Make your brand stand out with Emotive Branding

By Janelle de Weerd

Sometimes life moves so fast we forget to take a step back and return to the basics. We want to do just that by taking this chance to explain emotive branding. Emotive branding, not to be confused with emotional branding, is a relatively new technique in the industry. So if this method of branding isn’t ringing any bells, you aren’t alone.

Emotive branding takes a behavioral approach to branding by basing a company’s story and meaning off of human fundamental drives. These fundamental drives, which stem from a company’s values, bring emotion to a brand, both internally and throughout the entire customer journey.

What is a brand?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of all things emotive, let’s quickly cover what a brand is and how that relates to the traditional sense of branding.

1. A brand is a symbol.


brand symbols

When you consider a brand, you expect it to serve several functions. First and foremost, it needs to serve as a memorable symbol. If brands fail to be memorable, they fail to be top of mind when a consumer is in their decision phase.


2. A brand sets a standard.



Brands also provide a standard of expectations. Does a brand live up to the established functional expectations? If a product or service doesn't live up to your standard of quality, convenience, or accessibility, will you continue to use it? Creating a false standard does more harm than good because, eventually, consumers will undoubtedly find out.


3. A brand makes you feel.

Coca-Cola feel

Lastly, brands should relay emotions. The Institute of Practitioners of Advertising found that emotional messages are not only more powerful than rational, but the effects last longer. Not to mention, they deliver up to twice the amount of profit than their rational counterparts.

Traditional branding acknowledges these as distinct parts of their overall strategy. However, these do not always come together in one consistent brand experience. What brands often neglect is that humans want to feel something. They want their relationship with the brand to transcend the ad. When these elements are present, brands become unforgettable and win that precious share of mind in the consumer.


Emotive branding in practice.

Have you ever noticed that some brands just seem to have it while others miss the mark by a mile? The reason for that comes down to how well brands deliver meaning both internally and at every step of the customer journey.

Successful brands don’t simply serve as a symbol, set a standard, and use emotions to attract people. Instead, they bring these characteristics together to create an emotive brand experience that exceeds expectations. They deliver products or services that match the emotional (and practical) expectations individuals have. The result is a more honest and sustainable brand/consumer relationship.


For example, take Airbnb. When you look at the brand and the service they provide, the emotive thought process shines through. Airbnb strives to remove the barriers from travel by facilitating cheaper, more accessible accommodation. In a recent interview, Airbnb’s Head of Brand, Nancy King explains how they created their brand:

We asked ourselves, what do we mean by a truly iconic brand? The first characteristic is that they are instantly recognizable visually: You look at a Coca-Cola, at a Starbucks, you recognize that brand wherever you see it. One of the first things my kid said was “Starbucks,” pointing at a logo. The second ingredient is a universal value proposition. The third is that they genuinely play a role in culture. Apple, for instance, is not just taking from culture. They are actively driving culture. And then the fourth ingredient is, do they tap into higher-order values that transcend the product—and actually stand for something. The fifth is all about emotional connection, and that is really the root of it. That’s where a brand like Disney has really benefited. It has leveraged the power of emotion. We make decisions emotionally more than rationally. Brands have a unique ability to tap into that decision-making.

When Airbnb says they want to create a world where you can belong anywhere, they mean it. And they apply this ideology throughout their company. Their values transcend their internal culture to reach people in an unexpectedly consistent way.

For example, there is a significant focus within the company on working, playing, and relaxing together. They create an atmosphere where people come to work to do more than just make money, but to be with colleagues whom are also friends. This employee sigma and happiness reflects on their customer service interactions. I can say from personal experience that they do whatever it takes to ensure you are safe, comfortable, and satisfied with your Airbnb experience.

A brand isn’t genuinely emotive until their core values and emotional appeals are apparent throughout the company, like in the case with Airbnb. From C-level to associate, emotive brands see the value and importance in living their brand at all levels.


How we create emotive brands.

Emotive branding requires brands to know the reason why they do what they do. In fact, emotive brands have the why behind the service or product so ingrained into the company, that everyone in the organization knows and believes in the story.

We believe that if you want to build a successful brand, your story needs to stem from fundamental human drives. We found in our  23plusone research that individuals have 24 fundamental drives, each weighing in with a different level of importance for an individual. The same fundamental drives are also present in brands and can be broken into five categories of safety, self-development, ambition, vitality, and attraction.


The 24 Fundamental Drives of  23plusone

The 24 Fundamental Drives of 23plusone

For a brand to be successful and touch individuals on this emotional, subconscious level, they need to have drives represented in the brand from each of these categories. If this is successful, they can better reach their target audience on a deeper, more emotional level.

Fundamental brand drives form the foundation of a brand. Not only regarding their story but also their overarching strategy. By looking at these drives, companies can make better informed strategic decisions that relate back to their purpose and meaning.


Brand co-creation

To find the most relevant drives for a brand, BR-ND brings in all the internal and external stakeholders to brainstorm the brand story and direction. We do this because, on the one hand, employees help define the emotional dynamics of the company on an individual, work, and brand level. On the other hand, external stakeholders allow you to gain a better understanding of the current image of your company and where it should be in the future.


These brainstorm sessions activate engagement with all those necessary to the brand, which encourages ownership. This results in a higher likelihood that the various stakeholders are enthusiastic, loyal, and willing to act as brand ambassadors.

BR-ND approach eBooks

BR-ND approach eBooks

Bringing the elements together

Once a company creates a strong foundation with its stakeholders, the external communication should match the established values and company culture. A brand’s personality should shine through in a consistent and authentic way.

Customer experience is more critical than ever before. Customers expect more from their favorite brands and seek to build relationships on a personal level. It’s the brand’s job to cater to this demand. Emotive branding is one technique to do so, as it brings communication together. By focusing on creating a meaningful mission and story for the work they do, emotive brands set a foundation for building stronger connections with their customers.

Where does your brand stand?

The market isn’t getting any less competitive, and consumer demands are changing. While it’s best to establish these values from the beginning, it’s never too late to do so. Sometimes going back to the basics is exactly what brands need for a new wave of creativity. Let emotive branding transform your brand and serve as an endless source of inspiration for the content you produce.


Kim Crameremotive branding