January 15, 2020

Branding with Feeling

THOUGHT LEADERSHIP

Finding and occupying the emotional high ground in advertising

By: Steve Welker, Executive Creative Director


Imagine you’re a consumer—one who doesn’t think like a marketer and doesn’t spend their weekdays figuring out how to appeal to other consumers—and you have been given the tedious pleasure of joining a focus group. In that little room, with your carefully curated new friends, you’re asked for your opinions about products. About claims. About tires or dog treats. Then you ask yourself: How much do I really care about the science behind tire safety? Do I really buy treats for my dog because of clinical claims about texture and shape? Do I have enough time and energy, given the onslaught of information I am required to digest every day, to process product details?

Now snap back to reality. Do you, as a marketer, really believe that your brand will edge out another based on claims of functional benefits?

Or might people decide to accept a brand based on something else?

We talk a lot about engagement. How do we get the consumer/user/customer to engage? Well, to engage, we must connect. How do we connect? With emotion. Remember emotion? Its influence might appear to be invisible, but the power of emotion is undeniable—and we must pull it back onto marketing’s front burner.

Why? Because of three distinct advantages.

Emotion drives us to act.

Most of the time, little stands between reasoning and action. Daily decisions exceed our capacity to count, and most are made rapidly in response to emotion.

To make ourselves crystal clear: By action, we mean physical action. Think for a moment about the direct relationship between the emotional and the physical. When you get goosebumps in a theater. When a stadium of fans erupts in cheers for the home team. You can undoubtedly think of many more examples.

A customer’s emotional response to your brand is the same. When they click, like, share, add to cart and check out, those physical actions are driven by emotion—which is key, because the reflexive nature of that response provides a huge advantage in conversion.

Emotion beats facts.

Every brand, product or service has two distinct spaces: the functional and the emotional. Functional space is where factual claims are made—where brands attempt to reason people into making decisions. But the problem with focusing too much on functional claims is that you’ll see a 50/50 split on facts behind those claims. People tend to doubt facts. They dispute them:

“I read something else.”

“Your competitor says this.”

You’ll spend far more energy and effort on rationale for an intellectual argument (that you may not win). But emotion is rarely doubted. As a consumer, you don’t have to be a tread pattern engineering expert to know that so much is riding on your tires. You don’t need to understand “masticating at the gumline” to know that you feel better about your dog being close when its mouth is clean.

Emotion sweeps people up. In doing so, it bypasses the doubts raised when you present facts to be considered. Watch for evidence of this in the next focus group that you witness. Facts and functional claims about your brand will be disputed about 50 percent of the time. But sharing the emotional reason for your brand will prompt nearly everyone at the table to tell their heartfelt story of affinity for your brand.

A great example of emotion compelling action is from the iostudio creative team. While at Basic Training on a content trip, our creative team captured the emotional high ground for the Army National Guard, specifically targeting parents and those who influence recruiting decisions. Note that the Instagram story bypasses all arguments about potential danger versus benefit. Instead, it sweeps the viewer up into a powerful emotion: pride.

Understanding how to find and occupy the emotional high ground in your brand’s category is the most important factor in successful branding. You can measure that success with conversion.

Emotion creates data.

Data should be driving the pursuit of your brand’s emotional high ground.

Remember, emotion creates a connection, which leads to engagement—something quantifiable. Key performance indicators (KPIs) measure the effectiveness of your brand in connecting with your audience and compelling them to act.

With emotion at the center of your data, analytics, research and planning, you can track consumer behavior, identify trends, and use data and analytics to refine your entire brand experience across its digital footprint. (And we can show you the metrics that actually matter in capturing your category’s emotional high ground.)

Whether people accept a brand into their life or turn it away is an undeniably emotional decision. But you can choose how to position your brand: You can ride the powerful tide of emotion, or fight upstream with factual arguments. Either way, emotion will remain the ever-present force that determines your success in causing action. Why not claim that great power for yourself?

Need help finding your brand’s emotional high ground? Put us to work. We’ll help you define it, claim it and own it—and give you tools that clearly measure your success.


Steve Welker, Executive Creative Director

Steve is iostudio’s Executive Creative Director. He has more than 25 years of experience in helping brands identify the emotional high ground in their categories, then creating award-winning campaigns and storylines to own that vantage point and control the marketplace. When he’s not in pursuit of a brand advantage or tending to his Gentleman’s Farm in Bethpage, Tennessee, Steve has a parallel passion for coaching cross country and track and field. He’s always ready to bore you with stories of elite athletic performance and achieving success.