How To Use Emotional Branding For Best Results In Knowledge Commerce

Emotional Branding Happens When Customers Think Your Brand Makes Them Feel Great About Themselves

Most people don’t get the full idea of “emotional branding. They think a brand has to pull the emotional strings of customers to make them act a certain way that get the brand to sell more and make more money.

That could work as a superficial way. But there is a more strategic perspective. A brand should trigger actions that build a positive emotions about themselves in customers. The customers then feel like bonding with the brand because it acts as their no-fail self-validator. The bonding created then acts to engender loyalty and sales.

It is true that emotions drive actions. But to drive emotions in the first place, you need some small empowering actions by the consumer. It’s a chicken-and egg-story. Small starter actions change emotions. A brand has to make people take those small actions that change their emotional states. This then jumpstarts more energetic actions by the consumer driven by the emotions that have been lit.

At Solohacks Academy, we are often dismayed by the commonly seen casual marketing attitude towards emotional branding. It cannot be treated superficially as mere psychology of images, or color usage, or the tone of your text. Emotional branding can pay huge dividends if its use is far more strategic than the way it’s commonly delpoyed today.

1. How Emotional Branding Came About And What It Really Adds Up To

To understand how the concept of “emotional branding” arose as a marketing strategy, we need to look back at its progress over time. Here’s how it started, and where we have come so far …

a. What Is Emotional Branding?

In 2001 Marc Gobé wrote the seminal book “Emotional Branding” where he tried to emphasize the importance of emotions when establishing connections and building relationships between brands and people. When he noticed that many brands were advertising via unsentimental logic, Marc Gobé evangelized a form of branding that was more about “people, emotions and relationships”.

Some of the world’s most iconic brands such as Coca-Cola, Godiva and Evian were inspired by his book, and went on to create emotional branding that lingered in public memory for years.

Marc Gobé’s philosophy was that: “Consumers don’t remember messages, they remember moments”. He advocated using emotion in marketing as a great way to touch and, more importantly, bond with audiences.

Yet even though his book was a sellout, and had a lot of initial following, gradually the online marketing industry veered back towards appealing to consumers’ heads and not hearts. The emotional branding quotient in marketing started seeing a real downswing.

But, even as brands themselves got apathetic to emotional messaging, on social media there began to arise innumerable examples of consumers demonstrating an eagerness to share their experiences with the use of different brands. People began talking about brands with a lot of emotion. Some expressed anger with some brands. Others could barely contain their excitement and wanted to tell everybody what they loved about certain brands.

In this new milieu, where consumers are now leading the trend for emotional bonding with brands, some savvy marketers have got the message – and they are back on the lookout for good models of emotional branding to follow, for their brand marketing.

To begin understanding what emotional branding can do we need a viable definition of it first. A definition I often come across is like this one in Clevertap: “Emotional branding is the process of forming a relationship between a consumer and a product or brand by provoking their emotions. Marketers achieve this by creating content that appeals to the consumer’s emotional state, ego, needs, and aspirations.”

To me this is not nearly a good definition of what emotional branding is. I’d rather frame it this way: “Emotional branding is the process where a brand uses empowering action-triggers to transform consumer emotions, from low or negative emotions to upbeat and positive ones, about themselves. The consumer grows to form a bond with the brand, because the brand makes every contact a personally-validating experience, every time, for the consumer.”

b. The Most Important Emotional Human Needs

We now come to the question: What makes people feel good about themselves? If we know the answer to this, we may be able to use emotional branding to trigger these emotional states in consumers about themselves. The best psychological tool so far, that we all have is the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, a pyramidical concept developed by the famous psychologist Abraham Maslow.

The diagram below shows the steps of people as they evolve in their needs. As they meet their needs at each step, from the bottom of the pyramid upwards, their basic bodily comfort needs evolve into needs that satisfy their minds, hearts, and souls.

Maslows Pyramid

The physiological needs of humans for basics like food, clothing and shelter come first. When those are achieved, people next worry about their safety and security. After those needs are met, their physical needs give way to heart needs. They want to feel a sense of belonging to a group or tribe, and get and give love. Whey they get all that, their needs rise higher. They want to get that self-esteem that makes them stride ahead in the world as if they own it. Finally, when all these needs are met, they turn inward towards self-actualization. That’s when needs like being able to flower one’s talents, express oneself, or become creative come to the fore.

The question that brands need to ask themselves is this. Which emotional needs does your brand cater to? Is it a brand that caters to the middle of the pyramid, or the bottom, or the very top? An exclusive club membership may cater to a middle-pyramid level need. An expensive creative certification or a business ownership may cater to the topmost self-actualization needs.

If a brand’s objective is to help a customer evolve to the next step of the pyramid, from where he is, the customer will be grateful and grow bonded and loyal to the brand for that help. Every customer wants to feel the higher feelings about himself, so he values the brand that becomes his ladder in his emotional climb.

c. Applying Aristotle’s Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

There’s another superb concept that emotional branding marketers need to know about. It’s the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle’s idea of “persuasion”. He formulated the idea that when you want to sell emotional change to somebody, you also have to give them ethical and logical arguments that act as a justifications for that emotional change. Thus he enunciated the triad of Ethos (ethical arguments), Pathos (sentimental arguments ) and Logos (logical arguments).

Below is a diagram of his three-way persuasion technique.

Pathos, Ethos, Logos

Aristotle’s whole premise was that if you bolster an emotional change trigger with logical and ethical arguments, people will allow themselves to be moved emotionally more readily.

This flies in the face of those who believe that merely adding emotionality to branding communication will work wonders. The opposite is true. Even if people are moved to change via emotional triggers, they need their ethical and logical minds to allow themselves to be emotionally pulled.


2. Incorporating Emotions Into Brand Marketing Strategy

We’ve now understood what emotional branding really is. We have seen how people want to satisfy their different emotional needs at various stages of their lives, We’ve also seen how people need the crutches of ethical and logical arguments to fully accept emotional change instigated by brands. Now we come to the emotional branding game. Here’s how it should be played …

a. How Emotions Work On The Human Brain

Neuroscience is a very interesting subject. It is based on a study of the way emotions impact the human brain and vice versa. In fact, there is also something called “neuromarketing” where marketers aim to use the ideas of neuroscience to impact the minds of their consumers psychologically.

Without trying to get overly scientific about the whole thing, it’s important to realize that certain hormones and secretions in the brain create low, dull, apathetic or slow-moving emotions. People feel lethargic to act, apathetic towards things and generally downbeat. Similarly, there are certain hormones and secretions in the brain that create upbeat emotions like feeling on top of the world, feeling energetic and enthusiastic, feeling an outpouring of happiness for love.

Nobody enjoys being low and downbeat because being like that creates more and more depressive feelings and it’s a downward spiral. On the other hand, people love feeling upbeat because again its a spiral, only it’s a positive spiral. The happier you are, the more energy you have, the greater you feel and the spiral of good feelings brims over.

Knowing this much, brands that want customers to feel trust, loyalty and bondedness with them must somehow be able to take people from a downbeat spiral to an upbeat one. When people see how a brand can help them dispel those negative spiral feelings to positive spirals of feeling, every time they come into contact with the brand, they begin to see the brand as a “fix” – something that has the capability to make them feel better every time. Loyalty to the brand increases because it gives customers what they want. In return the customers allow the brand to give them more and more of the happy feelings that they have come to expect from the brand.

We’ve seen this happen every day in our lives. When we feel downbeat for long periods of time, we get even more lethargic. When we feel upbeat most of the time, we can’t stop acting. If a scientist were to describe it he would say “A body in motion stays in motion. A body at rest stats at rest.” But the scientist doesn’t usually add that a body at rest is feeling restful. It may be at rest but restless. Everybody wants to feel full of life!

b. How Emotions Can Be Transformed Subtly

Now comes the part where we examine how brands can help people feel better if they are downbeat so that they begin to associate the brand with upbeat feelings in themselves. The answer lies in the brand being able to trigger actions (even small actions) in a downbeat person, because action usually breaks the downward spiral and gets it revving into an upbeat spiral.

Let’s take a few examples from real life to see how actions wag the tail of feelings to make them wag harder and harder with happiness eventually.

  • You are feeling tired and frustrated and lethargic. You don’t feel up to doing exercise, though you know that if you somehow start the exercise, it gets you into an endorphin-high that you enjoy. To get yourself into that first step away from lethargy you take a small act of changing into exercise clothes and shoes. That makes you feel empowered, because you’ve given yourself that self-care.

    Suddenly, in a few seconds, the mood lightens, and you feel like stretching, your muscles feel like they want to move and before you know it you are limbered up. Now you can start walking, then jogging and when the time comes to stop, it’s hard to slow down, right? The small action of donning the exercise outfit triggers the motion, and the motion then grows upon itself.

    This happens a few times, and your mind gets the picture. Every time it wants a high, it turns to wearing those exercise clothes, because it knows that little act kicks up the adrenaline.

  • You are bored and listless, not knowing what to do with your time, and coming to think of it even if you knew what to do, it would be a stretch to get up from the couch. Suddenly your eyes fall on an open magazine with pictures of lush flowering home gardens. Your mind then goes into overdrive imaging a rose bed in your own garden, all full of blooms. You feel empowered because you feel that a garden of roses is something you too can create.

    Before you know it you’re hunting n your gardening cupboard for the compost bag and the spade to do a “little gardening”. You needed that little trigger (imagining your own garden) to get you feeling your own power, and now that you’re in motion, you kind of love being in motion. Right, again?

    Now if the same rigmarole happened a few times, your mind would begin to associate that magazine browsing idea with feelings of high happiness. So it would reach for that magazine each time it needs a “fix” in a low moment.

Now think of the same idea in marketing terms. If your brand could provide the trigger that makes people go from low feelings to upbeat feelings with some small actions, and if the brand consistently did this, consumers would reach for the brand each time they wanted to get out of a rut into a high mental and physical gear. The secret therefore in emotional branding is to strategize on how your brand can provide the empowering triggers that turn the positive spiral switch on for consumers.

c. How We Apply An Emotional Roadmap For Better Marketing

At Solohacks Academy, we have consolidated all that we have learned about “emotional branding” into a series of steps we take before we structure any marketing campaign for our Knowledge Commerce products. Here is our formula …

Our Emotional Branding Steps

There are four insights we discovered here about “emotional branding” which we want to share:

We use our “emotional” playbook neither to attract traffic nor to convert readers into subscribers. We use it to when we find customers visiting the site but not engaging enough.

Perhaps our site visitors and readers are either passive or desultory, or not energetic enough. When we sense that they are browsing too lethargically, or are too distracted and come back to our posts after long breaks, or are generally less engaged, we adjudge that they may need a trigger or two to spark up their energy and emotional levels.

Hitsteps is a simple tool that’s both inexpensive and gives us some important insights: time and engagement pattern on page, as well as heatmaps to show areas of high energy exhibited on our posts vs. areas of disinterest.

In areas of our site that show low energy levels, we have added some triggers to customers for small actions to take – like ticking a Yes/No opinion box, or putting in a “Tweet This” quote. Sometimes we give four options and ask “What would you do in this situation?”. The idea is to get their energy moving and make them feel like they’ve shared something worthwhile that shows them in good light. Dull idle readers seldom get feel empowered, and if they don’t feel empowered, they don’t enjoy the value of your content or feel great about buying anything from you.

What about those experts who tell you that certain colors and images, and way of writing with an emotional bent, will beget you more sales?

We don’t decry the value of such advice. From their own standpoint, they too are true. People who react to colors or images with energy, or text that excites, may take actions you want them to.

But we are talking about one stage before that. Emotional branding is about encouraging emotion when there is disconnectedness. What if your visitors arrive at your site with a mood that doesn’t encourage engagement?

The truth is that action, in a small way, is what lights up the dead wick of energy. That energy then responds to other emotional stimuli to take more action. But without some small action to start the process, emotional revving up seldom happens. That’s why we don’t just put up “energy images” or “excitement inducing colors” or other psychological uppers.

Those are fine, but we always ensure we trigger some small empowering starter action that begins some emotional energy in people. After that, the colors and images and rhythmic music and energetic videos work even better.

We asked ourselves why people arrive at a site so disinterested or in such a detached mode so much more often these days than they used to. We then discovered it’s the mind-dulling amount of information overload.

You may also see what we saw … if your site is among the first few sites a person sees in a session, you have a reasonably high energy level in the people who visit your site and read your content.

If on the other hand, they have already come across a barrage of information before hitting your site, they may barely have 2%-3% brain energy left after all that information overload. They are mentally tired – and in need of triggers that help them hit a new level of energy in themselves.

Overall on the topic of emotional branding, our thinking is this …

  • Information overload is a mentally-fatiguing emotion-killer. But it’s a fact of life online these days.
  • If you get loads of traffic to your site, but more than half those people are disengaged, what have you achieved?
  • Emotional branding is a way to slowly build engagement and energy into disengaged site visitors.
  • Only then do they get into emotional readiness to enjoy and value your content and your products, or to consider buying them.
  • All other benefits of emotional bonding like trust, loyalty and community cannot blossom in disengaged readers.
  • If you wait for emotions to be excited by images and colors and textual provocations, you can wait endlessly.
  • Getting people to take some small but empowering actions, however, wags the tail of emotions, and engagement then builds on its own momentum.
  • Engagement often needs a first prod from the marketers side, to create emotions that then grow more positive and energetic.
  • Actions trigger emotions – which then trigger more action. So those who think emotions trigger actions are not wrong, but they forget that a spur of initial action is needed to get the wheel rolling.

3. Emotional Analytics: The New Way To Measure How Audiences Feel

Emotions Analytics (EA) is a new very concept related to emotional branding, so I thought I’d give it a spin in this article. Most marketers would like to stay abreast of new happenings in the field of emotional branding …

a. What Is Emotional Analytics? How Can It Help Your Brand?

What does Emotions analytics (EA) mean? Well, in the old days (not too long ago) we content-marketers used to research target audiences both quantitatively and qualitatively, but not really get a measure of how they are emotionally impacted by our content. Now it appears there are ways to scientifically measure emotions in content-consuming audiences.

There is now software that collects data on how a person communicates verbally and non-verbally and thus “understands” the person’s mood or attitude. Using these insights, content can be closely customized to our target audiences, in the many interactions they have with our content … especially in areas like customer relationship management (CRM) and customer experience (CX) management.

Recent research appears to predict that the Emotional Analytics technology market will grow from the $3.37 billion it was in 2016-2017 to almost $7.76 billion by 2022. That’s a huge leap forward, if it happens.

The larger area of Emotional Analytics may well also become more segmented into clear sub-areas such as sentiment analysis, quantification of mood, or emotional variance by digital media types like images, video, audio, and text.

A statistic that may be of great interest to marketers, is that consumers who have a positive emotional experience are 15 times more likely to recommend the company that allowed them to feel that experience, according to a study by customer experience firm Temkin Group. Customers who had positive experiences thanks to a brand, are also six times more likely to forgive the brand if it made a mistake. The need for measuring the “positive” emotions thus becomes paramount.

There may also be a lot of value in being able to see whether using triggers of certain types can help reshape emotions and moods, and if so how.

b. How Does Emotional Analytics Work? A Behind-The-Scenes Glimpse

Every day, millions and billions of people post their emotions on social media – on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as on websites and in videos. So there is plenty of “emotions data” already out there, available to the new breed of EA software vendors, to analyze and arrive at insights.

Essentially these vendors have the onerous task of sifting through gazillions of human emotional cues and human interactions – to see if there is a clear correlation between actions leading to emotions, and then emotions leading to actions.

The “emotions data” is obtainable from video cameras that capture facial expressions during chats, microphones that collect data on tones of voice, or samples of text in blogs and articles and social updates. Of course, we also have the emojis that people like to annotate their text with. All this data, fed into machine learning algorithms, can help us learn to recognize expressions, tones and other characteristics that correlate to specific emotions.

Although today’s emotional range may cover typical broad categories of emotions – like anger, contempt, confusion, disgust, fear, frustration, joy, sadness or surprise – we may have finer shades or nuances of emotions recognized by machine learning. The end result we expect to see is not just what emotions people had at the time they typed text, or spoke via voice or video, but what actions they took immediately before and immediately after. That is the point that marketers are more interested in.

Soon there are likely to be dashboards where we can, as marketers, see the pattern waves of emotions in our target audiences in real-time. We may thus be able to shape our triggers to create fluctuations in emotions that can alter buying behavior. That is the general objective all experts are working towards.

c. Our Emotion-Revealing Tactics – Using A Slightly Less-Scientific Way

As we all wait to see the more scientific approaches to Emotional Analytics evolve, and start becoming part of our toolkits, we, at Solohacks Academy, have found one less-scientific approach that works for us quite well. It helps us in gauging customer emotions to any piece of content. We like to call this our “Sentimeter Tactic”.

We pick an article from our niche topic carefully, to see if it has covered a number of sub-topics. We then give our research respondents (usually a focus group) a whole bunch of emoticons with all kinds of expressions. We tell them we don’t want any verbal explanations from them.

We just want them to do two things … for the overall “emotional feel” of the article topic, they have to choose the emoticon that best matches the feelings they have. And then, they have to take the separate sub-topics of the article, and slap on the emoticons for each area, to show how they feel when they see and read that part of the article.

See below how a sample exercise would look like after the users have had an “emotional-expression session” …

Sentimeter Example

Emoticons are immensely useful in helping people express what they feel without the need for precise words. If the focus group is well-chosen, from a good representative sample of the target audiences, the results of this kind of informal emotion-research seem to work surprisingly well.


In Summary …

  • Emotional branding happens when customers think your brand makes them feel great about themselves.
  • The customers then feel like bonding with the brand because it acts as their no-fail, empowering, self-validator.
  • Consumers are now leading the trend for emotional bonding with brands, and savvy marketers have got the message.
  • Two great tools for understanding what empowers emotions are the Maslow Pyramid and Aristotle’s Ethos-Pathos-Logos Triad.
  • Actions trigger emotions – which then trigger more action. A spur of initial action is needed to get the wheel rolling.
  • Emotional Analytics (EA) is the new technology that aims to “read” customer emotions, so brands can use this “emotional data”.So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!

This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.