5 Proven Ways For Brands To Connect Emotionally

June 3, 2014


At the recent Business Marketing Association (BMA) conference in Chicago, Jay Baer asked a room full of roughly 1,000 B2B marketers, “Are you more interesting than my wife?”

It’s true for people and for brands today: to break through, we need to be more interesting and more relevant in the moment than those to whom we already commit mindshare. Today, “friend of mine” awareness has replaced top of mind awareness; and brands need to connect with people the way a close friend would – through emotion – in order to build lasting relationships.

Think about the people who have had an emotional impact on your life. Now think about the brands. What common threads can you find amongst them?

I argue there are five ways people connect to you emotionally that brands can learn from. Below I have listed those five ways, along with examples of “who’s doing it well."

1.Tell a story that inspires an emotional connection.

GE’s CMO, Beth Comstock, shares my passion for storytelling, inspiring marketers attending the BMA conference to remember, “You can’t sell anything, if you can’t tell anything."

Today, it’s less about the products we use and more about what those products, and the people behind them, enable. Every brand has stories to tell --- from what it means to employees to work for your company, to the amazing things that can happen when opportunity knocks and you answer, to everyday moments of delight felt by people you touch.

For me, GE's "My Mom" spot strikes a cord emotionally; I love how they allow their innovation story to be told through the eyes of a young child.

Another example I admire is this video by Google. In it, the product enables a deeper connection. But the story is what you connect with, what makes you feel something. It doesn’t sell; it tells. And it does so beautifully.

2. Let your audience be your hero.

Jonah Sachs, author of Winning the Story Wars, is a mastermind when it comes to telling stories that engage. His number one tip for brands: Let your audience be your hero.

Imagine how powerful your content can be if you showcase the people whose lives you’re improving. We’re not talking a static, written case study here. Give your audience a face, a voice, a platform to be heard.

I love what FedEx did to promote their FedEx One Rate shipping. In the campaign, FedEx surprises customers in a bookstore with a #ShippingSpree, giving people the chance to send a package to someone they love. FedEx captured the stories on film -- and if you’re an emotional sucker like me you’ll break down at work crying when you hear who this guy sent his box to. In the end, the idea was a low budget way to have a huge impact, let customer voices be heard – and build an emotional connection with the FedEx brand.

Here at LinkedIn, we recently released a video celebrating our own members' stories, their dreams, and how they are living them today.

3. Be authentic; find your inner voice.

When asked about GE’s authentic voice, Beth Comstock announces proudly that the brand is not afraid to embrace its inner geek. It knows who it is, and who it is not, and remains true to its authentic self across all communications.

As a brand, there will be many opportunities for you to jump at the next big thing, to do something different, to capitalize on something happening in pop culture. And you should; but also recognize how these opportunities can align with what you stand for as a brand in order to drive greatest impact.

For example, at the BMA conference, Linda Boff, GE’s Executive Director of Global Brand Marketing, shared how passionate the geeky brand is about science and technology. The company is constantly seeking out new ways to invite people to join in that passion, whether it’s through a Vine campaign that invites people to share their #6SecondScience experiments, or posting photos on Instagram that celebrate the beauty of big machines.

4. Be useful; ask yourself “How can I add more value?”

In a recent research study, it was revealed that 70% of B2B buyers have an emotional connection with Cisco – compared to only 40% with Apple. Imagine Cisco’s SVP of Marketing, Karen Walker’s delight when she heard the news. In a follow-up presentation, she shared how the company has delivered value to its customers in order to build that strong emotional connection.

In order to create and communicate personal value to the customer, Walker encouraged marketers think about how your brand can provide utility to people in four key areas: professional benefits (e.g. career advancement), social benefits (e.g. popularity), emotional benefits (e.g. confidence), and self-image benefits (e.g. pride).

In fact, it was found that connecting via these personal values is 2x more impactful than connecting via business values, propelling B2B marketers to embrace the trend towards using emotion to drive connection.

ValueAddAfter hearing how Cisco had used this perceived value filter to re-evaluate its content, and GE had done the same to reimagine its media plan, I was compelled to place this reminder at my desk to call myself to do the same with future marketing I create.

5. Embrace the opportunity to surprise and delight.

Surprise and delight: It’s one of my most favorite marketing opportunities today. As social media and mobile adoption continue to grow, the opportunity to delight in an instant grows even greater.

As you seek to move customers along the relationship arc from promotion to emotion, think about how small efforts can make a big difference. You’d be surprised how far a simple reply to a comment in social media can go.

In my work at Coca-Cola, we embraced the opportunity to spark moments of happiness with consumers. Sometimes the surprise was in the form of a quirky Twitter reply from @DocPemberton; sometimes it was through a gift in the mail, such as commemorating a photo they’d shared with us by featuring it in a Coca-Cola picture frame. For GE, it meant delighting geeky math fans on Pi Day with actual pies. For you, it may mean something as simple as saying “thank you.”

What it all means

As we each evaluate the people and brands with whom we want to share company, others are conducting the same evaluations and weeding out the noise. You may not be able to replace a significant other – and I strongly hope you won’t for his or her sake – but you can find a relevant place in a person’s life by keeping in mind they too are a person with feelings, who appreciates a good story, and who will always welcome a bit more value and delight in their lives.

What brands do you emotionally connect with? Tweet me @LinkedInMktg with your favorite brand examples.

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