Branding and Emotional Appeal: Connecting with Customers
Brands have power. The power to influence decisions, sway opinions, and drive action. But where does this power come from? It stems from emotion.
Customers are not purely rational beings. We make decisions based on how brands make us feel. The brands we love connect with us on an emotional level. They understand our hopes, dreams, fears, and aspirations. Brands that fail to forge an emotional bond risk being forgotten.
Branding and emotional appeal should be the bedrock of your marketing strategy. Lean too heavily on logic and reason, and your message will never breakthrough. To craft a memorable brand story, you must appeal to the heart as much as the head.
What is Emotional Branding?
Emotional branding establishes a meaningful connection between a brand and its customers. It goes beyond utility to fulfil psychological needs like belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation.
The goal is to be more than just helpful. People want to feel something when they encounter your brand. They want to be moved, to care, and to identify with the values you represent.
Boring brands don't inspire passion or loyalty. They simply exist as faint background noise. Great brands spark an emotional reaction. One that compels people to seek them out and share them with others.
Why Emotion Trumps Logic
We like to think of ourselves as hyper-rational creatures. But in reality, emotion guides much of human decision-making and behaviour.
Numerous studies have shown emotional response occurs far quicker than cognitive reasoning. Within milliseconds, sensations reach the emotion centre of our brain and trigger reactions that bias downstream thinking.
- 95% of decision-making takes place in our subconscious mind. Logic and reason account for just 5% of choices.
- Emotionally charged events are twice as likely to be remembered as non-emotional ones.
- People are more likely to make irrational decisions when emotionally aroused.
- Shoppers in a positive mood make more impulsive purchases than those feeling sad.
Emotion wields influence over attention, memory, and behaviour. As Nobel Prize laureate Daniel Kahneman put it, we think fast and slow. Marketing that solely appeals to reason risks missing the mark.
The Limbic System: Home of Emotions
The limbic system is the emotional control centre of the brain. Responsible for drives like fear, pleasure, and anger. This ancient structure wields immense influence over human decision-making.
Brands that form an emotional connection tap into the power of the limbic system. By appealing to hopes and dreams, they generate feelings capable of altering perceptions and perspectives.
Some key roles the limbic system plays:
Memory: Emotionally charged events etch more profound memory traces. Arousing experiences help brands stick in customers' minds.
Attention: The amygdala is an emotional filter, prioritising events that evoke strong feelings. Brands that fail to resonate don't capture interest.
Empathy: Mirror neurons allow us to feel what others feel. Brands build bonds through shared emotional experiences.
Meaning: The limbic system tags experiences as personally relevant. Brands that tap into identity and purpose hold unique appeal.
The Smell Test: Emotion in Decision-Making
Imagine strolling through a farmer's market brimming with the aromas of fresh bread, cinnamon buns, roasted nuts, and juicy fruits. Now, picture the scent of rotting produce at the back of an old refrigerator.
These vivid mental simulations trigger accurate physiological responses. The pleasant market smells likely produced positive feelings and sensory images. Meanwhile, the rotten refrigerator odour probably conjured a nose scrunch and a wave of mild disgust.
Emotional reactions like these permeate our daily lives. When making decisions, people rely on emotional cues akin to a smell test.
- Does this feel right?
- Do I have a good gut reaction?
- What's my emotional hunch?
Such questions steer us towards options aligned with positive emotions and away from those producing unease.
Brands that pass the “smell test” benefit from intuitive choice architecture. Those that don't are at an immediate disadvantage.
The next time you face a decision, pay attention to your emotional signals. Do specific options make you feel energised and excited? Does one choice give you a sense of calm certainty?
Pay attention to these valuable data points. Your emotions contain strategic wisdom for navigating decisions, both big and small.
Sizzle vs. Steak: Standee Case Study
Picture this familiar scene: you're waiting at the airport for a flight. An attendant asks if you want to relax in their premium standee area for $50.
Do you pay up or stick with the cramped cattle pen of the main terminal?
For many, this decision provokes an instinctive reaction before rational analysis enters the mix. The standee area feels nicer. More comfort, less chaos.
Backed by research, Airport Standee knew emotional appeal carried more weight than practical facts. So when A/B testing promotional copy, they emphasised experiential language over utility and value:
- Treat yourself to a relaxing oasis above the fray
- Escape the crowds and unwind in style
In contrast, logical messaging focused on functional perks like:
- Avoid hectic gate areas
- Extra space to work or charge devices
Results revealed emotional copy beat rational copy by over 18% in conversion rate. Descriptions emphasising ambience and feelings outperformed those touting practical amenities.
Sizzle sells better than steak. Even when the core offering remains identical, branding that triggers emotional resonance persuades customers.
Fear and Anxiety: Recognising Dark Emotions
Emotions come in infinite shades, not all of them positive. Brands sometimes stoke darker feelings like fear and anxiety through scare tactics.
- Insurance ads exaggerate dire scenarios that might happen
- Charities using graphic imagery of suffering to spur donations
- News outlets amping up threats from health risks or geopolitical turmoil
Manipulating painful emotions may temporarily capture attention. But it risks fostering resentment and distrust among customers.
If overdone, scare tactics breed scepticism rather than action. A sense of control and hope must balance threats. Otherwise, worried minds will simply shut down your message.
The most persuasive branding offers an escape from fear, not just heightened reminders. Turn worries into inspiration by showcasing how your brand empowers people to take action against threats that cause anxiety.
Storytelling: Make Emotions Flow
Stories stir our deepest emotions. They speak to the shared human experiences that transcend culture and demographics. Stories feel real in a way facts and figures do not.
Brand storytelling harnesses the narrative's ability to spark powerful emotional resonance. Rather than simply showcasing features, put customers at the heart of an inspiring tale that lights up their imagination.
Follow these principles for stories that conjure compelling emotions:
Empathy – Help audiences relate to the hopes, struggles, and motivations of characters.
Sensory Details – Sights, sounds, scents – make the story come alive through vivid descriptive language.
Immersion – Plug readers into the story. Make them feel right there in the moment through literary techniques like dialogue and inner monologue.
Tension and Stakes – Build suspense and anticipation. Risks and conflicts keep people glued to each plot twist.
Authenticity – Stories must ring true to elicit authentic emotions. Customer stories are more believable than hypothetical narratives.
Stories stir our souls. Infuse your brand's origin, purpose, and vision into an engaging narrative that captivates conscience.
Pictures > Words: Leverage Visual Cues
Pictures pack an emotional punch that words cannot equal. Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain. They enable audiences to feel what you want to communicate instantly.
Use strategic visual branding to spark these emotional responses:
Joy – Bright colours, smiling faces, warm lighting
Trust – Candid scenes, transparency
Nostalgia – Retro aesthetics, familiar contexts
Awe – Epic scenery, grand imagery
Comfort – Calm settings, soft elements
Belonging – Inclusive depictions, groups
A single image can convey what paragraphs cannot. Photographs become mental shortcuts for recalling associated emotions about your brand.
The Sounds of Emotion: Leverage Auditory Cues
Jingles, anyone? Many of us can instantly sing iconic tunes from brands like McDonald's, Intel, and Folgers Coffee.
Just a few acoustic notes immediately evoke emotions linked to these brands – joy, innovation, and comfort. Before rationale ever enters the mix, sound subconsciously activates emotional associations.
Auditory branding leans on this mental conditioning. Custom musical themes reinforce desired brand feelings with powerful acoustic nostalgia.
Other ways to leverage audio:
Voices – Distinctive vocal tones, accents, and speech patterns. Consider ASMR techniques.
Sound Effects – Alert chimes, swooshes, or applause to punctuate desired reactions.
Background Music – Set the mood. Upbeat for energy, soft for calmness.
Silence – Dramatic pauses direct focus and build anticipation.
Scent Marketing: Leverage Olfactory Cues
Humans can recognise over 1 trillion unique scents. Smell awakens memories and emotions, unlike any other sense.
Brands increasingly incorporate scent marketing strategies. Custom fragrances diffuse in hotels, retail stores, casinos, and other locations to encourage certain behaviours.
- Citrus scents for energy and alertness
- Lavender for relaxation and decompression
- Vanilla and baked goods for sweet cravings
- Pine or ocean breezes for freshness
Disney even pumps scents into park areas to match ride themes like honey for Winnie the Pooh. Brand-specific scents create powerful emotional recall.
While less accessible online, companies do scent direct mailers or product packaging. For physical interactions, consider an original scent that sparks the desired emotional state you wish to cultivate.
The Feel of Emotion: Leverage Tactile Cues
Texture, shape, weight, temperature – our sense of touch elicits strong reactions. Just think of how emotions shift between the feeling of silk, sandpaper, ice, and a puppy's fur.
Physical branding elements can trigger emotional responses:
- Materials – Metal for coolness, wood for warmth, rubber for flexibility.
- Textures – Smooth, bumpy, soft, coarse. What tactile feelings represent your brand?
- Shapes – Angular, rounded, asymmetric. Shapes carry symbolic associations.
- Weight – Light, heavy. Density can imply strength, durability, or comfort.
- Temperature – Warm coffee cups and fabulous leather seats. Thermal cues set the tone.
Look for opportunities to translate brand concepts into tangible experiences. Tactile sensations offer another channel for establishing emotional connections.
Consider emotional outcomes like reassurance, joy, stability, and energy. Then, identify materials and shapes capable of physically manifesting such feelings.
Branding and Emotional Appeal Through Experiential Marketing
Experiential marketing campaigns allow people to engage with a brand physically—sampling products, interacting with environments, or observing demonstrations.
Events like pop-up shops, sponsored activities, contests and giveaways grant hands-on access that digital content cannot fulfil. Experiencing a brand personally makes it more real, generating visceral emotional connections.
Some examples of successful experiences:
- Taco Bell – Opens an experiential hotel granting exclusive access to taco-themed rooms, food, and merchandise. The novel immersion becomes share-worthy.
- Disney – Its themed lands transport visitors into detailed story universes that bring movies to life. The result is magical memories and intense brand affinity.
- Red Bull – Sponsors extreme athlete events like the Flugtag (flying competition) and Rampage (mountain biking) that embody the brand's energy and daring spirit. Fans get to participate in or cheer events, uniting them in a shared emotional community.
Think beyond digital to physical. Experiential campaigns make emotions tangible, unlocking new dimensions of emotional branding power.
Evangelise Emotions Through Brand Ambassadors
Brand ambassadors embody human manifestations of your brand identity. Their passion immortalises an emotional ethos that digital content struggles to convey authentically.
Employees are the most credible ambassadors. When infused with purpose, their stories and advocacy humanise a brand's emotional essence:
- Airbnb – Profiles neighbourhood guides and local hosts who share what they love about locales. This fosters feelings of belonging.
- Glossier – Employees model the brand on social media through candid unboxings and reviews. Their authentic enthusiasm feels genuine.
Influencers likewise amplify emotional branding:
- Unboxings/reviews – Share genuine reactions.
- Lifestyle content – Spotlight aspirational associations.
- Product integrations – Demonstrate emotional value.
By shining a spotlight on ambassadors, brands borrow from real human emotion. Passion is contagious.
Lead With Emotional Value, Not Functional Stats
Don't open pitches, ads, or content with technical features and functional specs. That's elevator music; the eyes glaze over.
Instead, hook interest by introducing the emotional benefit upfront:
- Feel empowered to protect your home
- Experience the joy of effortless cooking
- Outsmart chaos with our clarity app
Sell feelings, not facts. Features follow to rationalise the emotional decision already made.
People prefer purchases justified by emotion backed by logic. Yet brands too often front-load functional stats rather than leading with emotional upsides that spark interest. Don't bury the lead on your value proposition.
Building an Emotional Brand Takes Time
Emotions forge over repeated interactions. A single ad cannot instantly manufacture an emotional bond.
Think of it like building trust – it develops through reliability demonstrated over time. Consistency cultivates familiarity.
Brands aiming for emotional resonance must commit to the long haul. Continually re-imagining and distributing creative that nurtures desired feelings.
Patience prevents overreaction. Many marketing managers expect immediate returns on emotional branding campaigns. But investing in the foundation now enables bigger payoffs down the road.
Rome wasn't built in a day. Nor are brands beloved for generations.
Measuring Emotion: How to Track Sentiment Data
Emotions are complex. Reducing them into quantifiable metrics risks being reductive. But that doesn't mean brands should fly blind on emotional branding efforts.
Useful measures include:
Brand Sentiment – What % of mentions are positive, negative, or neutral?
Brand Values – How do people describe your brand's values? What perceptions exist?
Ad Testing – Which creative variations generate more vigorous emotional intensity?
NPS – What % of customers are detractors? Promoters?
Reviews – Sentiment analysis on feedback and reviews.
Support Dialog – Tone and emotion exhibited in customer conversations.
Community Dialog – What emergent language and feelings exist in social conversations?
Track patterns rather than isolated data points. Look for emotional clusters and themes that directionally confirm your brand associations over time.
Key Takeaways: The Future is Emotional
Emotion moves people. Logic merely justifies decisions already made subconsciously. Brands that fail to establish an emotional linkage flounder in stagnancy.
Great branding makes customers feel something. Craft compelling narratives that summon laughter, nostalgia, trust, inspiration, and meaning.
Stories resonant over stats. Experiences over explanations. Ambassadors over anonymous ads.
Build your brand on emotional infrastructure first. Logic follows. Appeal to the heart as much as the head. That's where authentic loyalty lives.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are examples of emotional branding?
Coca-Cola associates its brand with joy, refreshment, and family bonding. Commercials spark happy memories through scenes like sharing a Coke with friends.
Dove campaigns like “Real Beauty” emphasise diverse representation, self-esteem, and empowerment. Their branding invites you to feel comfortable in your skin.
Apple's “Think Different” campaign positioned the brand as creative, innovative, and empowering by profiling famous revolutionaries who dared to challenge the status quo.
Airbnb ads highlight feelings like belonging, homeliness, and community by showcasing hosts greeting visitors arriving at their unique abodes.
Why is emotional branding so powerful?
Emotional branding is powerful because it forges deeper, more memorable connections. Emotions like joy and trust naturally attract us and imprint brands in our minds. Logic is forgettable, but feelings create lasting relationships and loyalty. Emotional branding taps into human psychology and our core motivations.
How can I make my brand more emotional?
Ways to make a brand more emotional include using storytelling to tap into feelings like hope, pride, or nostalgia; choosing visuals and music that conjure the desired emotional state; profiling real brand ambassadors like employees to humanise your brand; creating unique experiences for customers to engage with your brand physically; and emphasising emotional benefits over functional claims in messaging.
What colours evoke which emotions?
Red – Excitement, passion, intensity
Orange – Confidence, happiness, energy
Yellow – Optimism, creativity, warmth
Green – Peace, growth, health
Blue – Trust, stability, calm
Purple – Mystery, spirituality, royalty
Black – Sophistication, elegance
White – Purity, simplicity
How should I track the success of emotional branding?
Useful metrics for tracking the success of emotional branding efforts include measuring brand sentiment in social conversations, brand value surveys, ad testing for emotional intensity, and NPS scores to gauge customer loyalty.