To most marketers, this is an age-old axiom: emotions drive brands. And emotional motivators, like pixie dust, are sprinkled by the likes of Apple, Harley, Lego, and Patagonia to create a frenzied devotion that, on a good day, can give the Star Trek fandom a run for its money. But how does one create pixie dust? Budweiser tried it with the adorable puppy that got lost. Mountain Dew tried it with the less-than-adorable puppymonkeybaby that lost many of us. But to build an emotion-driven branding strategy takes more than heart-wrenching creative. It requires an understanding of emotions, which is head-spinningly more complex than puppy love. And it requires a rigorous, analytical approach that connects emotion to brand, and brand to results. And that’s what my colleagues at Forrester and I set out to do – to build a pixie dust laboratory of sorts.
Our inquiry proceeded along three dimensions. First, we asked a simple yet crucial question, one that held up the entire edifice of emotions-based branding: does emotion matter? We also wanted to determine emotion’s magnitude of contribution to assess the claim of its primacy. Second, we wanted to provide marketers a holistic way to represent the power of brand by blending emotion with other traditional factors. And third, we wanted to ensure that we picked the right brand metric – one that moved in lock-step with financial results such that improvements to the brand metric would manifest in real value for the company.
We sought answers from a Forrester survey we conducted with about 4,500 respondents who were asked to think of a retailer or bank of their choosing and to then answer a battery of questions. We ran this data through iterative data mining techniques and structural equation modeling to test millions of models that map relationships between consumer brand perceptions, outcomes, and emotional motivation. From within the belly of this beast arose a clean and crisp concept that powerfully captured the essence of brand. We called this Brand Energy.
Brand Energy is a holistic measure of the power of a brand — the charge that marketers build, battery-like, every time they send the right message, deliver the right information, or reward a customer’s emotional expectations with the ideal experience. Brand energy translates into consumer action when customers buy products and services, advocate the brand, or share socially. Some of that energy also gets moved into a customer’s long-term memory, where it stimulates salience at later times. The transformation of a brand’s energy into action is the missing link between brand and results that has often eluded marketers.
We identified three contributors to Brand Energy. Almost half of Brand Energy derived from “Emotion” – a dimension that reflected a basket of emotional motivators. In addition to validating the gut feel marketers have clung to for years (whew!), this finding supports the academic literature about decisions being primarily driven by emotional markers and automatic processes in our subconscious mind. Second in contribution (about 30%) is “Salience”: a brand that is top-of-mind and prominent has a tremendous advantage. Salience stems not only from traditional awareness building, but also from the longer-term impact of positive emotional experiences. Finally, “Fit” contributes to 20% of Brand Energy. Fit is about relevance (deriving from price, product, availability, etc.) and also about alignment to the consumer’s world view (do you belong to the “tribe” of Starbucks or of Dunkin Donuts?). It is worth noting that these dimensions are, as one would expect, highly connected. A brand that is “for people like me” likely triggers the emotions that create long term salience and feeds enduring preference.
What does this mean for brand and marketing management? Marketers now have data-driven evidence that emotion is the fuel that powers brand energy. In our research, we found brands like Nordstrom and Ikea that underperformed their peer set in Salience and Fit capitalized on their high Emotion score to lead the pack in Brand Energy. Other brands, like Office Depot, found their Energy scores dragged down because while they Fit well, they could not generate significant emotional activation.
Having established the primacy of emotions, marketers can now make the case for emotional branding with the confidence that it will move the needle on value – Brand Energy positively correlates with outcomes like preference, purchase, willingness to pay a premium, and advocacy, all of which drive revenue and profit.
Finally, these findings have far reaching implications for how companies approach customer experience (CX). An emotion-driven approach to branding is built on the interrelatedness of experience, perception, and outcome. The traditionally separate disciplines of brand and CX represent a false dichotomy which stems from an inside view of organization. For consumers, brand and CX are intricately and inseparably threaded together and the best brands manage them as such.
Dipanjan Chatterjee, Vice President and Principal Analyst, Forrester
I’m a growth strategist for brands. I help companies demystify brand perception, consumer preferences, and customer experience to shape growth-driving marketing strategies. You can connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me @dipanjantweet.
Forrester clients: you can read the Brand Energy Framework report here. If you are interested in having me brief your team on Intelligent Branding and the Brand Energy framework, please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or your Forrester account team.