Branding as an Emotional Experience
Have you watched a Coca-Cola ad lately? You probably have – they are everywhere. Maybe you saw animated polar bears sliding through the snow, smiling and sharing a Coke. Maybe it was college freshmen making friends over the Coke bottle that can’t be opened by one person. Maybe it was friends sitting on a stoop in the summer. From watching any of those ads, can you tell what the drink tastes like? It doesn’t matter, everybody knows what Coke tastes like. And, at this point, Coke no longer sells fizzy sugar water. They sell happiness and friendship.
That’s emotional branding. Major corporations have figured out that you get more loyal customers by selling the feeling that the product gives instead of just the product itself. Pepsi tried to gain market traction when they set up the Pepsi Challenge in the mid-80s. But they tried to prove that their product was objectively better. While their stock prices ran parallel for about a decade after that, in the mid-90s, Coke shot past them. They weren’t trying to prove that they had the best soda. Their product was fun.
The Many Moods of Marketing
So how does this affect your brand? Whether you provide soft drinks or refrigerators or web design, there’s always an emotional reaction. Consumers want positive brand experience and will avoid negative ones. Duh, you say, that’s why I provide this massive feature list to show that my product beats them all. But nobody wants a feature list; they want the product to improve their life.
You can skip to the end and sell the reaction. That refrigerator? It doesn’t just keep food cold, it lets you take care of your kids. You’ll bask in their gratitude and grow closer as a family. That refrigerator is an improved relationship with your family. Consumers buying habits have shifted from buying products to buying experiences. You could spend months researching a purchase only to make the final call based on gut feeling. Help your customers determine their gut feeling by providing the emotional reaction ahead of time.
Our Brand is Joy
When you create your branding materials, your ads, your brochures, your website, think about how you can connect emotionally with your customers. What intangibles come with your product? Consider some of the more common ones associated with products and services:
This works for food and drink, travel companies, and entertainment, among others. Your customers buy happiness products to improve their mood, however temporarily. The flip side of this one is FOMO – fear of missing out. Consumers that don’t buy have missed a chance at joy.
This is the big ticket item emotion – cars, real estate, and electronics. Clothes work this emotion pretty well, as can almost any product. Your customers keep up with the Joneses, surpassing them, even, with their class, cool, or savvy. If you don’t get the latest and greatest, you’ll be excluded from the cool kid club or be awash with envy. But with a status product, you’ll make it look effortless and everyone will like you.
Comfort sells products in the home – furniture, HVAC, and bed/bath/beyond. Everyday items that soothe and swaddle, make your tough day at the office a mere memory when you come home. Because who wants those everyday necessities like bathing, sleeping, or watching the big game to be uncomfortable experiences? Comfort emotional branding turns the product invisible or shows how the alternative ruins every day.
Look at the products that ward off danger, your locks, anti-virus software, and vitamins. These provide security emotional experiences. And because they protect, security brands play up the alternative emotion: fear. You’ll see shadowy thieves lurking outside homes, smug hackers cashing checks overseas, and anthropomorphized bacteria gleefully setting up shop in your body. Like comfort, a good security brand becomes invisible, silently ensuring health, wealth, and happiness.
Getting Your Customers to Feel
So how do you put emotional branding into practice? The simplest and easiest is to give your customers good experiences. Customer service stands at the front lines here, so make sure anyone interacting with a customer tries to resolve disputes amiably. Design your sales process to target your brand’s emotions. Your brand gets so few opportunities to interact directly with a customer, so each one has to be positive.
You can also associate your product and brand with images that trigger that emotion. Place your product in the context of happy families, strong friendships, or admiring neighbors. Consider sponsoring events that trigger the desired emotions. Red Bull does this brilliantly, sponsoring music festivals, silly races, and world record attempts. You don’t need to go as big, but putting your name on an unrelated positive experience can link your brand with that feeling.
Lastly, reward positive recommendations. People will trust their friends and relatives more than traditional advertising, 84% of people worldwide, according to a Nielsen survey. If you can encourage that word-of-mouth advertising through engaging hashtag campaigns or silly photo opportunities, you’ll be able to use your customers as your marketing team.
Emotional engagement builds long-term loyalty with customers as well as first-time sales. When that kind of market opportunities are at stake, you can’t afford to not sell with your heart.