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The hidden truth about emotions in branding.

Emotions are not a highly talked about subject when it comes to business. But it should be, and here’s why.

According to research, fMRI brain scans light up in the emotional centers of the brain when shoppers are evaluating brands, not the analytical parts of the brain.

The hidden truth: humans are initially informed by their feelings versus the logical information being sold—such as features and facts.

In truth, both logic and emotions are needed in branding—the secret is finding an optimal balance of both. Take a look at your own branding, is there a good balance between information and emotions? Or does one play out heavier than the other, creating a disconnect between you and your customers?

If so, before you get to work on the next product launch and stack it with features to do the talking, drop logic aside and get into the feels first.

Long before fMRI brain scan studies, advertisers have known that you sell the sizzle, not the steak. Meaning you sell how the steak will feel and taste—not the size or shape of it. You draw the audience in with seducing close-ups of hot-off-the-broiler steak sizzling in juices. Then followed up with a cut into the steak where you can almost taste the warm, buttery chunk of meat in your mouth. Cue the drool and an irresistible desire for the steak.

It’s the sizzle and experience that triggers an emotional response, which far outweighs a commercial boasting only about the steak itself. Missing these emotional drivers can leave steak—or money—on the table.

Pause. Think of your favorite brands.

Before we go further on the topic, let’s explore this from your perspective. Take a quick time out and take a deep breath. Reflect.

Think about the brands you love. Which ones rise to the top? What draws you to them? What do you like about them? What do you like about the products or services they offer? How does interacting with the product, app, or website make you feel? Do you, in fact, see yourself somewhere represented in the brand—or a version of yourself you aspire to?

This is all emotional branding. Big brands like Nike and Adidas leverage the emotional appeal of the hero archetype in their branding to call on the hero in all of us. The higher the emotional appeal, the deeper the connection between the customer and the brand.

Why are emotional drivers so important to be aware of? Because strategically utilizing them directly impacts the business in a big way, helping profits soar. Even though emotions aren’t commonly discussed in the business world, their value holds tremendous weight. Let’s dive in.

Truth 01—We are emotional beings driven by emotions.

Universally speaking, humans are emotional beings. Whether a person may identify as an empath or not or operate more from their logical mind than being ruled by their emotions, the research reveals this is a universally true statement.

It may not be a conscious awareness, but humans are governed by their emotions, day-in, day-out. From basic needs of survival like hunger to reactions as life plays out, such as excitement or sadness. They can even show up in our dream states, making emotions an ever-present feature of the human experience.

So what do emotions mean to the business world?

Truth 02—Emotions are essential to branding.

A Harvard professor discovered that 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious (emotional). Meaning it’s exponentially more emotional than rational.

While the business world, along with society in many first-world countries, puts emphasis on the mind and logic in decision-making, the reality is there is more than just brain power involved in this process.

Even though emotions remain an elusive topic, experts are still trying to get their arms wrapped around it. More and more studies reveal that emotions serve as a guidance system charting back to survival. Beyond that, we look to our emotions to provide feedback that is pertinent to our well-being, goals, aspirations, identifying situations to avoid, relationships, and social interactions, to name a few. Emotions are tied to our self-expressions, preferences, needs, and values. Therefore they’re an essential aspect to brand perception.

Shoppers are influenced by their feelings exponentially more than rational thought.

To model this in a hypothetical situation, let’s say there are three pairs of shoes from different stores in front of you. One has shades of red with a sporty look, the second has shades of blue and a more rugged look, while the third has a sleek look with plant-based leather made of recycled materials.

Which one would appeal to you? Is this decision based on logical need or an emotional draw? When you’re drawn to a product you really want but know you don’t need it, it’s because the brain processes sensory input 5x faster than rational thought. Therefore, it’s critical for a brand to know its target audience and ensure their emotional needs are catered to as well as visually convey the vibe of its personality.

Naturally, humans are drawn emotionally to what is familiar. It’s what helps us connect and build communities. Another way of saying this is that humans are drawn to brands they resonate with and can see themselves in the branding to know, “I belong here. This brand gets me.” And since belonging is a strong emotional desire according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, it is important to satisfy this need.

Ultimately, the goal of branding is to be like a honeypot to bees. The smell of sweet nectar (branding) is like the magnetic pull of emotional drivers that appeal to the audience. Without emotional drivers, you would simply have a pot with no honey in it.

As mentioned earlier, since emotional parts of the brain process sensory input 5x faster than rational thought, by virtue, you could say the ROI potential on emotions in branding outperforms 5x more over logic.

That’s a lot of opportunity—which translates into profits, business growth, customer retention, and so on.

Truth 03—Emotions play a critical role in purchasing decisions.

In another hypothetical, let’s say you decide to purchase shoes from the first store. You love the power play of the color red and dig the sporty style because you always looked up to NBA stars.

It’s a yes for you, but you pause when you see the price tag. Your analytical mind kicks in to remind you that you have three similar pairs already, so do you really need a fourth?

After a short internal debate in a matter of seconds, you start imagining what it will feel like to wear these sneakers. How these cool kicks will make you feel like you’re an NBA athlete living that lifestyle—and it feels really good.

So you set logic aside and decide you’re getting them. A rush of giddy excitement runs through you as you click that ‘Buy Now’ button.

What was happening in this transaction behind the scenes?

The persuasiveness ratio of emotion to reason is 24:1, so it’s a no-brainer that emotions prevail when weighing several factors in the purchase.

You realize any shoe can take you from point A to B. But these shoes promise feelings of happiness, empowerment, confidence, and other positive emotions you may not even be able to identify, but you know they feel good. The power of emotions was the main driver in this purchasing process.

The brain processes sensory input 5x faster than rational thought.

The brain processes sensory input 5x faster than rational thought.

The brain processes sensory input 5x faster than rational thought.

Blueland targets eco-conscious consumers with emotional branding.

One brand that is leaning into emotional drivers in the eCommerce space is Blueland, an eco-friendly cleaning products line. Appealing to millennials who value sustainability and a minimal aesthetic, the brand showcases beautiful photography, well-designed packaging, and commits to sustainability practices—inside and out. The emotive messaging contained within a ticker on the site with scrolling text reaffirms the positive impact you create by being part of Blueland as a customer, ‘1 billion single-use plastic bottles from landfills and oceans since 2019.’

To add to that, followers of the brand share in the founder’s passion and enthusiasm for sustainability causes. They walk the walk and talk the talk, showing their actions in ongoing advocacy and policy-making to support clean oceans and a greener planet.

The impassioned engagement reflects in user behavior on the site with an average of five pages browsed during a typical visit. It’s a good benchmark with evidence to support the emotional drivers at work.

Blueland checks every box. To the eco-conscious shopper, this is a Candyland with dazzling visuals that makes them feel hopeful of a brighter future and feel good about their purchases. The emotional drivers are on-point with stunning branding and sustainability values that are layered into the product, content, and user experience.

B2B benefits from emotive messaging.

B2C isn’t the only space where brands can benefit from tapping into emotions. According to Marketing Week, B2B brands fare better with customers when they use emotive messaging rather than rational marketing messages. You don’t buy cyber security out of need. You buy cyber security for the sense of security and safety. A strong emotional driver that is positively reinforced because of its primal link to survival. Therefore messages that relate to the feeling of security and care fare better than literal messages that describe the functionality of it.

Now that we’ve identified the benefits, it’s time to ask yourself if your brand is leveraging these insights. Ready to roll up your sleeves? Take a good look at where there might be gaps between your brand and your customer with these three steps.

Three steps to bring out ‘all the feels’ in your branding.

  1. Take inventory. How do you want your audience to feel when they see or interact with your brand? Does your brand identity and design hold up to that?
  2. Evaluate your customer journey. How are they feeling at any given stage? Is that in alignment with how you want them to feel?
  3. Research. Dive deeper into the brands you love and unlock what emotional drivers pull you in. How do they influence your purchasing decision? What felt good? What was a negative experience that deterred you away? How can you apply these insights to your own business?

In a final word, emotions largely govern us more than we consciously think they do. Despite common misconceptions, leveraging this hidden truth gains you exponential ROI and drives a long-lasting connection between your brand and your customers. Without emotional drivers, you could be missing out on big opportunities to connect with your customers and generate sales.

Good research inspires empathy. When it comes to finding insights about your customers, Rebel is your partner in finding truths you never knew existed to take you to places you never thought possible. Whether it’s capturing what your customers are thinking, feeling, and saying with empathy maps or taking a pulse on their emotions in every stage of the customer journey. Let’s start the conversation.