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4 brands that emotionally connect with consumers

4 brands that emotionally connect with consumers Gordon Plutsky

A well-known quote from the recently departed Zig Ziglar should be a mantra for any marketer: "People don't buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons." Many people forget or don't understand this truism, but it is the foundation of great marketing and sales. A natural follow-up thought to that is people buy for emotional reasons, but use rational logic to justify it. The emotional aspects of selling are critical to creating a long-term customer and converting that customer into an advocate and evangelist for your brand.

Buying decisions are the result of emotional and rational factors, so your marketing and sales outreach needs to account for both of these very human characteristics. Marketers commonly make the mistake of being disproportionately rational, which usually results in transactional relationships with their customers. These relationships (think online retailers) are often devoid of emotion and therefore temporary by their very nature.

4 brands that emotionally connect with consumers

Because the relationship lacks the substance necessary to create loyalty, losing the customer is only a mouse click away. It can result from anything -- lower prices, better design, a shorter checkout process. This superficial stuff is nothing if your customer relationships are built on a solid foundation. Instead of playing a losing game of discounting wars, sending out more emails, or blanketing the market with ads, consider a strategy that prioritizes quality over quantity.

The digital marketing revolution has enabled companies to communicate directly with customers. This is no revelation, of course. It's how these companies choose to communicate with customers that will determine their ability to create emotional connections. Creating useful and compelling content -- using age-old techniques, such as storytelling -- across web, social, and mobile channels gives marketers an unprecedented opportunity to develop truly human, emotional bonds with the real-life people that comprise their customer communities.

The journey to creating loyal customers is the result of three critical steps: learn, feel, and do.

Learn: The customer learns about the brand or product, which provides a cognitive understanding of its function and its ability to help the customer solve a problem. This gets you to the consideration set and can generate a sale but not a long-term customer.

Feel: Emotions drive action, so the sooner you evoke them, the better. During the evaluation stage, your marketing will need to create an emotional bond that builds affinity and trust.

Do: At this stage, you need to drive action to a sale by understanding the emotional triggers for your customers. And don't forget the post-sales evaluations that help turn customers into advocates.

With all of that in mind, let's look at some leading companies that are moving past transactional relationships and old one-way advertising methods to better connect with empowered customers.


Sephora is a great example of a brick and mortar retailer that has transitioned into something much more important in the minds of its core customers. The brand has embraced social and digital -- and has become a destination site for all things beauty. Replete with videos, how-to content, and its own moderated community, "Beauty Talk," where customers give each other advice and support, the Sephora website doesn't go half way. Rather, the company embraced the fact that its primary customer -- a 25- to 34-year-old female -- is entrenched in the digital and mobile world. Recent additions to Sephora's digital toolkit include Instagram, Pinterest, and a slick iPad app. The company understands that beauty holds an important place in the lives of its best customers and that buying makeup is more than a transaction. So its online platform separates it from the warehouse-style brand Ulta on the retail side and from Amazon for online retail.

Whole Foods

Whole Foods has created a unique food-buying environment with a fanatic, loyal customer base that willingly pays more for products. A recent Wall Street Journal article states its operating margin over the past five years as 4.75 percent, compared to Supervalu at 3 percent, Kroger at 2.59 percent, and Safeway at 2.53 percent. Why? Whole Foods understands that it is not just selling groceries; it is supporting a lifestyle focused on health and wellness. The brand uses superior customer service and storytelling about its products via blogs, magazines, in-store promotions, and social media to create an environment that inspires a healthy lifestyle. Whole Foods is a stark contrast to traditional supermarkets that still rely on price promotions and weekly circulars to drive sales.


Amex OPEN is the transformation of a credit card service into a small business empowerment platform. The magic here is the introduction of an open forum of content, networking, and deals to help SMBs and entrepreneurs improve their businesses. Being an entrepreneur is more of a state of mind than a job title, and American Express understands that. The brand demonstrates this understanding through its groundbreaking adoption of social platforms, which helps the company turn nice ideas into great ones.


Subaru understands that it is a niche brand, and it does not try to be all things to all people like Honda and Toyota. The brand has had great success by laser focusing on the mindset and emotions of its key buyers. The "Love" TV advertising campaign doubled Subaru's market share over the past three years. The brand pairs this with the MySubaru website and Drive magazine for owners. Instead of advertising a laundry list of features and price promotions, Subaru tapped into the mindset of the customer who buys the brand because of an active, outdoors lifestyle -- and yes, loves the brand.

Here are five key takeaways to create a strong emotional connection with your brand in today's media environment.

Inspire with content and storytelling

Provide your community of customers with quality original content that inspires, empowers, and entertains. Today, "helping is selling," and nothing does a better job helping online than content. Storytelling makes customers part of the story and helps encode their understanding of your value proposition.

Be a platform

Make your site or blog the hub of your digital marketing universe; in fact, think of it as a platform. From this platform, engage and surround your customers with a variety of media types through social and mobile channels. You need to be everywhere your customers are consuming information.

Become a lifestyle brand vs. a product

Understand who your customers are, what drives them, and what you mean in their lives. Determine what business you are truly in today. Sephora is really in the beauty empowerment business; it doesn't sell make-up. For Whole Foods, it's health and wellness, not grocery retailer. Apple is a lifestyle, and Samsung is a device -- the difference is subtle, but it means everything for the long term.

Be authentic

Develop a unique voice and tone. Be real and true to the brand. Have an online persona -- don't use bland, jargon-filled marketing speak. Also, be provocative and bring real insight with your content. There is already plenty of bland stuff to go around, so don't add to it.

Leverage user-generated content

Reach out to your customers and ask them to submit videos, blogs, comments, online reviews, etc. Sephora's "Beauty Talk" and Amex OPEN are great examples of how a smart platform can bring people together and have them generate content that will drawn in other customers and help your SEO. More importantly, it turns customers into advocates who will spread the word through their social connections.

One of the best roads to success in the new media world is to become a lifestyle brand and have the ability to tap into your customers' emotions and build bonds based on how they "feel" about your brand. The future belongs to marketers who can marry an emotional connection with great products and services. Having the best mousetrap is not enough anymore.

Gordon Plutsky is CMO of King Fish Media.

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"Collage of woman different facial expressions" image via Shutterstock.

As VP of Marketing, Gordon Plutsky partners with Digital Bungalow clients to build their marketing and content strategies, as well as direct the social media and measurement/analytics aspects of their programs.Gordon was previously the CMO at King...

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