In a world in which brands are challenged on many fronts, there is constant quest for new thinking that can make brands more valuable to, and valued by, their diverse constituents.
I would like to present a new way to think about the way businesses build brands. I will start by exploring why we humans value things which bring us new clarity and purpose to our lives. I will then explain what this means to brand owners and managers seeking to make their brands more valued and valuable.
In other words, I am suggesting brands strive to be “emotionally meaningful”. Allow me to clarify.
Emotionally meaningful brands “feel good/feel right”
Being an emotionally meaningful brand is all about helping people feel they are in the “right place” (feeling more secure, wiser and gratified). This means knowing your brand’s “right place” in the hearts and minds of all the people important to your brand.
There are two dimensions to the “right place” feeling a brand should strive to achieve. When people think – while, and after, experiencing your brand – “This feels good”, your brand has achieved a significant level of emotional importance. This good feeling can range from “feeling elated” down to more subtle, but nonetheless good, sensations like “feeling understood” or “feeling valued” or “feeling enlightened”.
When they think “This feels right” – as a result of what they’ve experienced – your brand has become rationally important. This “rightness” is an amalgam or logic and emotion; what your brand does and how it does it gets mixed with the good feelings of emotional importance. The result is a powerful and meaningful cocktail that is hard to forget, and which is readily retrieved the next time the need associated with your brand arises.
These two simple statements, “Feel good/Feel right” are loaded with significance for people – and loaded with challenges for brands. This is not branding as usual. It is a way of working with a different intent, attitude and behavior.
Sensations that bring new clarity and purpose to life
This thinking starts the primal drives that determine the way we humans act, react and interact in this world. I contend that we are always seeking new ways to create meaning and to integrate it into our lives going forward. When thinking about your employees and customers, it is important to understand why they are constantly seeking their “right place”.
Have you ever had a sudden, unexpected and new sensation when reading a passage in a book, watching a scene in a movie, or conversing with a friend? A sensation that brought you to a new insight about life and your understanding of it? Something that opened your eyes, ignited your soul, or filled you with a sense of comfort? Something that has stayed with you as a memory that you can easily recall, if prompted to do so?
Something that instantly felt “right” to you?
Whenever we encounter a narrative that helps us see complex, highly emotional, and as-yet-considered ideas more clearly, we become a bit more informed, mature and wise. These profound learning sensations are meaningful to us. We come away from them knowing more about life and feeling more confident about ourselves. We have more bearings from which we can navigate life. As a consequence, we change the way we view the world, how we act within the world, and how we respond to things in the world.
We all strive to feel we’re in the “right place”
We take in these moments because we have an innate drive for a sense of security. We latch onto their meaning, because these memories help us feel we’re in a “right place”. “Right” in the sense that we feel comfortable in this space. And “right” in the sense that the memory makes profound sense to us.
We don’t necessarily go into these narratives seeking these meaningful moments of insight. Indeed, most often it seems these narratives come at us out of the blue, in both the arts and in the course of our everyday life. This is what makes them so profound. Whether we are looking at a painting in a gallery, watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster or simply observing a kind gesture between two people, we are sometimes surprised to suddenly find ourselves overflowing with feelings – good feelings that reassure, nurture and gratify us. Our conscious and unconscious minds are momentarily aligned. There is a sharp moment of realization and understanding, at which this experience is firmly planted in ourselves as a distinct memory.
What this means for brand leaders
As someone responsible for leading a brand, you would do well to dwell on this common human experience. You would start to see your brand as one of the many narratives playing out in people’s lives.
Ask yourself, what do people feel when they come across your narrative? What is there in what you do, how you do it and why you do it, that can make people have “a sudden, unexpected and new sensation”? How can you instill a “right place” memory within people that stays with them, and which positively and profoundly influences the way they think, feel and act with respect to your brand?
One way is to rethink the way your brand reaches out to people. If your brand is still operating in the “classic” mode, it tends to be more concerned about itself, than about the needs, values, interests and aspirations of the people vital to its success.
Disruptive brands change expectations
In the past, this was an acceptable and workable way to manage a brand. But a number of disruptive brands has changed the playing field. They have discovered that by having a meaningful narrative, and by acting in ways that make that true and compelling to people, they can capture a higher-ground status than their competitors.
Think of Amazon, Apple, Zappos, Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton and the others brands that have carved out a meaningful (and profitable) difference for themselves by rejecting business-as-usual and designing their brands to tap into the emotional desires of both their customers and employees.
The efforts of these disruptors to create meaning through their brands, even for people who weren’t “shopping” for meaning, created the surprisingly profound reaction and resulting brand boost that elevated these brands within their respective categories.
Along the way, these disruptors raised the bar for everyone else. To compete, old-model brands don’t need to start “selling” meaning to people “shopping” for it; they need to start being meaningful in ways that awake people to their desire for greater security in their lives.
What about your brand?
Does your brand’s narrative include an idea that gives people something they can connect to, take in, and add to their bank of memories that feel comfortingly “right”? Does this idea – let’s call it your brand’s “purpose beyond profit” – capture, in human language, an ideal, an ambition or a goal to make the world a better place in some way?
Does your brand have a handle of how to approach emotions, so that it uses feelings to move people toward new behaviors? Does your brand differentiate itself, and bond emotionally to people, by evoking unique emotions and generating positive feelings, as people interact with it?
Do your people have an idea of how to create interactions with each other and with customers that inject purpose and emotion in everyday experiences with the brand (from product design, to customer service phones calls, to internal meetings, to sales presentations, to advertising)?
Don’t be too surprised if you don’t have this modern arsenal of branding power. It’s hard for business and its consultants to change, and it’s often easier to get “buy-in” on branding strategies that simply confirm what’s true to the C-suite. By definition, the domains of meaning and emotions take emotionally meaningful branding into uncharted and worrisome waters for executives more comfortable with hard metrics.
Moving beyond the dying “business as usual” mode
Brands still operating to the old, business-as-usual regimen will become increasingly pale in comparison to today’s emotionally meaningful brands. Once a management team seizes the day, and starts to purse the path of emotionally meaningful branding, they will wake up to new possibilities, for their brand, for the people who make their brand prosper, and, indeed, for themselves.
A well-crafted emotionally meaningful branding strategy is for everyone, including the CEO, CFO, CMO, CIO and the CCO. It’s the same gift of a comforting insight about the brand, that leads to a greater sense of comfort, security and confidence. I believe that when the management team of your brand works from their “right place”, amazing things will happen.