Building Emotional Brand Experiences

Recent work by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA; Binet & Field, 2012) has reinforced the difficult truth that emotions are key to long-term brand success, outperforming (by 2 to 1) the efficiency and profitability (ROI) of advertising that is rational, and even that which is a combination of rational and emotional. Their analysis does support that rational messaging can have strong short-term effects (e.g. promotional campaigns), but long-term effectiveness is very weak compared with campaigns that create an emotional connection (implicit or explicit) with target customers.

The success of brands such as Coca-Cola can be attributed to their focus on building an emotional profile for their brand (a mixture of innocence, fun, and human connection) over decades, rather than the tactical, short-term and ever-changing messages that many of their competitors use. For example, compare their recent “Open happiness” messaging with their 70s “I’d like to teach . . .” campaign to see the recurrent theme of their advertising for 40 years or more. And it’s clearly an emotional theme that has relevance for their (still) growing customer base.

Emotions work because they are fundamental biological mechanisms for directing all of us towards the goals we treasure. When advertising works effectively, it speaks to the emotional goals that are most relevant to (some) customers. Brand design works in the same way too, of course, delivering experiences that are relevant to the emotional and functional goals (jobs) that customers want fulfilled.

Of course, different customers have different goals in different contexts, but most categories focus on key customer “jobs” and help significant segments of customers to get these jobs done.  Thus, every category has a different emotional profile, and successful brands are most often those that align themselves with their customers’ goals. For example, Coca-Cola is very successful at communicating how it helps customers to enjoy life, feel happy, and connect with those around them, which are all important jobs for the soft drinks category.

Emotional profiling is the starting point from which to understand the drivers of a category, and to build the most relevant experiences (and advertise to communicate the value of the experience). For example, let’s compare the emotional jobs for hotels and shopping malls. In a recent emotional profiling of a representative sample of Hong Kong consumers, and with the help of ABN Impact and GMI, TapestryWorks uncovered significant differences in emotional needs between the two categories. The chart (below) summarises these differences in terms of emotional archetypes.


When asked to describe buy celebrex online australia their “ideal” hotel or shopping mall, Hong Kong consumers were able to define very specific emotional jobs in each category.

A good hotel would make them feel unique (Explorer archetype), responsible (Ruler), and also a little bit passionate and caring (Seducer and Caregiver). Clearly, the relevant emotions would depend on the purpose and company for any hotel stay!

By contrast, shopping experiences are also about exploration and discovery, but the feelings of playfulness (Joker), originality (Artist) and being different (Rebel) are also very important for a shopping mall to deliver a great experience. Overall, hotels are more about feeling secure and connected, whereas shopping malls are much more about self-expression.

In Brand esSense (available from 3 November), I use Westin Hotels as an example of a company that has used sensory branding to build a stronger emotional connection with customers. Their use of a Sensory Welcome Program, Heavenly Beds, and Heavenly Baths has been a great success, perhaps because of its relevance to the need to feel secure and comfortable (and a little indulgent too).

So what are other hotel brands doing? Le Méridien is another hotel chain owned by Starwood, and they are using the same tactics as Westin, but with quite different implementation. According to one press release, whenever you enter one of their hotels, you will be able to smell “a peculiar scent of old books and parchments in a library”. Meanwhile, stepping into the lift, you will hear a 24-hour soundtrack specially composed for the hotel by Henri Scars Struck working with musicians from around the world. The soundtrack is very ambient with a wide range of sounds, including “horses galloping in water”. Le Méridien claim that the intention is to make the customer feel like they are entering a museum or art gallery, and is designed for those who “seek out a new perspective and cultural discovery in their travel experiences”. Clearly they want to be the travel brand for Explorers.

While the approaches of Westin and Le Méridien are very different, they both appreciate the ways in which different senses can be used to create an emotional profile for their brand. Hopefully, each of them has created a distinctive emotional ambience that appeals to an important target segment. I have certainly enjoyed staying at both chains, but for completely different reasons.

Isn’t it time that more brands understood the emotional needs of their customers and helped them to more fully achieve their goals?