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Emotional Engagement with Brands: Why Now – and How? SGK Strategists Explain

Posted By: SGK March 27, 2013

One of the analysts behind the Brand Keys 17th annual 2013 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI) recently penned a Forbes column that serves notice that shoppers and consumers don’t view “brands” the way they used to.

Your target audience has so much information at hand and basic product categories are in such flux that your brand equity could be eroding under your feet. “When all a consumer can say is ‘shampoo’ when asked about the product name, you really aren’t a brand anymore. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll never be able to differentiate yourself on an emotional basis,” the author, Robert Passikoff, writes.

We passed the Forbes piece to Bruce Levinson, Vice President, Brand Strategy at the New York office of Anthem Worldwide, and asked for his thoughts. They were succinct:

  1. Functional superiority can be gold. (Tide)
  2. Where functional parity exists, emotional engagement is critical. (Special K)
  3. Functional superiority + emotional engagement trumps all. (Dove)

True enough, and Levinson’s formulation is an excellent way to strip away tangential marketing concerns and get at the shopper’s core thinking: “Does the product work and am I engaged with what the brand represents?”

Now how do you achieve that engagement? Two recent pieces of SGK thought leadership speak directly to this.

In “Compare To or Not To Compare To: That Is the Question,” Anthem’s Carol Best gets at the challenge of establishing a brand as unique in the market. Best is a Vice President of Brand Strategy and also part of the Schawk Retail Practice, and she explains that brands must be more courageous in identifying themselves as unique in practical and emotional terms. She applies this directly to private label and store brands, whose success in the past decade in the U.S. and other countries is now forcing them to represent more than simply a cheaper alternative. But the lesson applies to national brands, as well.

In “Orbiting the Black Hole of Category Code Convergence,” Rob Swan, Vice President, Executive Creative Director and Michael Colton, Director of Design Strategy at Brandimage, detail how brands risk “converging” with each other creatively and strategically through lack of awareness or, ironically, through fear of poor performance. Like Passikoff in Forbes, they single out shampoo as a category that’s marked by a dangerous “sameness.”

The Forbes piece is titled “Emotional Engagement: Where Brands Strike Gold. And Make Money,” and the two pieces of SGK thought leadership mentioned above nicely illuminate what Forbes and Anthem’s Levinson are saying. Emotional engagement takes courage – not just on the part of the shopper or consumer but on the part of brands, who have to move outside their comfort zones to offer people a reason to engage.