An important part of what a brand does is make promises, explicitly or implicitly, that users of its products and services will receive certain types of benefits. The expectation of and customers’ experiences of receiving rewarding and sought-after benefits through brand acquisition and usage in turn can foster connections between the brand and users/customers of the brand—connections that increase the probability of repurchase/re-use so that those benefits might continue to be received, and also yield other positive outcomes for the brand such as advocacy and overall strengthening of the brand in the marketplace.
The World Outside vs. the Pictures in Our Heads
There is an important distinction to be made between benefits and consequent connections that are based on direct physical, tangible outcomes for the user and those benefits that are based on psychological, emotional states of the user. For example, while a Rolex watch is expected to reliably tell time (a tangible, physical benefit of the product’s well-crafted mechanism), it also can, by virtue of its elegant design and by associations with the Rolex brand, be expected to satisfy a need for self-affirmation by signalling status, wealth, and sophistication of the wearer. The latter benefits do not directly accrue in the physical world, but rather in the minds of the customer and others, although they might (the customer may hope) as a consequence indirectly lead to actual physical benefits. Another example of a psychologically based connection is one arising from the emotional rewards of peace of mind and pleasure that a customer may feel when staying at a branded hotel chain consistently found to understand and anticipate individual needs and wants. Such attention to anticipating customer needs that yields the psychological benefit of customer peace of mind might be in addition to the basic (and probably necessary) provisioning of a clean, comfortable room to meet the customer’s physical needs. As a third example, a particular brand of smartphone or computer might particularly appeal to a person because it is thought to reflect their attitudes toward style and status and satisfy their need for group affiliation with other users of the brand, leaving actual phone or computer features secondary in importance. Finally, an emotional connection that a person feels with a brand might not be based on a product or service aspect at all, concrete or otherwise, but rather be based on the reputation of the company behind the brand, a pleasing logo design or jingle, nostalgic childhood memories, or a host of other possible things. The basis for such connections may be obscure even to the individual.
While both types of connections—those based on physical benefits and those based on psychological benefits—have the potential to build and enhance brand loyalty and strengthen the brand in the marketplace, the importance of the distinction between physical/tangible benefits and psychological/emotional benefits is that there are a number of special aspects of the latter and the connections they foster that make them especially desirable for the brand owner to establish, nurture and maintain.
10 Reasons to Establish and Nurture Emotional/Psychological Connections With Your Brand
- Emotional connections can be more deeply and firmly attached to and interconnected with the user’s “self” and therefore more protected: Some aspects of psychologically based bonding with customers are tied up with how customers think about themselves—for example when associating with the brand is thought to help them portray the kind of person they think they are or want to be. When your brand becomes connected to a customer’s self-image, that makes it much harder for the bond to be broken and replaced with an alternative.
- Emotionally based connections can stimulate user advocacy and brand ambassadorship: When the brand is tied up with the self, promoting the brand to others is like affirming one’s own identity and worth. And acting on their own initiative, active “brand ambassadors” can be especially useful in defending your brand against detractors.
- Emotional connections may be maintained and strengthened by group and interpersonal processes (“self-maintained”): Bonds that you form with customers based on providing them with a “badge” that connects them with others—peer groups, aspirational demographic segments, etc.—can be strengthened through more than just your own actions, and even without your help. The group may do much of the work for you, emphasizing its common connections with you and constantly reaffirming your power to help each of them belong. As social media have risen in usage and importance these processes have become even more pronounced.
- Emotionally based connections can build stronger customer loyalty. Continued purchase and use of a brand’s products and services that is built solely on product/service features providing physical benefits may be like a “marriage of convenience”—more or less a transactional arrangement easily disrupted by an alternative offering similar features that comes along. In contrast, connections built on psychological benefits may more resemble “marrying for love” and therefore can be stronger and less prone to being broken.
- Emotionally based connections can build a “heat shield” that protects the brand in times of controversy: The strong ties of emotional connections with customers can, as with interpersonal relationships, lead to higher levels of understanding and forgiveness when problems arise.
- Emotionally based connections may enhance the ability to command a premium price: By engendering greater loyalty, connections based on emotional and psychological benefits may be more likely to give the brand “permission” to charge higher prices (as in “anything for love”).
- Some emotional benefits and connections may be more difficult for competitors to detect and recognize: Whereas compelling physical, functional features of a product or service are usually obvious and very often have attention drawn to them as part of marketing efforts, aspects that have psychological/emotional components that lead to bonding with customers may be less so, being for example based upon less obvious image and relationship building with customers over time.
- Some emotional benefits and bonds may be more difficult for competitors to duplicate/match: In many cases customer benefits arising from what may once have been unique and compelling functional, concrete features of a product or service are subject to being matched or even exceeded by competitors. In contrast, aspects of what you sell and do that build emotional connections with your customers tend not to be so easy for competitors to add to their own mix, especially in the short term—for example, in a case where a brand image of sophistication and elegance has been earned over time and through extensive image building.
- By not necessarily being based on physical features or aspects of products and services, building some psychologically based connections may not require expensive, long-term product engineering and development: In a way this is the other side of the coin to the point made above about the difficulty of building emotional connections from scratch, and which is more relevant will depend on the particular situation. In many cases providing compelling physical, functional benefits can be hard work—conducting R&D to craft a solution, engineering a design that meets functional needs, developing new manufacturing processes to build in features, remodeling facilities, and so on. In contrast, emotional benefits might be based on aspects of brand image or changes in how you interact with customers. Not to say that these are trivial—as noted above, advertising and other promotions to craft specific brand images can be expensive and take time (and can be difficult to design), and changing how you interact with customers can require many types of investments in personnel, facilities, training, and so on. But often those kinds of resources would be spent anyway, and the trick is to know exactly what to do to forge those psychological/emotional connections.
- Emotionally based connections may be more easily transferred to brand extensions: When unique and compelling benefits of your brand’s products/services are based on specific concrete features, or on aspects tightly tied to the specific category, successfully transferring those types of benefits associated with the brand to a new category may be difficult or even impossible, especially when there seems to be little relevance of existing benefits to the new category. In contrast, emotional benefits and connections are more often based not on concrete, functional product/service features, but rather on intangibles (e.g., status and sophistication or patriotism) that may be more logically and successfully applied to a new category.