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The pros and cons of emotional branding

By | April 28th 2009 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

By Ken Nyadimo

To forge strong and enduring relationships with their customers, leading companies are increasingly turning to emotional branding. We all want to be told how important we are or how much care is taken in providing a service to us.

The idea in emotional branding is to reconstruct thinking around the customer’s life experiences. Hence, the growing need to play around hopes and dreams as a way of creating deep and lasting relationships with buyers.

Over the past decade or so, therefore, advertising executives have advanced the view that rational and information-based appeals are dull. Gone are the days of simple and effortless tag lines. And if you thought you would hear the whole truth about an item or service just forget it.

Enter the world of appeals and the creative. No repeals - only a simple way forward. Just engage the mind and buy profit. But are these techniques without fault?

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I verily understand that with the proliferation of business- and the plethora of items and services on offer as a result - it is easier to sell by telling how much close you are to the consumer. The problem, however, is that we have gone too far into emotionalism and forgotten to address important emergent challenges.

Well, I wish to discourage you a little bit by stating that consumers are now reacting negatively to this overload. As they say, in every herd there is a wolf in sheep skin, so it goes that questions are emerging about the veracity of all those claims of perfect bonding.

Then you have the problem of negative feedback. According to a recent Forrester research, more than 60 per cent of global consumers say they now fully trust buzz over corporate communication. People are more likely to trust personal reviews and ratings than those hyped up claims on lofty billboards and catchy websites.

Part of the crisis is that negative buzz spreads virulently, in greater proportions than the best of positive vibe. Are we somehow annoying the consumers by over-promising yet we dutifully under-deliver with a big, wide smile? Yet what touches the heart touches the soul.

Silent conversations

How do you look back at your customer on the pacemaker that fails when placed in a strong magnetic field? Or on the holiday package that sells on the emotive but bungles up because you forgot to include a free visa service?

That more than half of your current customers do not actually belong to you should definitely give you the jeepers. Wouldn’t you be safer, then, listening to these silent conversations that seem to dissuade people away from your business?

As you reflect on this, may I indulge you further. The situation that I foresee whereby the emotional ingredient in promos begins to lose impact will soon require that advertising agencies and business strategists integrate their efforts. Simply put: speak one language.

Elsewhere, research by marketing and business strategists at The University of Wisconsin indicate the emergence of a phenomenon called the doppelganger effect, in which the emoticon is replaced by gloom, disregard, and scorn by a spiteful sea of consumers.

Equally intriguing is the fact that the cost of this unwillingness to accept more promises by a pessimist market can be great. For example, despite the recession that has hit the finance sector twice down, American community banks continue to register higher profits and greater liquidity, insulated from the main banking crisis.

To mitigate this paradox, a number of global companies have realised the need to invest in communication monitors. It sounds great to go on and on about how well you fit into the heart of the consumer. The question, nonetheless, is whether you can quantify the extent to which you are appreciated by the ever-elusive consumer.

And there is more reason to worry. Conservative estimates indicate that Internet-based consumer-generated media have an influence rate of more than 92 per cent. What this means is that all I have to do is express my disappointment about one company in one corner of the globe and almost every one reading or blogging on will believe my testimony.

Message control

You may, therefore, want to consider how much you are in control of your message when you seek gain in these emotion-laden campaigns. My suggestion is to keep it low and quiet unless you are sure that you will fill up any gaping service hole and eventually reconnect with the consumer.

But reconnecting requires as much creativity. I hate it when my bank promises me a non-stressful experience yet even remitting funds overseas is half a day’s work! Consider how loyal I would be if I were paid just Sh50 for every hour wasted. So what do these observations imply to strategy? Increasingly, the role of brand management must devolve from the "speculatives" in brand communication, crisis management, and product repositioning to the "relatives" in sentiment analysis and co-creation based consumer re-segmentation and product innovation.

In short, just do away with the paperwork and follow the lead provided by the consumer. Essentially, brand management must move from the tactical to the strategic level. The purpose is to re-engage the consumer in ways unknown to the competition.

Meanwhile, Taoism has provided me with some food for thought. Firstly, draw constituents to yourself with the exciting promise of better service and then fight to dominate through excellence. Secondly, look for indications of constituent dissatisfaction and move quickly to meet needs. Finally, wear out your competition with unrelenting attention to the needs of your constituents.

In between, brand managers should consider making pre-emptive changes to their emotional branding strategies before they turn negative and work against them. In this regard, an emotional branding strategy may have to be modified or scrapped while it is still accomplishing its marketing objectives. In a dynamic marketing environment, it is preferable to stay ahead of the cultural curve rather than to fall behind it and then suddenly need to play catch up with competitors who have more resonant and "truthful" emotional branding stories to tell.

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Ken Nyadimo branding consumers [email protected]
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