Emotional Connectivity: The Core Currency of Great Work

Posted by John Anderson

Think. Feel. Do.

These three words are almost guaranteed to appear on the board in every Marketing 101 classroom. It’s one of those natural rhythms that just sounds right when we first hear it. Then it gets repeated so many times that it becomes an accepted truth. But the reality is, this traditional framework for understanding how we make decisions has been misguiding everyone from marketing students to senior brand leaders for years. It’s flaw? Think. Feel. Do. does not actually reflect how real humans make decisions.

Psychology has repeatedly proven that it’s emotion not reason that drives our decision-making. All those sleep-deprived marketing students should really be studying the concept of Feel. Think. Do. And even the most established marketer would benefit from understanding why that is.

Studies conducted by Antonio Damasio at the University of Southern California have shown that emotion is so crucial to our ability to evaluate alternative options that individuals with damaged emotional centers in their brains are actually unable to make most decisions. People don’t sit down and rationally weigh the pros and cons of every choice. We are not that logical, nor do we have the time to actually think through the thousands of decisions we make every day.

Instead, we rely on the emotional perceptions developed by our past experiences to make decisions faster. Previous emotional reactions form the lens through which we process information and understand our choices. The individuals in Damasio’s study were perfectly capable of processing rational information about the available options, but they were incapable of knowing how to feel about that information. We have to feel before we can know how we think.

The importance of feeling lies at the core of what brands really are, vehicles to affix emotion to a product or service. Brands exists in the mind of the consumer and their past interactions with that brand, from advertising to product experiences, form the subconscious emotional perceptions that reveal themselves when the time comes to make conscious decisions. This is how brand preference is developed, and why it’s often hard to explain why we are loyal to the brands we love. It’s because it’s not a rational decision.

Great brands have known this truth for years. They don’t sell their products by listing off features and points of difference. They resonate and connect with us on an emotional level. Great brands sell you the feeling you gain as a result of interacting with them. Nike leads the shoe category because they’ve made us believe we will feel stronger, faster and more daring when we wear their product. The emotional connection between the product and the buyer makes Nike a leader in their category. Recent studies at USC have proven this fact out, showing that ads with an emotional message were nearly two times as likely to be successful in their goal than ads with a rational message.

If leading brands base their strategies off this understanding, and researchers have repeatedly proven its effectiveness, why do so many marketers continue to prioritize rational appeals over emotional appeals in their creative?

It’s a rut that’s surprisingly easy to get stuck in if you aren’t paying attention. We get so close to our products that we forget to look at it from the consumer’s perspective. They don’t need to know, and often don’t care, about the technological advancements or competitive advantages that marketers get so excited to share. We lose initial interest and potential brand loyalty from our consumer if we spend all our time focusing on the product itself, and in the long run, fail to the move the needle with our audience.

But perhaps the more telling reason we stick to the facts is that letting an emotional appeal take center stage in our marketing can feel like a risk. Will it be too much of a stretch for the client, for our boss? Will it feel pandering, off base, alarmist, controversial, or too disruptive for the brand or category? Sticking to product facts and features just feels so much safer and more concrete. And those concerns are valid. We have all seen numerous examples of brands tripping over themselves when they overuse emotion or miss the target altogether.

At GS&F, we believe that the key to overcoming these obstacles, and unleashing the potential of emotional connectivity for our brands starts with a commitment to an Audience First Mindset. By grounding each and every piece of our work in a fundamental understanding of our audience, we learn how to foster authentic, emotionally-driven brand relationships. This understanding allows us to elevate our messaging above functional appeals without becoming disingenuous or ineffective. But, we also learn when and where it’s important to leverage key supporting facts to help our audience rationalize their perceptions. When we know the reasons why audiences do what they do, we can deliberately market our brands in service to that higher-order emotional need.

We call the intersection between what a brand can deliver and what the audience needs most Brand Authenticity. When we uncover ways to align that authenticity on a core emotional motivator, we empower our brands to create compelling action, powerful connections and lasting brand love.