The strongest brands make emotional connections

Think about some of the greatest brands in the world today. They don’t have to be brands with a long and storied history. Even those that have only been around a short time can count themselves among the best. So what makes these brands great? Trust, quality, sincerity — these attributes certainly contribute to brand strength. However, a brand can make the greatest strides when it establishes emotional connections with customers and in turn helps those customers connect with each other.

Companies make significant investments in gathering data and mapping every part of the customer journey to improve overall satisfaction. But for those brands that already have high customer satisfaction, the next step to higher engagement is emotional branding — creating a bond between the brand and customers by appealing to their emotional state, ego, needs and ambitions.

Emotional branding has been around for many years. Branding icon Marc Gobé first defined it after observing that connections can be made on an emotional level between brands and customers. It goes beyond a strictly business relationship by humanizing a brand in such a way that consumers can emotionally connect with it.

According to a Harvard Business Review article, “The New Science of Customer Emotions,” there are hundreds of emotional motivators that drive customer behavior. The top 10 are: Stand out from the crowd; have confidence in the future; enjoy a sense of wellbeing; feel a sense of freedom; feel a sense of thrill; feel a sense of belonging; protect the environment; be the person I want to be; feel secure; and succeed in life. Emotional branding strategies aren’t likely to fulfill all these motivators at one time, but focusing on the one or two that matter most to a company’s customer base can have a considerable impact.

Emotionally connected customers are believed to be twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers. Those who have an emotional connection with a brand are less likely to reject a product due to price or to defect to a competitor brand. Therefore, a greater return on investment can be achieved by focusing on meeting the emotional needs of customers rather than simply going through the movements of delivering great service.

According to recent research from CustomerThermometer, 65 percent of respondents say they emotionally connect with a brand that makes them feel like it cares about people like themselves. The survey of 1,000 U.S. adults also revealed other top reasons customers feel an emotional connection. Believing a company is making a positive difference in the world was cited by 55 percent of respondents, while 45 percent cited feeling like the company gets them as a reason, and 42 percent said they like that the company is run by people like themselves.

Emotional branding establishes a lasting relationship in the hearts and minds of customers. By portraying a personality that customers can connect with, companies are able to create deep, intrinsic relationships. Apple, Amazon, Target, Nike and Patagonia are some of the top brands that have successfully established emotional connections with their leagues of customers.

Amazon not only makes the purchase experience seamless, it provides several opportunities for customers to forge connections with its brand through user profiles, wish lists and product recommendations. The brand ensures connections are made during every interaction, as well as facilitates connections among customers through user reviews. Ultimately, Amazon makes customers feel like they care about them — one of the main drivers of establishing emotional brand connections.

Another example is the Starbucks brand, which is seen as accessible, innovative and welcoming. By creating physical spaces where its customers can interact with each other, the brand speaks to their desire to feel a sense of belonging. Starbucks has successfully established an emotional connection with customers that keeps them returning again and again.

Neuroscience studies have shown we feel emotion before we think, so it stands to reason if marketing fails to establish a fitting emotional response, it will fall flat. On the other hand, if an emotion is felt, it can have widespread impacts because 90 percent of emotional experiences are shared with others. Emotional branding isn’t the be-all, end-all answer to marketing, but combined with other strategies that appeal more to the intelligent, cognitive side of the consumer, it can ignite brand growth and propel a company to the top of its industry.

BARRY LABOV, a two-time Ernst & Young entrepreneur of the year and inductee into the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, is founder, president and CEO of LaBov Marketing Communications and Training in Fort Wayne. He has written and co-authored more than a dozen business books, is a regular columnist in business publications and maintains a blog at barrylabov.blogspot.com.

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