Emotive Branding: The Path to Meaning (and Kick-Ass Creative)

At Emotive Brand our goal is to make brands truly meaningful through emotive branding. Emotive branding is about transforming the way a brand reaches out to people and the way people respond back to that brand. The key is meaning. As we add meaning to the things a brand does, the people vital to that brand’s success start to care, think, talk and do more for the brand. As a result, emotive brands thrive across all business measures.

But what is meaning?

And, perhaps more important, how do we add meaning to brands through emotive branding? We focus on meaning because we noticed the remarkable performance of a handful of notable brands including Virgin, Apple, Zappo’s, Ikea and Lego. At one level these brands simply sell airplane seats, consumer electronics, shoes, furniture and toys. But at the same time, they incite amazing behavior in the marketplace.

People line up to buy their products. Great people want to work for these brands. Partners, suppliers and distributors compete to work with these brands. Many of their customers become story-telling advocates that turn their family and friends into customers of these brands. The traditional press and the social media are friendlier toward these brands. Investors drive up the brand’s value.

Perhaps most interesting, people are hard pressed to readily name the competitors of these brands.

What made these brands work so wonderfully?

We were curious about what made those brands work so well, so we took them apart and saw what they did differently – beyond offering decent products or services. We saw that they “reached out” to people in an interesting way and created meaning at every step. They made themselves personally relevant and worked hard at becoming emotionally important.

How are they personally relevant? They know – and live – their “why,” their reason for being, what they’re on this earth to do, the contribution they aim to make. These brands make their reason for being evident to people through their way of doing business. People sync with the brand’s “why” because it is aligned with their personal interests, beliefs, values and aspirations. As a result they identify strongly with the brand on a deep and meaningful level.

How do brands become emotionally important? By zeroing in on specific feelings and evoking them consistently. Consumers may not be able to play back these precise emotions (as in “Virgin makes me feel sexy”) but consumers never forget that Virgin made them feel “sexy.”

Why + Emotion = Meaning

In conclusion, we came to see that the meaning that differentiated these remarkable brands was generated by two factors: personal relevance and emotional importance.

To help brands become more meaningful we took the best practices of those remarkable brands and developed a way to introduce them to all sorts of brands, from B2C to B2B. Our method starts by defining a brand’s “Emotive Core,” which then is seen as the heartbeat of the brand. Within the Emotive Core we articulate the brand’s “why” and tap into personal relevance through what we call the brand’s “Driving Idea.” We also work with clients to hone down 301 potential positive emotions to just four that the brand will seek to own in a meaningful way. This is the way we help the brand achieve emotional importance through what is know as the brand’s “Emotional Space.”

What does all this “strategy” mean to the “creative” process?

The brand’s Emotional Impact becomes a lens through which everything you do becomes more meaningful. It is meant to inspire creative people to create more meaningful connections in every “brand moment” – that is, each time the brand interacts with people vital to the brand’s success.

These brand moments can be anything from the feelings evoked when a client enters the lobby of the brand’s headquarters, to the feelings generated through an advertising campaign – and everything in between.

To ‘juice up’ creative brand moments, we create specific creative briefs which integrate the Emotiional Impact into the brand moment’s marketing objective (e.g. sell more widgets). We show our creatives how the brand’s meaning can be conveyed through the four key elements of every interaction: Aesthetics – the look & feel; Discourse – the messaging & voice; Functionality – what is demanded; and Associations – connections made outside the brand.

Without this sort of precise direction, creative exercises often spin off in any number of directions, based on trends, personal preferences and what someone’s spouse thinks is a “good idea.” Through emotive branding, all brand moments start to align to the brand’s Emotional Impact. There is a lens through which every idea can be viewed to see whether or not it takes the brand closer to the meaningful connection it seeks.

The task of conveying personal relevance and generating emotional importance based on a brand’s Emotional Impact is an incredibly interesting and challenging creative task. It provides a richer playground for creative thinking. It is also gratifying in that creative efforts based on emotive branding change not only what people do (buy more stuff) but how they feel about themselves and the brand – and how they behave as a result of that.

By transforming how brands “reach out” to people (through kick-ass creative), emotive branding transforms the way people respond back. Who could ask for more?

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco branding agency.

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