gets to our hearts.
Different visitors connect to and invest in products and services for different reasons. To help you strike an emotional chord with your audience, veteran marketer Barry Feig has carved out 16 hot buttons in Hot Button Marketing: Push the Emotional Buttons That Get People to Buy:
- Desire for control
- I’m better than you
- Excitement of discovery
- Family values
- Desire to belong
- Fun is its own reward
- Poverty of time
- Desire to get the best
- Sex, love, romance
- Nurturing response
- Reinventing oneself
- Make me smarter
- Power, dominance and influence
How Does It Make You Feel?
As emotional aspects of brands increasingly become major drivers of choice, it would be wise for designers, content writers and other marketers to peel back customers’ deep emotional layers to identify and understand the motivations behind their behavior.
So, the next time you ask someone to review your design or content, maybe don’t ask, “What do you think?” Instead, the smarter question might be:
“How does it make you feel?”
© Rick Sloboda for Smashing Magazine, 2014.