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Laughter Is the Shortest Distance Between Brand and Customer

Five ways to use humor to build a brand.

Building your brand on humor is no laughing matter. In fact, this choice can be a high-risk (but high-reward) branding option. Laughter is the obvious outcome, but humor also creates a positive emotional relationship between a brand and its customers. Humor can cut through the clutter and go viral in seconds—because funny attracts eyeballs. People reward clever, creative and witty humor by watching and sharing it. Humor can revitalize an old offer or make an ordinary product extraordinary overnight—and it can make you into a brand that people want to be associated with.

 

Funny Theory

I quickly found that looking for the secret sauce of what makes things funny wasn’t much fun at all. E.B. White had it right when he mused that “analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”

Frog or no frog, Dr. Peter McGraw and Joel Warner wrote the book The Humor Code. In the book, they developed the Benign Violation Theory, which states that two simultaneous conditions are needed to make something funny. First, it must violate the way we think the world should work and second, it must be benign enough that it does so in a way that’s not threatening. This is the fine line of what is funny or in downright bad taste.

A master of Benign Violation is comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who has the innate talent of pointing out outrageous funny things (violation) in everyday life (benign). My favorite example is the episode where Mr. Pitt eats a Snickers bar with a knife and fork.

Laughing Matters

Jack Schafer, Ph.D., a writer for Psychology Today, says “laughter releases endorphins, which make us feel good about ourselves and others. This good feeling creates a bond between two people and imbues a sense of togetherness.” Brands that incorporate humor in their branding strategy can increase their likeability.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any significant research to support this claim, except to say that intrinsically we all do business and build relationships with people we like. Rohit Bhargava, author of Likeonomics, says we are living in a world where brand believability is very low. Consumers are bombarded daily with corporate speak, half-truths, or biased messages. For the sake of survival, they are ambivalent or negative to these messages as a default—Bhargava calls this the “likeability gap.” To bridge this gap, brands must build trust, be relevant and be unselfish in a timely and simple fashion. Doing something different, like using humor, can make a brand relevant and can create significant impact in a world of sameness and brand parity.

 

Funny Attractions

Humor generates big dollars in the entertainment industry. From 1995 to 2017, Statista movie box office revenue data shows that the comedy genre rakes in a total of $42 billion, second only to adventure movies. Comedy has continued to grow over recent years, with over 17.6 million people visiting a comedy club in 2016. That’s an increase of 10 percent since 2014! A contributing factor to this influx is the mass broadcasting of comedy specials and routines on Netflix and YouTube (where comedy is the 5th biggest channel), and popular live events like Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival, that attracts over two million spectators each year. The rise in comedy popularity is particularly true for younger viewers—according to a recent study by NAPTE/Content First and the Consumer Electronics Association, comedy is the top genre watched regularly by 74 percent of Millennials (vs. 70 percent for Gen Xers, and 68 percent for Boomers).

The attractiveness of humor also applies to marketing. A quarter of television commercials are classified as humorous and, of the top 10 most-watched ads of 2017 on YouTube, four of them are based on humor.

 

Brand Attractions

The main reason humor is used to build a brand is two-fold: humor can attract attention quickly and can enhance brand likability overnight. But this doesn’t guarantee success. Ace Metrix conducted an extensive research study on the Impact of Humor in Advertisements (2012), and found that the “keys to effectiveness are relevance and information.”

There are five primary ways humor can be used to build a brand:

1. Bonding

Humor can be used to bring together like-minded people under a halo of fun. Humor can bring out the unique club mentality present in celebration, without the fear of elitism. Coca-Cola, for example, is a mastermind at creating a warm and funny connection with their consumers. It must be all that sugar they put into the drink!

As well as conveying emotional information about oneself, laughter elicits similar emotions in others and therefore serves a bonding function. If laughter serves a social bonding function, it should be no surprise that it also serves to increase a person or brand’s likability.

 

2. Releasing Tension

Humor can be an easy way to address a difficult conversation or sensitive subject matter like insurance, banking, or personal hygiene. Somehow, the toilet tickles many-a-brand’s funny bone. Humor, when used with sensitivity, can be very successful, and even potty humor has a time and place (most likely in a boy’s locker room).

GEICO is a great example of taking a sensitive subject (insurance) and transforming it into must-watch TV ads. Then there is Aflac’s famous quacky and wacky duck, who helped to elevate the Aflac brand to one of the top 25 brands in 2015, based on the annual SMB Insights Study conducted by The Business Journals.

3. Attraction

How do you take a 70-year brand heritage of Old Spice and make it relevant to not only young men, but also to the women who purchase products for the men in their lives? Women are responsible for over 50% of body wash sales, so hooking them as a demographic is vital. Eric Baldwin, Executive  Creative Director at Wieden+Kennedy (the agency behind the Old Spice brand transformation) said: “When you are saying ‘Listen to us tell you about body wash and deodorant and we will entertain you,’ you’d better make sure that is exactly what you do: entertain the hell out of them.” And that is exactly what Old Spice has been doing since “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” was debuted in 2010.

4. Rivals

How does the little brand take on Goliath who has more market share, more brand awareness, more brand recognition, and deep pockets to keep it that way? Create a cult phenomenon using humor! It’s easier said than done, but many brands have succeeded. Humor can also be used to avert potential detractors.

If used correctly, humor can be a clever and original way to communicate tons of information in a playful and entertaining matter. One great example is the Dollar Shave Club.

5. Entertainment

For those brands looking to capture younger audiences, it’s all about entertaining and keeping those attention-deficit consumers engrossed in nonsensical brand stories. In a study How Humor in Advertising Works by Prof. Dr. Martin Eisend at the Universitat Viadrina Frankfurt (2011), it is cited that humor may help overcome weaknesses in advertising messages. Skittles is a great example of this type of brand humor in its Taste the Rainbow commercials, of which I am not their target audience (thank heavens!).

Last Laugh

If you want to wrap your brand with humor, you need to understand what type of humor fits your brand. Are you looking for the silly giggle like a school kid? The nervous and uncomfortable chuckle? The derisive snort? The joyous cackle? The big contagious hearty belly laugh? Or the soft, suppressed chortle?

The bigger the laughter, the higher the risk and the higher the potential of being divisive, but sometimes the reward is worth that risk. Sometimes, though, being too funny can have the opposite effect than you intend. There is always a brand that crosses the line and takes funny to a non-benign place. There are also those brands that are so funny and outrageous that the consumer only remembers the joke but has no idea who or what the brand was. Robin Evans, in his book Production and Creativity in Advertising, coined the phrase “the vampire effect,” where the humor or spokesperson overshadows the brand message. The moral of this story is to keep your humor on message, to help build up instead of detracting from your brand.

Here is a Wrigley commercial that crossed the benign line, to the point that it was taken off air because of so many complaints.

 

Final Punchline

A brand’s sense of humor should come from a strong sense of who the brand is, what it stands for, and how their customers perceive it—both today and into the future. If your brand humor comes across as authentic and genuine, people will follow you and will give some leeway to screw up. In today’s world of speed, personalization and relevance humor can cut corners in production values and can capture large audiences, even if your products are boring. Humor is also about timing and context as opposed to polish. If you take no risks at all, you’ll never be in any danger of ever making anyone laugh.

 

The headline to this article is an adaptation from the original quote “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people” by Danish comedian Victor Borge (1909-2000).
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The Best 2017 Brand Campaigns

It’s that time of the year when marketing and branding experts determine which campaigns should be recognized as the best 2017 brand campaigns. For your convenience I have searched the internet for the “Best Lists” from such experts as Adweek, Marketingweek, Spredfast, Digital Marketing Institute, Brandwatch, AdAge and Forbes Agency Council.

My analysis isn’t terrible scientific as most of the lists are wildly subjective. Looking across the lists there are only a few campaigns that get repeated nominations among the experts. There was five campaigns that stood out above the rest.

Purpose over Profits

A common theme among many of these campaigns was a focus on a higher purpose and less about selling their brand. Many are recognizable brands that have successfully tapped into the global anxiety of uncertainty and unrest. A world without a clear future. There is a serious tone in all of these campaigns void of any humour except for Halo Top`s (The Perfect Pint) campaign.

Desire to Engage

These campaigned aren`t about a 30 second television commercial but a fully integrated campaign with social engagements in the millions that reached beyond most expectations. The secret ingredient in all of these campaigns was the social buzz or fire that they all created both positive and negative. A true sign of a campaign that matters.

Enjoy and have a very happy and prosperous New Year.

 

The Top 5 Best 2017 Brand Campaigns

 

1. Heineken – Worlds Apart #OpenYourWorld

This campaign resonated with a number of the experts. And I don`t disagree. I found this real-life social experiment riveting. Heineken brought together people from opposite ends of the spectrum and put them into various team-building activities, before unveiling their strong conflicting viewpoints. They then had the choice to share a Heineken and discuss their differences or leave the room. I won`t spoil the ending.

Heineken received plenty of free publicity including some negative backlash but they also saw sales volume increase 3.9% in the first half of 2017. The 4:25 minute video on Youtube has received over 14.6 million views so far.

 

2. The New York Times – The Truth is Hard to Find

Today, the newspaper business isn’t a happy place. If it’s not Donald Trump threatening journalism, it’s overall declining revenues. The New York Times launched a campaign to declare why journalism matters and its role in holding power accountable and ultimately delivering the truth (most of the time).

The YouTube commercial has over 15.7 million views since it first aired on the Academy Awards in February. But more importantly The New York Times has seen a record level of digital subscribers of over 300 thousand in the first quarter of 2017.

 

3. State Street Global Advisors – Fearless Girl

On March 7th  a small girl of just 4 feet appeared before the iconic Charging Bull in the heart of New York`s financial district which stands at 11 feet. The day before International Women’s Day. Courageously she stands in deviance against the beast that represents male capitalism.

Sculpted by Kristen Visbal, the girl statue was commissioned by agency McCann New York for State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) to symbolise the power of women in leadership. Planting this meek girl statue of 250 pounds against the beast of 7,100 pounds created an instant global media storm. Like any visceral campaign it comes with its detractors including a $5 million lawsuit settlement against parent company State Corp. for alleging it underpaid women and minorities. (Best to have your own house in order before you start pointing fingers as others!)

Fearless Girl won 18 Cannes Lions awards, including the Titanium Grand Prix in the Glass Lions, which honours marketing creativity that transcends traditional categories such as media, film or radio. It was also praised by the jury for advocating gender equality.

 

4. Halo Top – “The Perfect Pint” or “Eat The Ice Cream” (experts couldn’t agree on one)

AdAge describes Halo Top ice cream brand as a “consumer-driven brand based on a quality product, evangelical consumers and clever, grassroots marketing…” This young five year old company has built its brand on a focused social media strategy surpassing the ice cream giants of Ben & Jerry`s and Häagen-Daazs.  They are a true threat to the established brands with sales increases of over 2,500 percent in 2016 and 1,656 percent in the 52 weeks ended Nov. 5, to nearly $298.6 million, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. “The perfect Pint” was the first traditional campaign they launched just prior to Fourth of July holiday. This video has garnered over 14.4 million views since release.

More recently they launched a longer-format spot for theatre and online advertising. Tim Nudd, creative editor at Adweek describes the spot as a “grimly amusing, Kubrick-esque robot apocalypse” perfect as a horror-movie trailer. Halo Top Founder and CEO Justin Woolverton said his brand had “never done anything this off-the-wall before.”

The sales would indicate a double hitter but the jury is this out on understanding where the brand image is really going.

 

5. Nike – #Breaking2

Nike is a brand that urges its customers to push their limits, and this campaign does this in spades.

They sponsored and challenged three athletes: Lelisa Desisa, Eliud Kipchoge and Zersenay Tadese to run the first sub two-hour marathon wearing Nike`s new Zoom Vaporfly Elite racing shoe. The event took place at the Formula 1 racetrack in Monza, Italy on May 6th and was live-streamed on social media.

Nike also partnered with National Geographic to produce the Breaking2, a 55 minute documentary that has 1.5 million views. Unfortunately, Kenya’s Olympic champion marathoner Eliud Kipchoge missed the goal by just :25 seconds. Despite not beating the two-hour mark, #Breaking2 was a PR success, receiving worldwide media coverage generating almost 85,000 mentions on social media in two days.

 

Honourable Mention

  1. IKEA – Augmented reality app: Ikea Place
  2. Wendy`s – #NuggsForCarter (winner of four 2017 Cannes Lions awards)
  3. Airbnb – Super Bowl ad titled “We Accept”
  4. Heinz – Pass the Heinz a campaign directly from Madmen
  5. Patagonia`s – Brand activism in protecting public land

 

What was your most memorable 2017 brand campaign?

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Mind over Mouth – How Brands Go Beyond The Tongue

Where does the taste of a brand fit? You guessed it, in the mouth. But even if your brand can’t fit into your customer’s mouth, this article may still provide you with wisdom about this unique portal to human consumption. The taste of any brand is more about what you think a brand is than what you think you experience.  Hold that thought as we move on.

The Tongue

The tongue does all the heavy lifting. If it’s not busy articulating a verb or noun, it’s busy moving food and drink around in our mouth. The tongue has over 10,000 taste buds (the little bumps on your tongue) which helps distinguish between sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory (also known as umami). On its own, it can only decipher basic elements of taste. But to realize its full potential, it requires other senses like smell, texture and temperature. Taste is really the summation of the tongue and nose (if not influenced by our eyes), which our brain connects, and leads our emotional unity to our experience. This is the sweet spot where we know, in branding, is ripe for manipulation and trickery.

Howard Moskowitz once said, “the mind knows not what the tongue wants.” And Moskowitz should know, as a well-known market researcher and psychophysicist. He was made famous by author Malcolm Gladwell in his New Yorker article titled “The Ketchup Conundrum” and his TedTalk called “Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce.” A perfect video to watch on a Friday night. Gladwell recounts Moskowitz reinventing spaghetti sauce through his research where he discovered there were three main sauces: plain, spicy and extra chucky. The market place only offered plain and spicy spaghetti sauce at the time. Moskowitz’s customer, Campbell Soup Kitchen, used this information and introduced Prego extra chucky spaghetti sauce that made over $600 million in the first 10 years. Moskowitz certainly understood the secret to that sauce.

Taste Test

The most memorable and successful taste test was the legendary Pepsi Challenge, which started in 1975. This simple tactic put Pepsi on the map and kicked Coca Cola off their game with their introduction of the New Coke blunder. Years after, scientist continued to ponder what role taste has in building a brand.

While we believe the ultimate criteria for liking a drink or food is its taste, we are certainly influenced throughout the brand experience by extrinsic cues like packaging, labels, the brand story, the environmental situation, as well as the intrinsic product attributes, like texture, smell, appearance and perceived quality (price).

In a 2013 blind taste test research study between Coke and Pepsi conducted by Dr. N. Ramanjaneyalu, C. Asangi and V. Kadabi at Karnatak University in India, found that only 37% of respondents could successfully identify Coca Cola through taste or a lucky guess. They concluded that building the right brand image and positioning is just as important as the taste.

The Brain

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink, echoes a similar conclusion where he explains that people prefer a sweeter drink (characteristics of Pepsi) in a sip test but generally not necessarily in glass size. He also goes on to talk about the importance of “sensation transference,” a phrase coined by scientific researcher Louis Cheskin, who said people’s perceptions and emotional attachments to the aesthetics of the product goes beyond just the taste of the product.

Neuroscientists Lauren Atlas and Tor Wager’s research on cognitive neuroscience concluded that expectations and beliefs play a pervasive role in the workings of the brain. What this means is expectations can influence those things we are knowingly aware of, like our loyalty and familiarity to a brand. Consciously and unconsciously we are collecting information and analyzing our surroundings and assessing what we think we like and don’t like.

 

Tasteless

Gil Morrot, a wine researcher at the National Institute for Agronomic Research in Montpellier, found that the simple act of adding an odorless red dye to a glass of white wine was able to fool a panel of tasters, who later described the wine as a true red wine with tasting notes of cherry, dark fruit and cedar.

It’s no surprise that the top five beer manufactures in US spent approximately $1.6 billion in advertising in 2016, especially if beer preference is not driven completely by taste. Bottle water is another great example of brand-first, tasteless-water second. (Check out my article The Power of a Brand).

In a study conducted at Stanford and Johns Hopkins, their researchers tested the effect of branding on taste preferences in young children. The 95 children aged 3-5 were given identical food, except one choice came in McDonald’s packaging and the other was in plain-white packaging. All of the food came from McDonald’s, except for the carrots. Which one do you think the kids liked best? No brainer. McDonald’s was chosen hands-down, including the carrots that they don’t actually sell. Interesting to also note that the preferences for the McDonald’s branded food increased with both the frequency of McDonald’s consumption and the number of TV sets in the home of each kid.

Taste Matters

I remember the day McDonald’s coffee tasted like merde! (pardon my French). In 2006, McDonald’s upgraded is coffee from a generic, non-descript coffee, to a darker-roast, Arabica, premium coffee they called “Full Bean Coffee.” I recall people walking into the office at the time with their extra-large McDonald’s to-go-cup saying the coffee tasted great, even better than Tim Hortons. They were happy they saved cash and got a free muffin on the side. This was the start of the coffee wars with Starbucks. Within a year McDonald’s coffee sales climbed 20% in a market where coffee sales are over $30 billion. During that time they gave away a lot of free coffee. Why? To demonstrate that their coffee did taste great because taste does matter.

Taste is one of the most important factors influencing consumers’ preference for choosing one food and beverage brand over another. But we should not be so naïve to think that taste is the only discerning factor unless, its Heinz’s ketchup—the perfectly balanced condiment with the right amount of tangy sweet tomato and salty goodness, with pleasant sour notes and a buttery umami finish. Even with a 62% market share lead in US (84% in Canada) this brand doesn’t rely only on taste. The Heinz brands spent approximately $530 million on advertising in 2013, including securing a Heinz’s ketchup ad in the 2016 Super Bowl (which isn’t cheap). Most recently Heinz‘s ketchup launched a brilliant advertising campaign inspired (actually a complete rip-off) from a Mad Men episode.

Final Tasting Notes

We understand the mouth’s role within our complex sensory system. It’s integral in how we interpret taste, and also how we define our likes and dislikes. We also know it has its limitations, and in the end, is overruled by our brain’s desire to bring it all together.  So when positioning a brand that has strong oral opportunity, we can’t put all the pressure on the tongue to carry us through. By ensuring multiple sensory stimulation, only then will the tongue feel affirmation in what it’s experiencing. Now how you choose to influence this experience will leave your brand tasting bitter or sweet.

 

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A Brand with Feelings – Emotional Branding

emotional branding

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s life lesson is something we have the pleasure of taking solace in, and it’s what inspired looking at emotional branding.  She understood the power of emotion with an audience, and I’ve dug a little deeper in this article to further articulate the ways brands can use emotional branding to build deeper customer relationships. Ace Metrix research company has validated that stronger emotional connections to a brand also translated into stronger purchase intent. Emotional branding means profits.

There are 8 basic emotions for emotional branding

It seems that the subject of determining how many emotions there are was started way back in the 4th century B.C. by the philosopher Aristotle, and explored much later by Charles Darwin. Most recently psychologists have concluded that there are anywhere from four to eight basic emotions.

In 1978 Dr. Paul Ekman, with the help of W. Friesen, developed the first and only comprehensive tool for objectively measuring facial movement – the Facial Action Coding System (FACS). Since then there have been over 70 others studies confirming the same set of results of seven universal facial expressions of emotions – anger, contempt, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise.

Psychologist Robert Plutchik developed the famous wheel of emotions which identifies eight basic emotions – joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, and anticipation. His theory starts with these basic emotions then blossoms out to multiply variations creating a wide spectrum of emotions with opposing relationships.

Kendra Cherry author of Everything Psychology Book said, “The basic emotions, however many there really are, serve as the foundation for all the more complex and subtle emotions that make up the human experience.” There is some compelling evidence that shows consumers use emotions rather than information to evaluate brands. Emotions also create deeper and more visceral impressions that have impact on long-term memory.

Emotions are complex but for the purpose of building an emotional brand, we used Plutchik’s eight basic emotions.

Negative Brand Emotions

Most companies try to stay clear of associating their brand to negative emotions. But some brands have been very successful in differentiating their emotional branding with the contentious emotions of disgust, sadness, anger and fear.

Disgust

Disturbing graphic images on cigarette packs is a great example of using disgust to build the brand of anti-smoking. Gone are the days of the iconic Marlboro man, the ultimate American masculine cowboy brand, which drove Marlboro to the number one tobacco brand in the world. I have read that several actors who portrayed the Marlboro man over the years have rode off into the sunset prematurely due to smoking-related diseases–talk about disgusting. Dr. Ellen Peters, who conducted a research study on the effectiveness of smoking warning labels and graphic images with 244 smokers, says, “The images definitely did stir their emotions, but those emotions led them to think more carefully about the risks of smoking and how those risks affected them.”

Another brand that serves up a spoon of disgust is the famous Canadian cough medicine Buckley’s with the slogan “It tastes awful. And it works.”

But the most disgusting advertising for a brand has to go to OXY Face Wash with their series of zit popping videos. Say no more, the images speak for themselves!

 

Sadness

Is sadness the new happy? Does it leave a mark deeper than joy? Making people cry seems to be many brand’s objective these days. Take a look at all the holiday epic stories of lonely and sad people. The U.K. retailer brand John Lewis is built on pulling consumers’ heartstrings. But some would say that we can’t be happy all of the time so there is an authenticity in trying to get to a deeper brand engagement. Several insurance companies have cornered the market for ‘sad-vertising’ such as Thai Life Insurance (Unsung Hero), MetLife (My dad’s story) and Nationwide (Dead Boy).

 Anger

Making people mad to buy a brand seems counterproductive but it is used to create an action or to make a strong statement. If you want to change a perception or get people to take action, anger can be a very persuasive tool. Generally, we feel angry when we see a person or a helpless animal hurt, or a major injustice being enacted.

Sadly, terrorist groups like ISIS have used this emotion effectively to build their brand. “They’re very good at branding,” said J.M. Berger, co-author of the book ISIS: The State of Terror. They have a complete visual look with a black flag, distinctive clothing, black masks and identical weapons. They use brutal violence against innocent people and public executions to generate widespread anger which also appeals to a small niche of supporters who want to take up their cause.

 

After the Great Recession, many brands tried to take advantage of frustrated and angry consumers affected by hard times by emulating further antagonism. Eastman Kodak did a rant about overpriced inkjet printer ink (I actually purchased a Kodak printer based on this fact). Post’s Shredded Wheat Cereal declared “Innovation is not your friend,” Miller High Life showed their support towards blue-collar customers and Harley-Davidson condemned “The stink of greed and billion-dollar bankruptcies” to align with their customers.

 

 

The most unique brand campaign I have seen that successfully angered its target audience was a simple billboard advertising that said: TEXT AND DRIVE with the company logo Wathan Funeral Home. The outraged and upset viewers went to the funeral home’s website to voice their angry but were surprised to find that it was a PSA to get people to stop texting and driving. Angry with a happy ending.

Fear

Every brand has a call to action and in many cases, depicts a sense of urgency to respond. But brands would tend to prefer a positive experience and keep as far away from risk as possible. But there are brands who thrive with their use of fear, like Greenpeace. They have been effective in shutting down major projects and changing their prey’s business practices by way of fear mongering. They take mere possibilities and translate them into fearful statements, such as “Our health is threatened by climate change. Malaria, asthma, encephalitis, tuberculosis, leprosy, dengue fever and measles are all expected to become more common.”

 

President Donald Trump’s success is attributed to building his brand on fear. Alex Altmen, a Washington correspondent for TIME magazine said, “No President has weaponized fear quite like Trump. He is an expert at playing to the public’s phobias.” Barry Glassner, a sociologist at Lewis & Clark College and the author of The Culture of Fear, says Trump “is a master” at creating fear. “His formula is very clean and uncomplicated: Be very, very afraid,” says Glassner. I repeat be very afraid.

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research demonstrated that consumers who experienced fear while watching a film felt a greater affiliation with a present brand than those who watched films evoking other emotions, like happiness, sadness or excitement. I believe this goes back to our basic instincts of survival.

So you see how negative feelings can successfully build an emotional brand, but caution cannot be underscored enough. Graeme Newell, marketing consultant, speaker, and founder of 602 Communications says negative emotions can be a powerful tool to elevate a brand’s message, as long as they’re not delivered too bluntly and you must leave the audience with a positive takeaway. Greenpeace’s continuous use of fear has lost some value over time and has created its own challenges. How long can you cry “wolf” to get people to mobilize your brand?

Positive Brand Emotions

As character Don Draper said in a Mad Men episode, “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.” This is the territory many brands navigate using the emotions of joy, trust, surprise and anticipation.

Trust

Without trust the financial industry doesn’t work. In essence, a five dollar bill or hundred dollar bill is the same simple piece of paper with different numbers on them, but the buying power is significantly different thanks to trust.  No surprise that the business and financial services industry needs trust to operate. Trust is integral to the success of all brands but foundational for those brands built on faith and intangible, complex components.

Generally, the emotion of trust becomes super important for a brand if it has broken this bond with the customer. I am sure VW, Toyota, and BP are working on this emotion extensively today.

In the UK’s 2015 Consumer Trust in Brands report, they state that food brands have one of the highest trust levels—its important to have repeat customers who aren’t sick or dying from eating your product. That is exactly what happened with Maple Leaf Foods Inc. in 2008, when they produced listeria tainted luncheon meats that killed 22 people and sickened 35 others. Sales were immediately hit by a 50% decrease but was only down 15% two months later.

“The very first thing that must happen in these incidents is acknowledgment, apologies, and action from the CEO,” says Hamish McLennan, CEO of Young & Rubicam. Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain felt the company’s transparency and immediate reaction in taking responsibility for the crisis helped win back customers. Morgen Witzel’s article, Maple Leaf Food’s response to a crisis, states, “The trust built in the days after the onset of the crisis laid the foundation for its eventual turnaround.” Today, I don’t think there is any trust issue facing Maple Leaf Foods thanks to Mr. McCain’s conviction to making things right and not listening to his lawyers.

Humanizing your brand helps build trust but you must foster an authentic and lasting connection with your customers to get there.

Joy

What brand do you immediately think of when you hear the word “joy”? Think of joy as a sudden burst of happiness on a high. Does “Joy in every bottle” ring a bell?

 

 

Most people are always on a quest to experience more joy in their lives and looking for those small indulgences of pleasure. Many brands have found the sweet spot, such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, Campbell’s Soup, Kraft Mac & Cheese, Zappos, Facebook – “likes”, and Ferrero Rocher chocolates to name a few.

Surprise

A pleasant surprise is always appreciated by consumers and can be leveraged across all consumer touch points (social, events, in-store, advertising, mobile, etc.).

In a social listening study conducted by DraftFCB (now known as FCB or Foote, Cone & Belding), using W. Gerrod Parrott of Georgetown University’s emotional framework (Anger, Love, Sorrow, Joy, Fear, and Surprise), they found “surprise” as a distant sixth place in association with brands. So there is room for brand differentiation in using this emotion.

MasterCard has been running their “Priceless” campaign for over 17 years  and in 2014 they introduced “Priceless Surprises” with the goal of surprising cardholders when they least expect it. For example meeting Justin Timberlake, Gwen Stefani or VIP tickets to special events. There is a strong emotional element in watching a fan connect with a star and MasterCard #PricelessSurprises made it happen. Raja Rajamannar, CMO of MasterCard said, “The success of Priceless is driven by the campaign’s ability to create emotion, influence behavior, unite people and touch upon consumer passions.” Their website says that over 97,867 cardholders have experienced a surprise so far. I’m still waiting for a surprise that doesn’t include 18% when I check my credit card bill!

 

GoPro on a smaller scale had a campaign called “Everything We Make Giveaway” where every day one person wins everything they make. In the last five years they have given away 1,500 cameras and $4 million of GoPro gear. Don’t get too excited this campaign is no longer on.

For the last five years WestJet Airlines has implemented their “Christmas Miracle” by surprising a select group of customers or potential customers. In 2016, they surprised the residents of Fort McMurray, Alberta who were impacted by the devastating wildfires with a special “Snowflake Soiree”. Everyone who attended was given a free WestJet ticket.

Anticipation

I am sure you have been anxiously anticipating this last emotion. Researchers have found that people experience more intense emotions around anticipating future events/opportunities than remembering those in the past.  Booking a holiday is a great example of a positive and powerful emotional branding as a person waits for the exciting trip. High-end cruise liners have perfected the art of creating excitement with cruise planners and special updates prior to embarking.

Sandals Resorts understand the importance of anticipation with their beautifully stunning, natural blue and turquoise oceans and clear sky images, but more importantly, keeping the excitement growing with their social media activities. Tiffany Mullins, Social Media Manager says the Sandals Resorts “strategy is to evoke an emotion with every single social media post.” Not only are they humanizing the brand but their social media presence is creating a virtual vacation experience in advance of the actual vacation. Brilliant.

The Apple brand is an expert on contemplating the future and having their customers emotionally engaged beyond their current technology and living in anticipation of the next generation, like the iPhone 8 soon to be released. Each version is a stepping stone to further deepen the brand loyalty or cult-like following.  Apple is notorious for their pre-launch hype, limited availability, reorders and long lineups on launch day, only to be repeated again within another 12 – 18 months. Here we go again.

Emotional Branding

Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman says that 95% of our purchase decision making takes place in the subconscious mind, a place where emotions are king. If you are going to engage in emotional branding, understand how and where you want to connect to your customers so you can consistently build on every touchpoint.

As William Gelner, Chief Creative Officer of 180 explains, “We live such digitally switched-on, always-plugged-in lives, and yet we still also somehow feel disconnected from people. As human beings, we’re looking for true human connection, and I think that emotional storytelling can help bridge that gap.”

Pick your emotion(s) and start building your emotional branding story today, every step of the way.

 

2

The Touch of a Brand

In past articles, we’ve covered the sense of smell and sound and how they enhance the brand relationship. Here our goal is to explore the sensation of touch and its impact on branding. The sense of touch isn’t often considered in building a brand. For some brands this is a huge missed opportunity.

 

One of the obvious ways we use touch is shopping for clothes. Our first instinct is to touch the fabric to feel it against our fingers. The quick touch tells many things about the garment – its softness, wear ability, durability and quality. Think of the last time you visited a car dealership showroom when you inspected a vehicle. The first impression is how the door handle felt in your hand, how it opened and closed. If the interior was leather you assessed the quality by touching the seat or better yet felt the experience by sitting in the driver’s seat. Then grab the steering wheel. With every touch point our brains are processing the information and analysing the vehicle’s durability, craftsmanship and overall quality.

 

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Touch is the first sensory system we develop in the womb and is the most developed by birth. If you ever raised a child you know that holding, rocking and rhythmic stroking are all ways to calm and connect with babies. Trust me, I had many sleepless nights using all of these techniques to make my loved ones fall peacefully asleep hopefully as humanly possible.

 

The somatosensory cortex of your brain, which processes touch information, dedicates a large numbers of neurons to your fingers, lips and tongue. What this means is these areas are more perceptive and finely attuned, maximizing the sensory richness and brain intimacy.

 

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Greek philosopher Aristotle concluded that man was more intelligent than other animals because of the accuracy of his sense of touch. The sensation of touch influences what we buy, who we love and how we heal. We use touch to gather information, establish trust and social bonds.

 

Dr. David Linden said in his book, Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind that the “genes, cells and neural circuits involved in the sense of touch have been crucial to creating our unique human experience.”

 

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Test Your Touch

 

Let’s try a touch test. Imagine that you are in a pitch-dark room with no light and you’re handed a bottle. Through the power of touch you determine what I have given you.

 

You feel the cold glass bottle in the palm of your hand. You sense a distinct curvature of the glass in an elongated shape. Moving your fingers along the side you notice subtle smooth groves like ribs that flow up & down the bottle. Through the glass you can sense the content. It feels cold and wet as the glass sweats droplets of water on your hand. You remove the cap with a pop then move the bottleneck towards your lips. You feel the coldness against your bottom lip and tongue. The effervescence of tiny little bubbles dance and tingling against your lip and mouth. You smile with excitement and embrace the bottle’s opening with your lips like a wet kiss. It’s the real thing!

 

If we really conducted this experiment you would have quickly determined that the glass bottle was indeed the most famous shaped soft drink bottle in the world – the iconic contour fluted lines of the Coca-Cola bottle. In 1915 Coca-Cola challenged several glass companies to design a bottle that could be recognized by feel in the dark. 101 years later this unique design still succeeds with its objective.

 

Two Types of Touch

 

We’re not going to talk about appropriate and inappropriate touching if that’s where your mind went. If you want to explore the topic of sex and branding check out my article on Using Sex to Build a Brand.

 

The first type of touching is the sensory pathway that provides us with facts about touch such as pressure, location, texture, vibration and temperature. The coke bottle test is exactly this type of touching. Linden explains it as “figuring out the facts…uses sequential stages of processing to gradually build up tactile images and perform the recognition of objects.”

 

The second pathway processes social and emotional information, with human touch, for instance; a simple handshake, a hug, a caress of the arm, or a pat on the back. Friendly touching communicates trust and cooperation. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study stating that people are making judgments and base their initial opinions of you based on a simple handshake. Linden explains “In both kids and adults, touch is the glue that makes social bonds.” Further echoing this idea is Dacher Keltner, Ph. D. and professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley who explains “that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.”

 

What does this have to do with building brands? Both types of touch are very important in helping build brand perceptions and trust.

 

Tactile Branding

 

This is all about what the brand or components of the brand feel like. Jeremy Hsu in his article Just a Touch Can Influence Thoughts and Decisions on Livescience.com says “hardness may evoke concepts of stability, rigidity and strictness. Roughness can lead to thoughts of difficulty and harshness, while heaviness conjures up impressions of importance and seriousness.”

 

In a study conducted by Joshua Ackerman, an assistant professor of marketing at MIT in Boston, Mass., he had participants sit in a hard and soft chair as they negotiated the price of a new car. Guess who was less willing to move on their position? If you guessed the poor people in the hard chairs where the hardest negotiators, you’d be right.

 

Apple is a great example of a brand that has embraced the importance of touch. Their smooth, rounded edged, metal and glass iPads, iPod and iPhones convey a sense of ease and simplicity. They also make sure their customers have ample opportunity to touch and feel the merchandise in their interactive Apple stores.

 

If your brand isn’t an actual product but more based on services, understand that anything you physical give a customer, like a brochure, contract or correspondence, is tactile and communicates your brand by touch. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon says “The physical world is the best medium ever invented and betting against it has always proved wrong.” No surprise that Amazon takes pride in their shipping experience with custom printed boxes and custom packing tape with a program called “Frustration-Free Packaging.”

 

Packaging can be paramount to a brand experience. Again, Apple shines with its packaging. Their new Apple watch packaging is a masterpiece, making the watch seem bigger and weighty to help deliver the “a-ha” moment of expectation.

 

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Ever wonder why a diamond ring box is as important as the ring itself? The jewelry box must communicate the feel of love and commitment while showcasing the ring in all its glittery splendor. The most popular materials are velvet (commonly used on valentine day), silk and leather. All soft and sensual to the educated and expensive touch.

 

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Bed Bath & Beyond organizes their customer experience around touch as their store layout is designed to allow consumers to feel their way through the various sections of towels, curtains, linens and rugs, etc.

 

In the book Brand Sense: Sensory Secrets Behind The Stuff We Buy, the author Martin Lindstrom shares an example of ASDA supermarket chain in UK where they displayed their store brand toilet paper so shoppers could actually touch the tissue and compare textures with other brands. The sales for the store brand T.P. “soared.”

 

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Human Touch Branding

 

The power of interpersonal touch can be euphoric or at least communicate the feeling of warmth, safety and reassurance. The outcome of this feeling motivates consumers to spend and consume more. No brand has been immune to the changes digital technology has given to the consumer relationship, but technology will never replace the human touch. Brands live in a highly competitive and fast moving environment where creating meaningful connections with customer is almost impossible. More and more brands forgo the bricks and mortar for a digital brand connection. If your brand has any chance to reach out and touch a customer in a truly meaningful way – the human touch is a true differentiator.

 

Research conducted by Ackerman found that waitresses who touch restaurant patrons (mainly men) earn more in tips, and customers (mainly men) innocently touched by female bartenders drink more alcohol. The key point here is woman touching men. Are we so gullible? You don’t have to answer. The research is clear.

 

Have you ever checked into a Starwood Westin Hotel? Once you have completed the check-in transaction they make sure they move away from the counter that divides you from them and stand face to face in front of you. There is a moment of peace and warmth when they welcome you and hand you the passkey. The touch is minimal but the effect is powerful. But the best part is tucking into the Heavenly Bed with its luxurious 100% Egyptian cotton sateen sheets. Now I am in heaven and been touched by a angel.

 

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The Last Touch

 

The simple use of touch can be profound when used properly and authentically. The sense of vision might dominate many aspects of branding, but the subtleties of touch can increases the brand perception immensely. In the book In Touch with the Future, authors Alberto Gallance and Charles Spence state that more companies have started utilizing the growing field of cognitive neuroscience to help guide product development and marketing decisions.

 

Look at everything your brand is doing to build relationships – where do tactile touch points fit to heighten your brand relationship? Are you maximizing the human touch points? You must clearly understand how your customers interact with your brand to ensure the right touch points are consistently in place to strengthen the brand experience.

 

Think about the key moment when the customer interacts with your brand for the first time. Are they excited to open the box or remove the wrapping? Do they need to read a 10 page instruction manual before they start engagement with your brand? Have you made it idiot-proof for them to turn it on? Is the packaging inviting? Does it feel expensive or simple and clean? Does it reinforce their purchase decision?

 

IKEA has an obsession with efficient packaging to lower transport costs and ensure their products are affordable. CEO Peter Agnefjäll explains “We hate air at IKEA.” But it is a balancing act in efficiency and customer satisfaction. Allan Dickner, packaging manager at IKEA admits that they have destroyed products because they were driven by efficiencies and not customer needs.

 

One word of caution as people get older their sense of touch decline so does a lot of other senses (like hearing, seeing, and smelling). Today, there is a large portion of the population that is aging. If older people are your target audience you might need to reengineer or increase the intensity of your brand’s sensory touch points to make the emotional connection remain with your brand.

 

Whether or not a customer physically interacts with your brand today, consider the influential power it plays to reinforce your brand relationship. It might be time to reach out and touch someone.

 

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