Emotional Marketing Bridges the Gap Between Your Brand and Your Customers

8 min read
Jul 6, 2020
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You know that feeling when you’re just mindlessly scrolling your social media feeds? Most of us are guilty of that. So, I was browsing Twitter the other day when I stumbled across the tweet below.

It’s one of those tweets that make you stop and think for a moment. Or, maybe, it makes you click the heart button, comment, and retweet. It made me do more. 

It’s not like I am a stranger to the concept of emotional marketing. It’s not even about the fact that the image above implies the difference between sales and marketing. To me, both images are marketing. But they’re also so fundamentally different. 

You look at the guy on the left, and you don’t feel anything special. You look at the guy on the right, and you’re flooded with memories and emotions. Chris Rea starts singing “Driving Home for Christmas” in your head. You start remembering all the times when you were headed home for Christmas dinner with your family and friends. Ok, maybe, I’m going a little overboard. Or am I? 

What’s emotional marketing?

Emotional marketing is all about making your audience feel a specific way. To achieve that, your creative efforts need to evoke the desired emotions in your audience. Whether it’s a TV commercial, an ad that you hear on the radio, or a paid ad on social media, they all communicate marketing messages. They are meant to build or strengthen the relationship between a consumer and a brand. 

The way brands communicate with consumers has changed significantly over the last decade. There are more touchpoints than ever before, mostly because of social media. Brands needed to adapt to a changing environment and make themselves more human so that it’s easier for them to build relationships with their customers. What better way to build those relationships than trying to reach them on an emotional level?

Before you plan your first campaign, make sure you know your audience. Find out as much as possible about their values, what they care about, and what motivates them. Without proper market research, you might end up trying to market in a way that’s not going to resonate with your audience because you didn’t strike the right chords.

According to research from the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow, there are four basic emotions: happy, sad, afraid/surprised, and angry/disgusted. Depending on what we want to market and who we want to sell to, we can draft our marketing messages based on those emotions. Of course, the spectrum of emotions we feel is a lot wider.

“Wheel of emotions”

To help yourself navigate emotions better while planning your next campaign, take a look at Robert Plutchik’s “wheel of emotions.” It illustrates emotional states and how they lead to each other based on intensity.

Wheel of emotions by Robert Plutchik

This model is more complex than the four basic emotions I mentioned above. Robert Plutchik distinguishes eight basic emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation.

When you start interpreting the “wheel of emotions,” you’ll notice how they relate to each other, and you’ll learn which ones are opposites. This framework also gives you an idea of how emotions tie together and form different emotional responses. A combination of joy and anticipation gives you optimism, while trust and fear end up with submission. 

Notice how the emotions closer to the center of the wheel are more intense variations of the eight basic emotions. Conversely, the ones on the outside of the wheel are less intense. Before you plan your next emotional marketing campaign, take a look at the “wheel of emotions” to figure out how you want your audience to feel. Those feelings are going to be the crucial determiners that will make them choose your brand over competitors. 

Why we choose one brand over another

Imagine you’re in a supermarket and you’re buying a box of cereal. You can choose from so many different options. On top of the major brands, every supermarket has its own store-brand cereal that is also way cheaper. Putting flavor and price aside, what are the other reasons for choosing a particular box? Chances are you’re going to pick cereal from a brand that somehow managed to build a connection with you on an emotional level.

That connection doesn’t even have to stem from recent experience. Most of us ate cereal when we were kids, and the way we experienced those brands back then still shapes our consumer behavior today. It’s likely that the box of cereal you had on your kitchen table years ago, that was there during those happy family breakfasts, will be the one that you’re going to choose today.

I’m not trying to say that every brand needs to rely on emotional marketing to be successful. Some brands don’t have the money for sophisticated campaigns. Others are doing perfectly fine without any sort of storytelling that would help them build that emotional connection.

In his article for Psychology Today, Peter Noel Murray, Ph.D., states, “A brand is nothing more than a mental representation of a product in the consumer’s mind.” He adds that if there’s nothing more than the facts that we can learn about a product, there’s no bridge between that brand and ourselves. On the other hand, the more emotional the connection between the brand and consumer is, the more likely he is to become a frequent buyer. 

The disconnect between the conscious and unconscious mind

If emotions play such a big part in our decision-making, does that mean that a significant number of our purchases are irrational? Some of them are for sure, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman says that ”95% of our purchase decisions take place unconsciously.” That means that those decisions are based on emotions. Following that logic, it should be pretty easy for us to make a list of our emotional decisions. It’s not. Our brain doesn't process those decisions quite the same, and it does whatever it can to find reasons that justify our choices. 

Michael Harris argues that people do not decide based on emotions. He believes that we make our choices subconsciously. Then, our subconscious or intuitive decisions are “communicated to the conscious mind via an emotion.” After that, we move to the phase described in the previous paragraph, and our conscious mind finds rational reasons for our actions.

This is all based on studies by psychologists and behavioral economists that claim there’s nothing irrational or irresponsible about our emotional decisions. "In fact, we now understand that our unconscious decisions follow a logic of their own. They are based on a deeply empirical mental processing system that’s capable of effortlessly processing millions of bits of data without getting overwhelmed. Our conscious mind, on the other hand, has a strict bottleneck, because it can only process three or four new pieces of information at a time due to the limitations of our working memory,” Michael Harris explains. 

Subaru are the champions of emotional marketing

Many brands embrace emotional marketing strategies, but the one that especially stood out to me was Subaru. To give you some context, it wasn’t always like that. For a long time, many perceived Subaru as a boring company. Nothing was exciting about their cars either, and journalists described them as “sturdy, if drab.”

The Japanese carmaker employed a few marketing agencies, but none of them did enough to turn the situation around. It wasn’t until Subaru started working with Carmichael Lynch that things finally began to change for the better. 

After they started their partnership in 2007, the agency realized that people were not coming to Subaru for rational reasons. They were coming to the brand because they loved the outdoors, pets, and life in general. Carmichael Lynch believes love is a universal feeling, and people everywhere feel it. That’s why they decided that love should be the focus of their quest to reinvigorate the brand. They launched “Love. It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru” and it turned out to be a major hit. 

The campaign is all about, well, love. Specifically, the love we feel for those close to us. Subaru wants to make us feel safe and help us discover the world. 

The campaign has three main pillars that correspond to the audience it’s targeting.  It’s aimed at the people who prioritize adventure, family, and safety. These pillars are bound together by love. 

Carmichael Lynch claims that the campaign is “Telling love stories.” When you watch the TV commercials, you’ll see it’s evident that they're all meant to elicit an emotional response. Some of them are real tearjerkers. Take my word on that. 

There’s no denying that emotional marketing works. People don’t like ads, and they don’t like being sold to. Building an emotional connection between your brand and its target audience will help you bridge that gap. 

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