Emotional Connections in Branding

How your brand makes others feel and why it matters.

Diana Lillicrap 1.24.2024


You may think you make most decisions based on facts. You gather the data, analyze your options, and make an intelligent decision that is rational and reflective, right? Actually, the human brain works quite differently because decisions require emotions.

We’re great at rationalizing our decisions with the facts we know, but at the start and end of it all, we are emotional creatures who make choices based on the emotional payoffs associated with the decision.

The Science Behind Decision-Making

There are many studies that dive into this issue, but the leading researcher who challenged and changed traditional ideas around the subject was Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist and professor at the University of Southern California. In 1995, Damasio studied the brain of a patient who suffered from a damaged frontal lobe—the area of the brain that manages emotions. In his book, “Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain,” Damasio describes how the patient’s lack of emotions resulted in an inability to make decisions. Even the simplest decisions, like what color pen to use or what to eat for lunch, were almost impossible tasks that required intense deliberation because there were no emotions to guide the person to a decision.

Damasio went on to study more cases and his discoveries, and dozens of subsequent studies by others, have led the neuroscience community to agree that emotions drive every aspect of the decision-making process. Effective marketers apply this science every day.

Defining a Brand’s Emotional Essence

In working with clients to define their brand, we go through a process that gets at the core of what makes the brand unique, and more importantly, relevant and meaningful to customers. Why does a customer care about your widget or service? What’s in it for them? What value do you provide that they can’t get someplace else? Sometimes the answer to this question is discovered in the product or service being offered, but competitors quickly catch up, so that strategy is short-lived. More often, the better answer lies in how the product, service, and/or company makes a person feel when they interact with the brand.

Proof That It Works

Let’s look at a couple of iconic brand examples like Apple and Google. Apple is able to command a higher price for its products than its competitors because it has always marketed based on emotions. Using an Apple product makes you feel empowered, creative, and part of a certain lifestyle. They aren’t selling products; they’re selling the emotions of using the product. Buying an iPhone instead of a less expensive but relatively equal product, is an emotional decision.

Google works the same way. They dominate the search engine market because it feels smart, fast, and simple to use. No other search engine has been able to come close to creating the same feeling over the past 20 years.

By the way, these two brands have continuously been listed among the top spots for overall brand value, with Apple landing as the most valuable for 10 years running. So emotional branding obviously works as an effective marketing strategy that supports the bottom line of business.

Time to Get Emotional

Ready to get emotional about your brand, but not sure where to start? Check out our 5-step process to defining your brand essence. Then, answer this important question: How does your brand make people feel? Once you figure that out, use it to drive your marketing decisions. And don’t be afraid to make those decisions based on your emotions—it’s human nature, after all.

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