It's often the case in business and startups that we're advised to set emotions aside. If you've heard this advice before, take it with a grain of salt. Emotional Intelligence is one of the greatest skills a leader can have. Branding your company is a challenging task that requires a deep understanding of your customer's emotions, and to be successful in branding, you'll need to be empathetic to their feelings. In fact, branding without emotion is dangerously lacking and probably ineffective – read on to find out why.
Value vs. Emotion
When first asked to define their brand, most small companies will begin by listing off their value proposition: we have great customer service, we're made in the USA, our prices are fair, our widgets are the shiniest ever made, etc. These are all great points and certainly not to be forgotten. However, they aren't a brand. Some might go on to say “well, our logo is the brand” – and that's close, but still missing the mark. The essence of a powerful brand – the true heart of it all, is emotion. It's the emotional tie between the company and the consumer that creates a brand. Let's take an example:
A Classic Example
A great way to illustrate this is by using a well-known example – in fact, they're the #1 brand in the world: Coca-Cola. I'm just going to assume if you're reading this, you've probably had a Coke before – if not, find a store near the cave you've been living in, have a Coke, and come back when you're ready. Taking from the points above, we'll put Coke through a “Brand Test”:
When you think of Coke's value proposition, does that define their brand? Their value proposition is a caffeinated, sweet liquid with a cola flavor that is sold everywhere around the world at a fair price and consistent quality. They certainly can't be Coke without this – you can't have a brand without value and consistency – so they can't suddenly put fruit juice in the bottle and say “It's Coke!” Let's not forget off-brand imitators, however. They offer the exact same value proposition. In fact, their value is better. You can buy tasty cola anywhere in the world, and it'll be 20% cheaper than Coke. So while a good value proposition is a requirement for a brand, it isn't the brand – it isn't what actually defines Coca-Cola, and makes them a $77B brand. It also wouldn't explain why people still buy Coke, even though there are cheaper replacement products.
How about the logo? I've written entirely about Brand vs. Logo before – if you really stop and think for a second, you're not actually buying Coke and drinking it for the logo – that just doesn't make sense. What the logo represents, yes, but the actual logo itself….no.
So we're left with the emotional connection that Coke has fostered over the years – is this the core of their brand? The fun of beach parties and a refreshing drink, or sitting on the porch with your grandparents and having a cold Coke – the stuff of Norman Rockwell paintings. The value proposition of sweet caffeinated water must simply be upheld. The logo must somehow stir up the emotional feeling of having a Coke with your dad at a ball game – but without that root emotional connection, there is no brand. Ever notice how your mom or grandmom can make a plain ham and cheese sandwich, but it tastes somehow better? People joke, and say “That's because it's made with love” – but it's true. You love that person, so you love the sandwich they made, and therefore it physically tastes better. Coke has created this exact same phenomenon for billions of people in a myriad of ways – maybe you love the beach, and that's where you had your first Coke, so it will always taste better than any other cola to you. Emotional connection is indeed the foundation of a great brand. So how can you put this into action for your brand?
Make Emotion Work for Your Brand
Putting this all together for your company can be challenging, but it's possible. The most important thing to remember is that there's no such thing as an emotion-less or boring product. An example here might be: “that's a great thought for Coke, but I make decorative doormats, and they're about the least emotional product ever.” The truth is that people are emotional – and while it may not be obvious, there's some emotional driver to the purchasing decision of doormats. For instance, what does a doormat do? Who walks across them? What happens on them? Loved ones enter a home, and you greet them, take their jacket, and give them a hug – there's emotion there, and your doormat is what they are standing on. Maybe the decorations on the mat point to a deeper meaning for people – pets, holidays, etc. When you needle in on these emotional points of your company you give it a story and a heartbeat. As a society of emotional people, we buy products with good stories, emotion, and a heartbeat. Tap into the emotional side of your company, products, and staff, and you'll eventually uncover your brand, too.
About the Author
Dennis O'Donnell is co-founder of Clear-Coat, a Philadelphia company specializing in mobile accessories. He writes about useful tools and strategies for small business on Starterist, or you can find him on Twitter @DenODonnell.