Brand Building And Emotional Benefits

Sharon LivingstonFebruary 22, 20109 min

People buy benefits rather than features.

For example:

Time-release (feature) products are purchased because they are long acting (benefit).

Clear bottles let us see the purity in color and consistency of waters.

Dissolving tablets allow us to take medicine on the go.

Roller ball pens write faster.

Rubberized handles on scissors provide a sure grip.

And many marketers would agree that we buy products and services that enhance our positive sense of self-esteem, in some way. They believe that all brands, products and their features are associated with a rewarding emotional payoff. Moreover, all features and benefits are linked to emotional end benefits.

Think of iPod, BlackBerry, Fiji Water, Poland Spring, Mercedes, Ford, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Hershey, Godiva, Tiffany, Kay, Disneyland, Maui. We seek out these brands with their USPs, features and functional benefits because we like the way they make us feel and what they allow us to communicate about ourselves.

Claritin quick-dissolve tablets ladder up to sharp thinking and insightfulness.

Fiji’s clear bottle and purity communicate a sense of spirituality.

Time-release analgesics allow us to accomplish more.

Alarm systems sell because people want to feel safe and secure.

Mercedes appeals to a need for recognition.

iPods sell because people want to feel a sense of belonging.

iPods also sell because people want to show how smart they are.

Woody Allen appeals to people who like feeling sophisticated, brainy and unique (if not uniquely neurotic).

But let’s backtrack for a moment. People get confused between emotions and emotional benefits. There is an important distinction between them.

The Differences Between Emotions And Emotional Benefits

An “emotion” is best defined as a state of physiological arousal to which we attach a cognitive label. There are only four core emotions ” mad, glad, scared and sad.

Of course, there are various gradations, combinations and shades of gray regarding all of the four core feeling states. Sad includes disappointed, gloomy, heart broken, distressed, etc. Mad includes frustrated, raging, bitter, annoyed. At an even simpler level, we either feel “good” or “bad.” (How often have you been frustrated in a research project when someone responds to your sensitive plea for his or her feeling response by energetically answering, “It makes me feel good/better/great/wonderful!”)

Knowing how our brand, features and functions or brand activity (concepts, advertising, names, taglines, etc.) makes someone “feel” is only minimally useful. We definitely want to know if our new commercial makes people feel “glad” or “bad,”but that is ONLY a measure of valence; it does little or nothing to lend direction to our creative efforts. It tells us nothing about how to set the mood and tone for our advertising or even necessarily how to FIX any bad feelings that emerge.

It is the “emotional benefit” and not the raw “emotion” that is most informative, motivating and useful for brand development. An emotional benefit, not a physiological state of arousal with a simplistic label, is an often complex, positive, cognitive statement that our respondents are able to make about themselves due to their use, display and attachment to our brand and its features.

More succinctly, an emotional benefit is nothing more than “something nice I can say about myself because I use your product or service.”

The critical differences between emotions and emotional benefits are:

  • Emotional benefits are entirely cognitive, whereas emotions include a state of physiological arousal.
  • Emotional benefits are specifically attached to brands, their particular features and marketing applications. In contrast, emotions are more diffuse human physiological reactions with a limited set of simple labels.
  • Emotional benefits relate directly and powerfully to enduring self-concept, while emotions are more closely associated with temporary and instinctual physiological reactions.

This last distinction is most important, and it most closely identifies the reason that emotional benefits are so vital to branding.

Emotional marketing helps us link our brand to our target’s enduring self-concept. We want a lifetime relationship with our target, and this is possible only if we understand our target’s core values.

A vital brand has a “relationship” with loyal users not unlike a healthy relationship between two people. People maintain ongoing affiliations as long as each person in a relationship feels as though the other contributes positively to his/her positive sense of self. Relationships fall apart when perceived negatives begin to outweigh the rewards of the association. For example, being coupled with a successful friend casts a positive halo onto someone who values success.

Of course, in branding, we are a little more limited in providing emotional benefits than we are in our actual human relationships because there are only certain elements of self-concept that we can viably support with a brand.

Our self-concept is admittedly constructed of much more than just the brands we buy or the brand features that attract us. Nevertheless, it is this very ability to support self-concept that is the most potent glue available for branding.

The Impact Of Emotional Benefits

Now, armed with this more precise definition of an emotional benefit, let me proceed to discuss exactly how emotional benefits influence purchase and branding. Emotional benefits, although mostly unconscious, are attached to specific elements of a brand and to the brand itself as a whole.

You can actually think of them entirely without reference to the word “emotion” and remain fully in the rational sphere, if you prefer, because really it is just the “kind of person” that a particular rational feature supports. The emotional benefit/ value is the adjective describing the self:

  • I am an attractive person because I chose this particular long-lasting lipstick.
  • I am a productive person because I because I purchased a BlackBerry with a fast microprocessor.
  • I am a sexy person because I drive an aerodynamic car.
  • I am a powerful person because I bought a rowing machine from an infomercial with that muscular guy.
  • I am an energetic person because I replenish electrolytes after exercise with Gatorade.

A brand, then, becomes nothing more than the profile of self-concept-supporting statements that people make via their attachments to its features and advertising/messaging.

There are two more important points.

The first is to answer an extraordinarily common objection to emotional brand research. The objection is that certain categories are purely rationally driven and preclude emotional branding. This is highly debatable, given our above understanding, because EVERY rational feature is desired for the support of some aspect of self-concept. EVERY LAST ONE!

Let me prove this to you by taking the most extreme example. Consider, for a moment, a market that is known to be driven entirely by price sensitivity (we shudder to think!). In such a market, according to the “I don’t need to do emotional branding” theory, competitors believe they need to compete only via their respective abilities to keep their cost structure low and progressively out-bid each other in a pricing war. (Disastrous, of course, but that’s another topic.)

This is not the case, however, because there are emotional benefits attached to price, and these emotional benefits will differ depending upon the particular market and category that you are assessing.

For example, there are two primary emotional benefits we have found to be associated with saving money. One is freedom; the other is security. Doing emotional branding research to understand which one is more important to your market, to what extent this is the case and how these emotional benefits might attach to other aspects of the brand would lead to very different approaches for the creative mood and tone of brand messaging. (Clearly, we would want to talk differently to people who most desire freedom than we would to people who most desire security). Herein would lie the competitive branding advantage in what the rest of the world viewed as a virtually unbrandable, price-driven commodity!

The same argument can be made for the use of emotional branding in pharmaceuticals. Suppose all drugs in a category have virtually equal efficacy; let’s say, in antihistamine response. The marketer who knows what emotional benefits underlie antihistamine response is in a competitively better position to set the mood and tone of advertising that will attract the physician’s attention. (Physicians of different specialties also tend to have different personality needs, which can also be assessed via indirect techniques and leveraged in marketing.)

The last point (which also answers a common objection to emotional brand research) is this. Emotional benefits are able to wield their influence precisely because they work behind the scenes, beyond the awareness of the customer. It is the very fact that they are so elusive and hidden that makes them so very powerful and persuasive.

If you were to read the above benefit statements (e.g., “I am a sexy person because I drive an aerodynamic car”) to a respondent directly and ask for levels of agreement, you would get a much lower level of agreement than is, in fact, the case, and market behavior would differ greatly from what you tried to evaluate in your study. This is because of four major obstacles to asking questions directly.

Social Desirability Bias: the fact that respondents prefer not to reveal certain emotional motives to interviewers, nor sometimes even to themselves.

Rational Purchasing Consciousness: the fact that respondents prefer to believe that they make decisions based upon purely objective and observable criteria about the product or service at hand. Emotional motivation threatens this belief system. (Indeed, this is why so many people say that advertising does not affect them, despite the industry’s willingness to spend billions each year.)

Fear of “Hidden Persuaders”: many respondents fear that if we really knew what made them tick, we would take advantage of them and sell them things they don’t really need.

And, again, the Presence of Emotional Motivation is Beyond Conscious Awareness.

Because of all of the above, emotional motivation usually operates below the surface, beyond the ability of respondents to easily access and articulate. These obstacles hold true even more so for respondents in medical marketing research and business to business, where the professional positions are held by the decision-makers (physicians, purchasing dept. executive, etc.), who are taught to base their decision on the facts and dismiss their emotionality and personal response.

People do not want to believe that they are emotionally influenced towards brands or purchase. They find the idea repugnant and aversive. That is why many qualitative researchers encourage the use of projective techniques to overcome these obstacles.

The fact that people do not want to admit to using brands as a method of partially supporting their self-esteem forces these associations out of consciousness, and it prevents people from cognitively reasoning about emotional benefits or articulating them out loud. And it is THIS fact “that our consumers erect a strong barrier, preventing them from becoming aware of or admitting the influence of emotional benefits” that makes them so incredibly powerful.

Language is the food of the intellect. Without language (cognitive or symbolic representation), logical reasoning is much more difficult, if not impossible. When a thought is put into language and made conscious, a person’s adult mind is able to make adult, rational decisions. In our analogy, when the consumer becomes conscious of the emotional benefit, it becomes somewhat nullified because they then say to themselves, “Oh, I’m being ridiculous. Buying this product doesn’t really make me a different person.”

The point is, though, that most customers don’t allow themselves to raise emotional benefits to this level of consciousness, so the impact remains.

In fact, many brands make the mistake of raising the emotional benefits to a level of awareness that takes away their power. They try to FORCE the psychological insight benefit by telling the consumer directly. This doesn’t work nearly as well as INDIRECTLY communicating these benefits via an emphasis on specifying the features and functions of the brand that support them, while the creative mood and tone of marketing applications convey the emotional benefit.

The mind likes to have to work to solve the mystery (aiding recall and attention), and by not forcing the consumer to recognize that they use your brand to support their self-esteem, you permit them the grace of ignorance (to maintain their rational purchasing consciousness, avoid admitting socially undesirable motives, etc.). Emotional-benefit motivation is knowledge for marketers, not consumers yet another reason to utilize projectives and psychological exercises to delve beneath the surface.

The ultimate end emotional benefit/ value is always enhanced self-esteem. That, however, does not give creatives and marketers a handle to hang their campaign on. Instead, it is the rung just before positive self-worth that provides insight and gives direction to advertising and marketing.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Dr. Sharon Livingston, President, The Livingston Group

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Sharon Livingston

One comment

  • Rick S. Pulito

    March 16, 2010 at 7:42 am

    What a terrific and insightful posting. Thank you! The matter of emotional drivers to understand behavior and choices is of huge importance. All too often marketers take what a consumer says at face value. However the logical and the rational are often not the reasons why a purchase decision (or an alternate choice) is made.
    Thank you again. I look forward to many more visits to Branding Strategy Insider!
    Rick S. Pulito

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