Your Brand’s Energy Needs a Valuable Fuel: Emotion

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To most marketers, it’s an age-old axiom: Emotions drive brands. And emotional motivators, like pixie dust, are sprinkled by the likes of Apple, Harley-Davidson, 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 puppy/monkey/baby that lost many of us. Building an emotion-driven branding strategy takes more than heartfelt creative. It requires an understanding of emotions, which are head-spinningly complex, and it requires a rigorous, analytical approach that connects emotion to brand, and brand to results. Forrester Research set out to build a pixie dust laboratory of sorts.

In creating our new brand energy framework, Forrester considered a simple yet crucial question that holds up the entire edifice of emotion-based branding: Does emotion matter? We wanted to provide marketers a holistic way to represent the power of brands by blending emotion with other traditional factors. And we wanted to ensure that we picked the right brand metric—one that moved in lock-step with financial results.

We asked 4,500 respondents to think of a retailer or bank and answer a battery of questions. We ran this data through iterative data mining techniques and structural equation modeling, testing millions of models that map relationships between consumer brand perceptions, outcomes, and emotional motivation. From this came a concept we felt powerfully captured the essence of brands: “brand energy.”

Brand energy is a holistic measure of the power of a brand, the charge marketers build, like a battery, every time they send the right message, deliver the right information, or fulfill emotional expectations with the ideal experience. Brand energy translates into consumer action when customers buy products and services, advocate for the brand, or share socially. Some of that energy 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.

We identified three dimensions to brand energy, all of which are highly connected. A brand that is “for people like me” likely triggers the emotions that create long-term salience and feeds enduring preference:

Emotion. Nearly 50 percent of brand energy is 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 minds.

Salience. About 30 percent is salience. A brand that is top-of-mind and prominent has a big advantage. Salience stems from awareness building but also from the longer-term impact of positive emotional experiences.

Fit: About 20 percent comes from fit, which refers to relevance (deriving from price, product, availability, etc.) and alignment to a worldview (do you belong to the “tribe” of Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts?).

What does this mean for brand and marketing management? Marketers now have data-driven evidence that emotion is the primary fuel that powers brand energy. Forrester’s research found that companies like Nordstrom and Ikea underperformed their peer set in salience and fit but capitalized on high emotion scores to lead the pack in brand energy. Other firms, like Office Depot, found their energy scores dragged down because while they fit well, they could not generate significant emotional activation.

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.

These findings have far-reaching implications for how companies approach customer experience. 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 that stems from an inside view of organization. For consumers, brand and CX are intricately and inseparably threaded together, and the best companies manage them as such.

Dipanjan Chatterjee is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. Listen to Forrester’s “What It Means” podcast, where Chatterjee discusses the evolution of brand management and why legacy brand frameworks no longer cut it in the age of the customer.

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