The Power Of Emotion: How Brands Build Cult-Like Following (And You Can Too)

Five thousand dollars. That’s how much 21-year-old Michael Jordan was fined by the NBA every time he stepped on the court in 1985. Most people would consider it imprudent to be fined $5,000 every time they went to work – but yet again, most people are not Michael Jordan.

What could this talented rookie, who had only been recently drafted by the Chicago Bulls, have possibly done to provoke such rage from the NBA? The answer: his shoes.

It was no secret: Michael Jordan was destined to be a star. But while companies were hesitant to invest in the young rookie, the American apparel Nike took a risk, and offered Jordan a deal that would earn the NBA legend $7 million over five years; ironically, Jordan had always worn Adidas shoes before being swayed to the deal after meeting with Nike executives.

Aware of the risk they were taking with the promising young player, Nike put in place their most skillful and cunning marketing behind Jordan. They launched the Air Jordan 1, designing the shoe with red and black features, to mirror the franchise’s colors.

David Stern, then NBA Commissioner, did not approve of the shoe since it broke the status quo of white sneakers, who decided to fine Jordan every time he played a game with the shoes on. This sparked news headlines all over America, and was capitalized in a TV advertisement which played off the rebellious aspect of the shoes:

« On September 15, Nike created a revolutionary new basketball shoe. On October 18, the NBA threw them out the game. Fortunately, the NBA can’t stop you from wearing them. Air Jordan’s. From Nike. »

Nike’s advertising suggested that the shoes gave you an unfair advantage and that whoever wore them had a certain edginess associated with outlaw activities. The result? The first 50,000 pairs of Air Jordan’s sold out immediately. This marketing strategy proved to be one of the greatest marketing coups of all time, driving more than $150 million in sales.

The Power Of The Subconscious Mind

Advertisers rely on emotion for their marketing because emotion is a key driver in our decision-making. As shown in this Harvard study, 95% percent of our purchasing decisions are formed in the subconscious mind, the part of our brain where logic takes a back seat and emotions lead the way. As Douglas Van Praet, author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (And Inspire) Marketing, once said:

“The most startling truth is we don’t even think our way to logical solutions. We feel our way to reason. Emotions are the substrate, the base layer of neural circuitry underpinning even rational deliberation. Emotions don’t hinder decisions. They constitute the foundation on which they’re made!”

Our subconscious mind runs on autopilot. A study published in the scientific journal Neuron showed that when exposed to certain brand images (the brands Coke and Pepsi were used as examples in the study), parts of our brain that are responsible for emotion, memory, and motivation would light up.

Turning on that emotional switch through your marketing could reap massive benefits for your business, even if you’re not a billion-dollar brand like Nike.

So what should you do for your business? Firstly, you need to internalize the fact that customers do not buy rationally. Emotion will always be more powerful than reason.

Trying to logically convince your customers to buy your products by just focusing on your product’s features and benefits won’t get you anywhere. `It’s simply not enough. If you want to get sales, you have to give them an emotional reason to buy.

How do you do this? Here are some tips to grow your business and create a cult following of customers through emotion:

I. Lead Your Business With Your Values

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are” –  Roy Disney.

Ask yourself these questions. What does your business stand for? What message or values does it want to defend? If you don’t have the answer than you already lost the game.

In 2009, Simon Sinek shook the business world when he delivered his TEDx Talk “Start WIth Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Action”. In his talk, he claimed that every team on the planet knows what they do. Some know how they do it. But very few teams on the planet know why they do what they do. Very few know what are their purpose and beliefs – the reason they even exist. During his talk, Sinek refers to what he calls The Gold Circle, which is a diagram comprised of concentric circles growing outward.

The inner circle contains the « why », the next layer contains the « how » and the outer layer is defined by the « what ».

When it comes to effective leadership, nothing is more important than holding on to true authentic values. In fact, according to Harry Jansen Kraemer Jr. (author of From Values To Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership), values-based leadership is the only true style of leadership that separates the great from the rest. It is the type of leadership that over thousands of years has led to the birth of glorious empires – such as the Russian empire, Roman empire and Qing dynasty.

A values-driven focus is what makes or breaks your brand’s health, and the loyalty and purchasing habits of your customers. In fact, a 2017 corporate social responsibility study done by Cone Communications found that 87% of people surveyed would purchase a product whose brand’s values aligned with their own.

Michael Jordan would go on to become the 1985 rookie of the year, a 6X NBA champion, and a gold medalist at the Barcelona Olympics. He would also win two slam-dunk championships, 11 scoring championships, and five Most Valuable Player awards. He would be forever known as “the GOAT (greatest of all time)”.

He became an international hero, a cultural phenomenon whose values of dedication, hard work and passion fascinated millions. The admiration people had for him could be felt through iconic commercials such as the “Be Like Mike” Gatorade ad. Because his name was on the shoes, people felt connected to his spirit, performance and being by wearing Air Jordan’s. By 2012, the Jordan brand was selling $2.5bn of shoes a year, with Air Jordan’s comprising 58% of all basketball shoes bought in the US. Michael Jordan himself makes $100 million a year from the brand and is one of the very few athlete billionaires.

The values you represent should touch every aspect of your business, from the hiring process to the marketing, and to the final product.

Glossier is another example of such brand `that dominates with its values. With 1.5 million Instagram followers, this makeup and skincare company has built a cult following (particularly millennials) on its values of « skin first, make-up second », « celebrating diversity and individuality » and « democratizing beauty ». Scrolling on their social media, you see women of various ethnicities wearing their products.

II. Show Your Human Qualities

“We don’t spend a lot of time talking about ‘what customers want’. We are them and they are us” – Lara Lee.

A company that is successful is a company that is led by empathy. A study done on around 65,000 customers by the Global agency C Space found evidence that brands that act human and are empathetic outperform those who aren’t on a consistent basis. Unless you become your users, it is difficult to understand their inspirations, feelings, behavior, and unexpressed needs. An empathetic understanding of the user from every person of your company – whether it be an employee, a pitcher or business shareholder – is crucial to creating an emotional connection with the customer. When you learn how to talk your customer’s language, sales become simple.

When billion-dollar company Pantene was first founded in 1945, the company categorized its products for normal, dry or oily hair. However, sales were not coming through and underperformed. By listening to their customer and their needs, the reason for such low sales became apparent – customers were misdiagnosing their own hair. By putting themselves in the place of their customer, they designed new collections – Volume, Straight Hair and Curly Hair.

Here are Marc Gode’s ten commandments from his book « Emotional Branding » (2001) to help you speak your customer’s language:

  • Approach your potential clients as people rather than consumers: ‘consumers buy, people live’
  • Move away from selling products to selling an experience: ‘products fulfill needs, experience fulfill desires’
  • Brands must build trust with their consumers because it is intimate and engaging: trust is something that a person would expect from a friend and therefore, would deepen the relationship between a brand and its consumers.
  • Brands should create preferences: consumers expect quality products from a brand; however, the key is to be preferred over the competitors’ products.
  • Focus on building an aspiration instead of a notoriety
  • Build a personality, not an identity: ‘Identity is descriptive, personality is about character and charisma’
  • Companies should promote the feel of their products: ‘the nuance of an image, the delight of an unfamiliar taste, the memory of a familiar sound[…] – these are the cues which form indelible imprints on our emotional memory’
  • Rather than be present everywhere, brands should carefully pick their presence
  • Instead of providing information, engage in an active two-way communication
  • Build a relationship rather than offering just a service. ‘Service is selling. A relationship is an acknowledgment’

III. Storytelling

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell.” – Seth Godin.

While storytelling is a great way to help our kids absorb a lesson and get to sleep, it can also be an excellent marketing strategy for your brand. Storytelling engages the subconscious mind of the consumers and creates an emotional connection with the brand.

A brilliant example of this was Gatorade’s “The Boy Who Learned How To Fly” commercial for the 2016 Olympics – an animated short film about Usain Bolt’s life and his connection with his mother. Throughout the commercial, the viewer gets transported into Bolt’s childhood and his rise to Olympic greatness; Bolt can be seen running on the clouds with lightning bolts coming from his feet. It creates an emotional between the viewer and Usain, his mother and of course, Gatorade.

During her Ted Talk “Storytelling, Psychology And Neuroscience”, Amanda D’Annucci explains how storytelling creates a rush of dopamine in the brain, which enhances the listener’s memory, by engaging the amygdala (the brain region responsible for memory). Thus, by implementing storytelling in their marketing, companies create an emotional impact on potential clients by making them remember a story, which as a result makes them remember their brand.

Here is an infographic highlighting the science behind storytelling:

Related image

One creative way Airbnb uses storytelling is by featuring stories from its communities to create an emotional connection with potential clients. Not only do the stories of the hosts highlight the financial and emotional benefits of Airbnb, but it also gives the traveler amazing stories of human connection and immersion into a new culture.

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