How Brands Build Strong Emotional Bonds

Paul FriederichsenMarch 19, 20183 min

Recently we looked at the exercise of two kinds of power, Hard Power and Soft Power, in the advancement of building successful brands. Hard Power in marketing applies to things like clout, media budgets and sales forces, for example, to check the current competitor and intimidate the future one. Soft Power persuades and appeals to our desired customer that our brand is perceived as the only choice for them.

When both Hard Power and Soft Power are applied with synchronism by a brand in the marketplace, the stage is set for the utmost outcome: emotional bonding.

Bonding is fundamental and necessary to healthy human existence and is usually thought of as a relationship strictly between people, through close, interpersonal relationships brought about by shared experiences. Co-workers bond together. Hobbyists bond together. Lovers bond together. And brands and their loyal customers can actually bond together.

In research published last year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Northeastern University psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett found, for the first time, that the neurotransmitter dopamine is involved in human bonding, bringing the brain’s reward system into our understanding of how we form human attachments. Douglas van Praet points out that this is central to the bonds made with brands as consumer decision-making is about making anticipatory judgments, and our brain does this largely through the release of dopamine.

Of course marketers have instinctively been trying to create these bonds since the beginning of our profession. Three notable campaigns from the past give us all of the evidence we need:

  • Kellogg’s Eggo Waffles playfully depicted the emotional bond between human and brand with its iconic “Leggo of my Eggo” campaign.
  • Brooke Shields’ emotional promise “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins” in the groundbreaking 1980’s campaign.
  • The assertion that the bond between brand and customer is a worthy match, it was L’Oreal that passionately reminded millions of women “because you’re worth it.”

Powerful brands exercising Hard and Soft Power become a remarkable catalyst to human bonding and, as a result, become a target themselves for emotional bonding by the humans that are caught up in the brand’s inescapable pull.

The FOX News Channel “Cable’s most-watched news” masterfully achieved “cult status” through its application of Hard and Soft Power, thus creating the chemistry for an intimate, emotional bond with its audience. So strong is this bond that FOX News has managed to stay resilient in the face of multiple scandals. The shared experience factor, so important in human bonding, is served up daily to an eager viewing audience.

And in a remarkable restage of Diet Coke, Coca-Cola has confronted sliding soda sales and growing concerns about the weight-control effectiveness and health benefits by celebrating the emotional bond between its consumer and its beverage.

Coke’s Hard Power was applied with a stunning package redesign and hefty Winter Olympics media schedule. Coke’s Soft Power endeared us with the “Because I Can” campaign message. This creative unapologetically portrays the brand’s customers choosing and enjoying Diet Coke (in the face of peer pressure, etc.) thus illustrating a bond between product and person as committed as there could ever exist between co-workers, hobbyists or lovers. The message is delivered in an understated, frank way. Yet the emotion, just under the surface, is palpable. A strong bonding message shared with a worldwide audience when Hard and Soft Power are fully engaged.

To manage a brand to its full potential, today’s brand marketers, need to ask themselves, “Does my customer need my brand to feel emotionally complete?” And “are we setting the stage to create an emotional bond between our brand and our customer?” And if not, “What is standing in the way between our brand and our customer to create the emotional bond?”

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