Establishing Stronger Emotional Connections

In many of the brand studies we conduct, unprompted word associations with the brands we test are often functional, such as “reliable”, “quality” and “value for money”. While these are positive perceptions, they are quite plain and often shared by numerous brands. There is opportunity, therefore, for b2b brands to achieve greater differentiation through more emotive positioning.

Emotional drivers are, however, difficult to establish as they are often unstated and are driven by habit, intuition and the subconscious. It is here that brand plays a critical role though. Brands and emotions are interconnected, because brands create an expectation, and expectations carry hope and promise.

Through our research on hundreds of b2b brands, we identified 4 steps of emotional engagement:

Emotional step What it comprises Example(s)
1. Trust A brand has to be trusted to enter the consideration set. Attributes that fall into this could include “a brand you can rely on”, “a safe brand”, “reputable”, etc. Marriott: the well-known hotel chain is considered a safe bet given its high brand recognition and market penetration. A customer is likely to choose the hotel simply because they have stayed in a Marriott before.
2. Empathy The next step in emotional engagement is demonstrating an understanding of buyer/user needs, pain points and desires. For a brand to empathize with its target audience, it needs to be “easy to relate to”, “genuinely sympathetic to customer issues” and “agile in problem solving”. Empathetic brands care about their customers and share similar values as them. Amazon: the mass-market retailer is constantly making the shopping experience easier and recognizes the value of quality and affordable products being more easily accessible. The company has invested in experience innovation through the likes of Amazon Prime and Amazon Dash to better meet the market’s needs, resulting in an industry leading NPS.
3. Enrichment Beyond understanding the customer, the more emotionally-resonating brand is one that makes a significant impact on the user experience or/and empowers the customer to achieve more. Focus on the transformative values of the brand (e.g. the customer feeling inspired, more confident, accomplished etc.) IBM Watson: the brand is dedicated to making a significant impact through artificial intelligence that helps make smarter and more informed decisions. IBM Watson has been integrated into various platforms, from healthcare (to help eradicate cancer) to education (enriching Pearson solutions).
4. Eminence The ultimate level of emotional engagement is when the brand is held in high esteem by customers, to the point that they are proud to associate themselves with the brand. This is typically prestigious brands or those that comprise a degree of exclusivity (meaning customers view themselves as part of a privileged cohort). Attributes to test could include the likes of “a brand I’m proud to own”, “a brand ahead of the rest”, “a brand to live up to”, etc. American Express: the brand’s commitment to delivering a more exceptional customer experience results in greater emotional engagement. The higher fees reflect the price of exclusivity and valued benefits.

To identify where a brand fits on the ladder, it is necessary to understand the target customer, what they value, and how they perceive the brand. This could be at the foundational level of trust, the more customer centric level of empathy, the more empowering level of enrichment, or the most sophisticated level of eminence.

Not all brands should strive to climb the ladder. Segmentation plays a role here, in that the target audience has different needs and not all brands can be everything to everyone. Rather the goal is to be best in class at a particular emotional maturity level.

On a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers. Emotionally engaged customers…

  • Buy more of your products
  • Interact more with your brand
  • Are more receptive to your communications
  • Exhibit less price sensitivity
  • Spread more positive word of mouth

Brands that evoke emotions almost always win.

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