How Brands Can Shape Positive Customer Feelings

Kai WrightAugust 23, 20195464 min

Often, as marketers, strategists, and leaders, we want only high-level interpretations of meaningfulness—brand recall, favorability, and preference. But that idea of meaningfulness can shift: media planners maximize against reach, PR professionals report in impressions, and brand managers worry about market penetration.

However, none of these metrics takes us as close to the consumer as feelings do, so you can better understand them. Optimizing brands to spark positive emotions reminds us that consumers are people—“feeling machines”—who are worthy of empathy. And in the pursuit of being a customer champion, we must not lose sight of empathy. At a time when brand loyalty favors the few companies that consistently exceed customer expectations, brands must set and sustain a vision that compels a community to buy and advocate.

And with brands operating as 24/7 publishers living in accessible media backdrops, the ability to not fulfill customer expectations is higher than ever. Knowing negative experiences are felt more than positive experiences, we must be careful to avoid the quicksand of a negative culture.

Since “brand” is expansive, and the ability for “expression” is broad, where should one focus? There are five areas that matter most to elicit consistent feelings for a brand.

  1. Lexicon Triggers: Language, vocabulary, associations, metaphors, schema
  2. Audio Cues: Tones, atmospherics, idents, voice, sonic logos
  3. Visual Stimuli: Symbols, shapes, colors, images, memes, emojis, gifs, video
  4. Experience Drivers: Feedback loops, omnichannel
  5. Cultural Connections: Values, purpose, business practices, and policies

Brands that master one or more of the five areas tend to grow faster than competitors. And brands that excel at mastering multiple territories become the stuff of legends. Those companies defy market odds and achieve longevity, achieving an iconic status such as a being a parachute of happiness like Disney.

A System Built For Brand Value

Think about your lexicon—what vocabulary and linguistic triggers do you use? What metaphors and schema have you utilized to help resonate with your customers? Would a consumer be able to identify your brand based on the language you use, or do you sound/read like every other brand in your category?

Audio cues are one of the most underleveraged branding tools. Does your brand have a signature sound (à la Intel or McDonald’s)? Does your brand waste sonic inventory such as the first few seconds of an ad? Is your brand borrowing equity by licensing music so often that consumers wouldn’t know what product is being sold if they didn’t also see a screen? And does the audio around your brand spark behavior?

What visual stimuli does your brand use beyond logo and color palettes? What symbols are most associated with your category or industry? Does your brand book cover gifs, memes, emojis, infographics, stickers, video and newer ways consumers express themselves and identify within communities?

Today, brands are only as valuable as the last best experience delivered to a consumer. In a noisy world, a good experience in any category sets the bar for your category. So, what’s your store atmosphere—messy and dimly lit? Are your sales associates friendly and helpful or pushy and aggressive? Are you delivering a consistent experience through mobile, phone, and in person?

Whether your brand is a retailer, restaurant, or resort, what do you want people to feel when they step into your space or use your digital tools?

And finally, think about your internal culture before you double down on doing it for “the” culture. What is your purpose, what values do you stand for and take up, and what internal practices make your brand something people feel compelled to follow?

And do those guiding principles carry through to your policies, practices, and protocols? Do you empower your employees to bring those values to life?

Every Hero Needs A Villain

How Brands Can Shape Positive Customer Feelings

Can’t think of one positive feeling you’d like to own? Then pivot to taking on an enemy feeling. Here’s a modern twist on a strategy that has placed a legacy brand well into the pantheon of cultural icons.

The brand? Snickers. Their marketing team created the message that hunger is the enemy, and used this sensation as the foundation for its 2010 Super Bowl ad featuring Betty White. You couldn’t take your eye off the comedian getting tackled, then bespattered, and giving a snide remark. “Grab a Snickers. You’re not you when you’re hungry.” That moment and that feeling led to the best ad recall of any Super Bowl ad that year, and later iterations slingshotted the brand straight into the number-one market position at a time of slow growth within their category. Their bravery to tackle hunger, literally, created a winning emotional hook.

The goal through following feelings is to champion the customer, and to elevate them in the world. Either name a positive feeling to reinforce for your consumers, or shelter them from enemy feelings by playing the hero.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Kai Wright, Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Follow The Feeling Copyright (c) 2019.

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