It’s generally accepted that we engage with brands and make choices on two levels: the pragmatic or declarative level and the emotional level. But the importance of the emotional level is often underestimated.
Our primary processing of any experience (including a brand experience) is at a visceral level, often described as pre-wired and subconscious; next we process at a behavioural level – how it functions and our own interaction. Thirdly, we consider it at a reflective level – how it makes us feel and in terms of our broader life experiences. (After Don Norman)
These early stages of experience fall into the category of passive involvement processing (PIP). We don’t consciously process, we feel.
Later stages of brand choice use active involvement processing (AIP), where we consider and weigh alternatives and make what we believe are rational, objective decisions. The truth is that we have probably made our emotional choices already using PIP and are now only justifying those decisions.
Much of the work done with brands is done at the rational level because this is most amenable to communications and persuasion. Facts and information can be communicated with the object of influencing rational choice using the subject’s pragmatic AIP. However, by this stage decisions, prejudices and choices are likely to be already deeply embedded.
So, how do we appeal at that passive emotional level?
It is not easy, but understanding those primitive emotions may help point the way. Early man liked people like himself. There is a functional advantage to this, your own family group and tribe represent safety in a potentially violent world. Approaching strangers could be a risky activity – so he would seek out those he knew, those who looked like him, sounded like him and smelled like him. He wanted to feel comfortable with those who shared his values.
Our brand choice is similarly driven – we choose brands with which we feel comfortable, which match our values and our lifestyle. The key word for the brand steward is ‘empathy’. It is important to be in touch with the emotional forces at work in the audience. No at a shallow level that can be talked to, but at deep level that can be felt.
It needs a real understanding of the person the brand wants to share with – understanding their values, desires and fears. The brand steward must seek to build an holistic picture of the subject and also of the brand. The objective is to analyse the touch points, where must the brand values be perfectly in tune with those of the audience – empathy.
1. Get to really understand your audiences emotional needs. Marketers are good at understanding and satisfying physical needs, but for your brand to touch people you need to recognise their deeper emotions, desires, aspirations, needs and fears. Use archetypes, create lifestyle boards – anything to help your insight.
2. Analyse your brand values. Be honest. It’s easy to pay lip-service to all the values we believe we should have – but what are the core values that we hold true? Better still, ask others – clients, suppliers, friends – a quick survey will be priceless.
3. Match up the touch points – this is where you can build.
4. Don’t force it. Sometimes there are circles you just cannot square. For example, perhaps customers are small independent retailers who are uncomfortable with and scared of big suppliers. If you are a large organization, don’t try to fake it. Either look for other emotional convergence that you can build on or admit that perhaps you are trying to connect with the wrong audience. Or maybe you need to restructure. The point about emotion is it’s deep and visceral – and above all, must be honest.