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Oh, What a Feeling! Emotion—Not Reason—Drives Brand Choice

There’s finally data to back up what smart marketers have known for years: It’s the emotional connection—rather than a rational appeal—that inspires consumers to choose a brand, and more importantly, to stick with it.

In fact, it’s not even close, according to research consultancy Brand Keys, which has surveyed what drives brand preference for 25 years across more than 4.3 million interviews.

This year, the ratio between emotional and rational considerations was about 82/18 in favor of the emotional. That’s a far cry from the 40/60 split in favor of the rational when the firm first started surveying preference drivers back in 1997.

What accounts for the major shift? Well, it’s a combination of several factors, says Brand Keys:

  • The commoditization of major categories, such as financial services (“a checking account is a checking account is a checking account”) leaves consumers—and thus, brands—looking for that all-important tipping point where none, on the surface, readily exists.
  • The widening gap between consumers’ emotion-fueled expectations and what brands deliver. That expectation gap presents a strategic opportunity for brands that recognize it—and offer the emotional values that fill it. Brands that meet or exceed expectations are always the category leaders.
  • Marketers’ growing awareness that emotional appeals can be more effective (hallelujah!) and are pivoting their strategies accordingly.


Why playing to emotions makes logical sense

Emotional appeals are more effective because the psychological values on which they’re based mean more to the consumer than how a product functions or service performs. A connection based on function or performance alone can be tenuous at best: One not-so-stellar experience and that consumer could be lost to you forever.

Not so when that connection is based on how your brand makes the consumer feel, rather than what it does:

  • Emotional values are “stickier.” While consumers’ attitudes and beliefs are always in a state of change (these days more so than ever), research shows they hold steadfast to core values based on the principles and ideals that make up their foundational beliefs.
  • Understanding consumers’ emotions makes for more effective communication. When your brand connects to the values behind a consumer’s decision, it results in messaging that resonates with and engages your targets, resulting in greater conversions—with some research suggesting that emotion increases intent to purchase by a factor of 3-to-1 for television commercials and 2-to-1 for print.
  • And more effective equals more memorable—and more loyal. Studies show emotion and memory are linked together. When your brand impacts your target at an emotional level, it sticks in their minds (and more importantly, their hearts) driving stronger brand loyalty. How much? One study shows that consumers who are emotionally connected with a brand have a 306% higher lifetime value and will likely recommend the brand 71% of the time, well above the 45% average.


A word of caution

Not all emotional marketing is created equal. We’ve seen our share of missteps—particularly during the pandemic’s early days with its crop of “we’re with you” ads.

It all boils down to this: You simply can’t fake it until you make it. Consumers can spot borrowed interest from a mile away.

Take ownership of an emotion that not only resonates with your targets, but also connects to who your brand is and what it delivers. Big brands do it well, consistently. Amazon owns “immediate gratification.” Apple owns “human connection.” Netflix owns “diversion.”

Your brand can do it too. And it starts with embracing your authentic self.

Want to make an emotional connection that inspires action? Contact us.

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