The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
The ‘emotional’ revolution that has engulfed the marketing world is undeniable: brands are constantly seeking to win our wallets by way of our hearts. The mythmakers of Madison Ave did so by crafting poignant stores that masked products’ imperfections or downright uselessness. Though today’s marketers are forced to meet a slightly higher standard of credibility, their goal is still to teach us how their brand is supposed to make us feel. It seems it’s not enough for soap to clean and moisturize – it must also compel us to philosophize about what it means to be beautiful.
Psychology, and more recently, Cognitive Neuroscience, have elucidated the critical role emotional plays in our day-to-day existence. We have entire brain regions dedicated to expressing, perceiving, and processing emotions, and so it is no surprise that emotions lie at the core of many of our decisions and behaviors. But marketers have, for the most part, misinterpreted the implications of our biology for their brand-building activities.
The most successful companies in the world understand that brand and business growth don’t result from the kind of emotion that is manufactured in an advertisement. Instead, these companies channel all of their energy into creating magnificent products that add true, tangible value to people’s lives. Emotion – and the financial commitment it inspires – actually emerges as an organic side-effect of satisfied functional needs.
Dyson, for example, takes pride in the fact that it has no marketing department. Indeed, its products are the only marketing department the company needs. James Dyson dedicated his life to perfecting what was always an imperfect technology, and in the process created the most innovative, powerful, and beautiful vacuum cleaner on the market. The team behind Dyson’s Luddite sibling, the Swiffer, did something similar: they understood the misery of mopping and invented a simple and effective tool to mitigate the pain. And Apple, fed up with man’s subservience to overcomplicated technology, introduced people to the most elegant and intuitive devices upon which they’ve ever laid a finger.
These brands have achieved extraordinary success by fulfilling a fundamental functional need – be it cleanliness or communication – in a unique and innovative way. When Dyson, Swiffer, and Apple communicate with people, they allow their products and technologies to speak for themselves (many of their ads simply consist of product glamour shots) and inspire consumers to forge their own emotional connection with the brand. Millions of people would be devastated if these brands left the planet – not because they intentionally tug at our heartstrings, but because they add meaningful value to our lives.
Contrast these examples with Google’s recent ads for its Chrome browser. The ads are beautiful and chill-inducing, but their purpose is ultimately unclear. As Google continues to lag behind Microsoft and Mozilla in terms of browser usage share, it becomes increasingly important for them to give people a reason to switch to Chrome. This recent campaign has generated millions of YouTube views (and even more tears), but has done little to convince anyone besides current Chrome users that it’s an application worth trying. Had Google found a way to, say, bring Flash to my iPhone, I’d also be crying tears of joy, but this time on my own terms.
The functional/emotional divide is also evident when it comes to issues of sustainability and social responsibility. A brand like Seventh Generation, built entirely on an emotional promise of protecting the planet, has lost many customers who feel that the brand doesn’t actually fulfill its functional duty: keeping things clean. And while Pepsi’s Refresh project revolutionized how we use social media and proved to the world that brands are capable of doing good, the fact that Coke now holds the top two spots in the Cola Wars suggests it’s the other refreshment – the functional kind – for which people actually pine.
So has the emotional revolution really been replaced by a functional one? Not exactly. For one, it is emotion that ultimately drives the functional innovation that I have described here: the passion and empathy of people like James Dyson, Steve Jobs, and their disciples allow them to conceive of and execute the value-adding innovations that draw people in. And once they’re drawn in, it is emotion that keeps them there: a brand that has functionally integrated itself into someone’s life creates an enduring emotional bond that is difficult to break. But notice that it is function that lies at the core of this system. Until companies realize that it is through superior performance and meaningful, empathetic innovation that brands become beloved and irreplaceable icons, the only emotion they can hope for is of the artificial, transient variety. And any human-brand relationship built on this kind of emotion cannot expect to function for very long.
Contributed to BSI by: Eric Tsytsylin, Millward Brown Optimor
Sponsored by: The Emotional Connection Workshop