Emotional Value & Why Brands Need It
As a designer, do you ever find yourself frequently judging other brands on how you perceive and experience them from a visual aspect? No? Just me then? The thing is though, experiencing a brand is not just about what you see. It's not just about the colour pallets being used, the way the logo is constructed, or even the enchanting typography styles that have been chosen. It's about so much more!
If we can't separate how we experience and interact with a brand from the products the company sells or the services it has to offer then does the brand really work? Obviously, these kinds of questions are open to a considerable amount of individual interpretation but let's explore the concept of adding emotional value to your or your clients brand; helping you (or your client) stand out from the rest of the crowd.
Let's start with this...
How do brands make us feel?
The vast majority of us believe that our decisions are rational and well-thought-out; especially when it comes to purchasing something whether it be a product or a service a company has to offer. But, what if I told you that this may not always be the case. Just stay with me on this because I'm going to explain to you why.
As humans, we also make our decisions based deeply on the emotions that we feel. Whether that be decisions that are negative, or whether they be positive. Our choices tend to be deeply rooted in our feelings. This my friends is known as science...
In October 1996, world-renowned Portuguese neurological scientist, Antonio Damásio, published a paper (The somatic marker hypothesis and the possible functions of the prefrontal cortex) which explored the theory that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex area of the brain is responsible for emotional processing of information.
Antonio, along with his expert team, carried out a study on patients who had suffered some form of brain damage to this area of the brain which is believed to be responsible for the processing of human reasoning and decision making.
What they found through their study was quite astonishing. Patients with damage to this area of their brain were unable to process emotions in the same way which someone without brain damage would. They also found that these patients were also unable to make decisions. They found that things even as mundane as picking what to eat for dinner could be completely overwhelming. That being said as I write this post, I can relate to how much of a tricky situation it can be to pick something out for dinner!
Without going into further detail, we can take from this study that emotions can have a powerful influence on the neurological areas of our brains that allow us to make decisions. The parts of the brain that can help us make choices that we believe to be the most emotionally fulfilling.
Now, this is where it all comes back together; emotional logic is one of the most substantial factors in how we purchase services and products. Because of this, we can use brands to create a competitive advantage by targeting in on and delivering some form of emotional value. As an example, you could find it a lot easier and more effective to sell a pair of trainers that are stylish yet extremely comfortable over a pair that are still stylish but completely uncomfortable and cost £40 less.
In reality, we often choose which brands to become loyal customers to because there is something deeper on an emotional level that resonates with us, our believes, and/or our values. Most of the time we do not even realise that we have made this subconscious decision and often tell ourselves it is because we just prefer that brand, the way it looks, or the products it has to offer. Then we find ourselves trying to justify to our partner why we spent that extra £40 on the branded pair of shoes rather than the unbranded pair that may have been just as comfortable. It's simply down to how we are emotionally connecting with that brand and how this shapes our decision making.
Check out this 2015 Wrigley's Gum advert that creatively targets your emotions by constructing a love story and placing their product at every single step of the way.
The power of a story
We have all heard the phrase that "A picture is worth a thousand words", but a story can say so much more. Mixing illustration, video, written, printed, and audio formats spreading the same message is extremely powerful when done correctly!
Let's take the shoe example used earlier and apply it to this...
You walk into a shoe shop, let's be more specific for this example, a sports store. There are multi-brand displays of potentially hundreds of types of trainers which all look incredibly similar. They feel the same, are similar in price and this pair fits just as well as the next. So, how do we come to the inevitable decision? Which pair are we going to buy?
This process started a long time before you even stepped into the store. Now you haven't even realised that you have subconsciously more than likely already made the decision on which pair to purchase.
I'm going to use Nike for my example here because they have achieved something that no other sports brand has achieved before. I'm talking about the social impact and social following that Nike has made through the way they have emotionally branded themselves. They have shaped individuals minds, their habits. Nike has become the symbol of the inner-athlete that we all have. They aim to make every single one of us feel like a winner. Making us feel like we can achieve anything we put our minds to, can overcome any obstacle that life decides to throw our way. It's a powerful message that sits at the core of the brand and as such, develops an engaging story encouraging us all to "Just do it".
Because of our natural desires as humans, Nike fulfils our desire to belong, we buy into their narratives sometimes without even realising. They have this creative way of making us feel like the better version of ourselves; it's these positive emotional states that we later connect with the brand when making the decision of which pair of trainers we choose while presented with many options in the shop. Such compelling storytelling that targets our emotional receptors in the brain can persuade us to overlook product similarities, price, and sometimes even personal taste!
Following on from this, it seems the perfect time to talk about...
The same but not the same
With the rapid expansion of free-market dynamics and globalisation, there are now more products and services to choose from than ever, and this can create its own challenging environment for your target customers. Think of a sweet shop - it can be challenging to decide which sweets to purchase with endless options in front of you.
Something that can add to this confusions or frustration with which product to purchase or which service to choose is the fact that many unique products or services are now days easily copied.
As technology has advanced, it has made it easier than ever to reverse engineer things leading to replication with slight adaptations. Production can be outsourced far easier, which means prices can quickly be matched or even undercut.
As a consequence, customers are now looking for further ways to differentiate companies to help them make an informed purchasing decision. Traditional marketing techniques just don't cut it anymore. Lowering prices and trying to undercut the competition can put a brand in a dangerous place. So what do we do? We use emotion in our advertisement, in our brands. We create narratives that help people connect with our companies. Let's look at those who put their customers first, who connect with them...
The customer comes first
Using Amazon as an example, one of their core six values is "Customer Obsession". This won't come as a surprise as Amazon's brand visions are to become one of the most customer-centric companies to ever exist.
Every single thing they do has this vision in mind, with a reliable service offering everything between the famous "A to Z". They have fantastic customer service, and no problem will ever go unsolved. You are treated with respect and friendliness, making you feel valued and understood. It's not a happy coincident that a smile makes up part of their logo - they aim to put one on your face every time you interact with them.
As a result, there is a sense of being proud to mention that you have purchased something from Amazon. A sense of being at one with the digital community around the world, someone that lives a busy fulfilling life and value's the convenience of Amazon's online marketplace.
Delivering this kind of emotional value through a brand can create emotional bonds between the company and its customers. Customers will often use Amazon in the hopes of purchasing their chosen product at a cheaper rate. Sometimes this can even result in the sale of an alternative product that offers extra benefits or the same benefits but is more cost-effective. Thus results in a saving for the customer egging them on to come back for more! What happens to those that neglect the emotional value of their brand or their customers though? Let's explore this next...
Neglecting emotional value
According to Kenny Jacobs, the CMO of Ryanair, they aim to be the Amazon of travel within Europe. Contrary to Amazon though Ryanair have never placed their customers at the centre of their brand or values. We all know that the vast majority of their client base does not connect with the brand - they have little effection or emotional attachment to it.
Most of us chose to fly with Ryanair because it is cheap and they get the job done. There is no feeling of being valued or unique as you would expect to receive from an airline such as British Airways. Ryanair just isn't about this - they are cheap and cheerful.
Kenny (the CMO of Ryanair) has previously argued that a company has no need to emotionally connect with its target audience to win over business. I consider this to be a very interesting boast considering the current position they are in with recent strikes and cancelled flight, but this is a risk Ryanair's customers are willing to take for a cheap flight. It's a risk I'm even willing to take to make a European holiday more affordable!
The downside is that unintentionally you are made to feel cheap, and it's not just the customers too - every stakeholder, every employee, everyone. You have to pay for every add-on imaginable. On top of all of this, if something goes wrong, you will face enormous queues before getting through to a virtually inaccessible customer service team.
What we ask is, can Ryanair continue with this kind of brand model? Will they always win over customers based on low fairs? Is pricing alone enough for a long-term advantage over the competition? Maybe so with the environment, they operate in; only time will tell.
How we emotionally connect with a brand and how they shape our perception through their creative storytelling can turn us into long term loyal customers. While I agree that not all brands need to do this, not all brands need to be loved, can neglecting emotional value cause more harm than good in the future? Will it inevitably lead to the business becoming vulnerable to external threats?
What are your thoughts?
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