When marketers talk to customers, a lot of effort goes into the details of features and pricing. Emotion-led marketing is the idea that generating an emotional connection with your brand will yield longer term loyalty and profits.

This holiday season, several companies have debuted commercials that as People puts it “make you feel all the feels.” But, if this approach is so great then why doesn’t everybody do it all year-round?

Alienware laptop sits on desk next to full trash can and tennis shoes

The truth is that triangulating specific psychological attributes that construct value in the customer’s mind is demanding. There are organizational insights and brand identity challenges that need to be solved first.

I’ve had the opportunity to broach this subject from many hats: as a product developer, operations and brand manager, among others in 13+ years at Dell and Alienware.

I have been witness to successful shifts towards more focus on purpose and emotional-led marketing. In every implementation, I saw challenges: attributing marketing efforts to results, a balanced approach of promotion/emotion and having clarity on the reason for being.  Brands that truly connect with customers tend to behave like expert conversationalists.

Here are three major challenges and recommendations for shaping brands at the emotional-level in 2016-2017.

Challenge 1: Attribution – the culture of “hit the goals now,” or, the preconceived notion that marketers need to focus on pricing, otherwise it will not convert into sales.

As brand manager, I delivered training to sales teams on new products being launched. Here is feedback I found contradictory at first.

  1. “We can read what the specs and prices are, but you’re not telling us what Dell is about, what our angle is or who the customer is.”
  2. “Why are we talking about colors and feelings?”

Recommendation: Value map your features vs. customer needs in plain language.

In the end it was not a contradiction. Ben Franklin was reputed to be a polite and engaging communicator, never making people feel “less than” and taking genuine interest in their passions. The sales and local marketing teams wanted a clear context of our identity so they could have those “Ben Franklin” conversations with the customers. It is important to create a brand and customer pocketbook with the full context of your customer, focusing on benefits rather than features and customers use cases instead of specifications.

Challenge 2: From promotion to emotion, or, internal benefits I want.

Pinning down psychological values as perceived by the customer is complicated. Attributes like quality, peace of mind, motivation, accomplishment, reliability, variety, innovation and wellness are just a few of the many values and emotions that companies like Bain, Mckinsey, Forrester and CEB track regularly. These customer values should be leveraged and monitored regularly. Identifying the right values helps unify work efforts.

Recommendation – Develop data centric customer focus by building an insights engine.

Just like in a polite conversation, listening is a fundamental to being relevant and beneficial. Conducting research, deriving insights and synthesizing conclusions is a form of corporate listening. Sometimes entrepreneurs intuitively know their customers and at the beginning don’t need a data-driven approach to understanding what their audience wants. This was the case during my tenure with early days Alienware - we inherently understood and listened to our community; however, scaling and replicating over time required a more systemic approach. To do that in a product development role, we built an insights engine, gathering a 360-degree view of research, including business metrics, customer feedback, market-landscape and world trends.

Challenge 3: Identity crisis – Clearly defining your brand promise and personality.

Conveying and connecting with authenticity requires that a brand or marketer be clearly self-aware of what they stand for and how they are currently perceived. To be yourself, you need to know yourself and how you’re perceived. Simon Sinek said, “Companies and brands should be able to answer why. Why is not about making money. That’s a result. Why is the purpose, the core beliefs? It’s the very reason the organization exists.”

In Dell’s manager Marketing Rotation Program, we go through a personal branding exercise that asks us to identify what is strong in us, what is expected of us and where we need to improve. The challenge lies in asking how you are perceived. This can produce tough feedback. Building an action plan to address this requires effort and is often de-prioritized by organizations.

Recommendation – Develop a creed, not a slogan.

In the XPS product team we worked on building a message that authentically reflected who we are and why we are in a way that inspires and aligns teams to our ultimate goal. The core team working on this realized the single most important output we needed was a creed, a sentence that could be articulated into visuals, designs and go-to-market plans. It took us six months of observing world trends, gathering research, listening to internal and external feedback and taking honest inventory of:

  1. What were we known for?
  2. What do we want to be known for?
  3. What is the industry standard?
  4. What is the investment and benefit on bridging the gap?

We discovered strengths we were unaware of and found areas we needed to work on.

It is an exciting time as authentic and deeply rooted brands are at a competitive advantage and can yield higher revenues and price premiums.

Aim to derive a clear creed that aligns your internal teams more so than a fancy external tagline.

Above all become a polite conversationalist by channeling your inner Ben Franklin.

  1. Talk about them not you
  2. Listen more than you talk
  3. Be authentic