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  • Dr. Sharon Livingston

Emotions vs. Emotional Benefits - Part II


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 which we can viably support with a brand. Our self-concept is admittedly construed 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 which is the most potent glue available for branding. 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 remaining fully in the rational sphere if you prefer, because really, it's 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 lip stick. -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 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 only compete 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 one is 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, anti-histamine response. The marketer who knows what emotional benefits underlay anti-histamine response is in a competitively better position to set the mood and tone of advertising which 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 which makes them so very powerful and persuasive.

© 2020 The Livingston Group for Qualitative Research