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3 Ways to Strengthen Your Emotional Branding

3 Ways to Strengthen Your Emotional Branding

Emotional marketing has become the new industry standard. Both research and experience show that consumers want to feel like they know a brand on a personal level, as they would a friend. They want to connect emotionally with brands, trust them, and know those brands have their best interests in mind. That connection is called emotional branding and can drive brand loyalty for a lifetime.

In order to form that lasting bond, brands have to understand how to develop an emotional connection with consumers. This process — which is equal parts art and science — uses storytelling to connect a product with the appropriate audience. Every brand or business has the ability to understand what truly motivates (and demotivates) consumers. Simply by listening to consumers’ own words, brands can gather input about how consumers see them.

Dove vividly illustrates how brands can gain or lose ground because of their alignment with issues that resonate emotionally with consumers. Since 2004, Dove’s campaigns have focused on making women feel good about the skin they’re in. The brand shifted to using everyday women (instead of models), specifically chose racially diverse women to feature in their ads, and made a point of not airbrushing or overly editing the final photographs. This approach has the dual benefit of truly showing healthy skin and more closely representing Dove’s consumers. The brand’s understanding of its audiences — and recent recommitment to listening to them — is why it has been able to maintain top-tier status for so long.

Purpose-Driven Emotional Connections

Thanks to the filtering, editing, and selective sharing of life’s “most beautiful” moments on social media, it’s incredibly easy to compare ourselves to others. That’s part of why Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is such a refreshing take on what beautiful looks like — even 16 years on. These campaigns make us truly feel something: feelings of happiness, self-confidence, women’s empowerment, and uniqueness.

The Real Beauty campaigns have shifted the way consumers think about the Dove brand. These initiatives position Dove as being inclusive and trigger consumers to associate the brand with authenticity. The recent addition of “No Digital Distortion” icons on the campaign’s photography has elevated people’s perception of Dove, positioning it as even more genuine and authentic than competitor brands. In product categories where not much else differentiates products on the shelves other than branding and packaging (such as shower gels, body lotions, and soaps), this translates into trust and sales.

The trust and emotional connection consumers feel for Dove is reflected in the numbers: Sales rose by $1.5 billion in the Real Beauty campaign’s first ten years, and Dove bars remain Unilever’s bestselling product — and the No. 1 preferred brand of soap in the U.S.

Creating Win-Win Relationships through Emotional Branding

By observing consumers’ beliefs and behaviors, brands can be proactive about determining which causes to align with — and which to stay away from. Because consumers tend to immediately block out information that conflicts with their values, brands can save time and resources by having an idea ahead of time regarding which tactics will resonate and which will fall flat.

The majority of emotionally engaged consumers spend two times as much (or more) on brands they feel loyal to, so it’s worth it to establish these connections. Plus, the listening approach gives brands the chance to discover influencer partnership opportunities, whether it’s with social media influencers, nonprofit organizations, or volunteer opportunities that can position the brand in meaningful ways. When consumers see influencers or causes they care about also engaging with a brand, they have a sense of social proof that the brand is legitimate and transparent in its values.

Like any relationship, establishing a strong brand-consumer connection is a process — and one that takes time and effort to maintain. The three steps below will get you started on your emotional branding journey:

  1. Find out what your customers are saying. Use social listening tools to determine what your customers care about. What issues are top of mind for them right now? What are the overall sentiments and emotions they express? Once you have a sense of the way your audience feels about your brand, your competitors, and your industry in general, you can use this data to inform your marketing campaigns. When a number of missteps soured consumers’ relationships with Dove, for example, the brand eventually responded with Project #ShowUs, a campaign devoted to listening. The campaign launched with a full-page ad in The New York Times that owned up to its mistakes and explicitly asked for input.
  2. Communicate with your audience directly. As humans, it makes us feel good to know others value our opinions and care about our feelings. With that, don’t be afraid to directly ask your customers what they care about and what they want. Use surveys, focus groups, and even social media to get feedback. Then, organize your data, comb it for strategic insights, and figure out ways to implement those findings in your marketing strategy.
    For example, maybe you learn in a focus group that your customers love your brand but feel like your advertising focuses on men to the exclusion of women. In response, you might create ads that not only feature women, but also have women steering the creative side behind the scenes.
  3. Listen to frontline employees. What better way to get information about an audience than to talk to the people who interact with it most? Ask your customer service teams about their experiences. What common pain points do they hear about? What commonalities in sentiments do they perceive? What do they see exciting consumers most, whether that’s positively or negatively?

If possible, lend a few customer care team members to your marketing or product development team from time to time. You’ll save your brand time and resources down the road by incorporating this feedback early on.

Customers crave an emotional connection with your brand. By listening to them and aligning with causes they care about, you’ll win customer loyalty for life — and garner invaluable insights to inform your future marketing campaigns.

Have you come up with any other ways to successfully strengthen your emotional branding? Let me know in the comment section!

Daryl Person
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