Why do emotions help in brand storytelling?

Coke or Pepsi? Domino’s or Pizza Hut? Samsung or iPhone?

When you have two products that are fairly similar in utility, taste and price;  what makes you like one more than the other?

Communication professionals say that the difference lies in the ‘emotional connect’ you have with the brand.  At the end of the day, using emotions in brand storytelling is what gives your story the extra edge.

Sujit Patil, head of corporate communications, Vedanta agrees, saying, “Marketers who have mastered this psychology of emotional connections are on the top. For me, a brand is nothing but a mental image of a product or service created in my mind. More the emotions attached, more loyal I would be towards it. Take the example of Tata Salt (Desh ka Namak). Not just because I have worked on this brand, but the emotion of “National Pride” is so overwhelming that I would never think of any other salt brand even if it is brought from the moon!”

Olympian boxer, Mary Kom, for Tata Salt

Himanshu Saxena, brand lead, Edelman India says in India there is a special love for emotional storytelling with all it’s highs and lows, explaining that, While one might be an effective political leader, or a great actor, or a high performing sportsperson, it is the emotional backdrop of the subject in question that resonates with the audience.”

Saxena shares an example to clarify further,An immediate parallel can be drawn by comparing the social conversations and box office collections generated between the Bollywood biopics of two legends of Indian cricket – Sachin and Dhoni. While both individuals had almost similar sporting achievements, somehow in popular imagination, Dhoni’s emotional fabric seemed richer and deeper for most Indians and hence achieved better engagement.”

Psychology: Why emotional storytelling works

A product or service can appeal to a consumer due to its utility, its’ price or both. But Tushar Vasudev, behavioural economist with Mind Solace says that "Sustained brand loyalty occurs when a product story goes beyond these two factors and makes an emotional appeal."

Think Apple fanboys. Think Pepsi and ‘Yeh Dil Mange More.’"

Himanshu Saxena says that research back this, "The Edelman Earned Brand Study, has proven time and again that brands that enjoy greater commitment and loyalty from their consumers are the ones that have a deeper emotional resonance, values and a purpose with which they operate. With the onset of social media and referral-based brand marketing, this emotional connect is more vital than ever before. And this consumer connect can only be built be through genuine, honest and effective emotional storytelling through all consumer touch points.”

The key point is genuine, relevant and honest

Vasudev, agrees, warning that using emotion in storytelling has to be done with caution, "If you do not deliver what you promise, the backlash can make you lose customers." He cites the example of AirBnB. Internationally, the brand promise is a home away from home, and a home which is not a hotel. However, Vasudev, says this is an emotional connect that will not work in India as the AirBnB outlets in India do not have the same 'home away from home' quality.

Vasudev also cites the example of Snapdeal, who first promoted the message that they were the cheapest site. Vasudev, said this was not a promise they could have kept in the face of competition from Flipkart and Amazon. Vasudev advises that if they had worked on the customer experience within the site or customer service instead, that is a connect that may have drawn and kept customers.

Examples of emotional brand connect

Saxena believes that, “In the end, every story needs a villain and a hero to engage its audience emotionally. So does the world of brands!”

Saxena shares his favourites, starting from iconic global brands such as Surf (Better childhood), Axe (Winning the social mating game), Pepsi (Cool irreverence) Nike (Possibilities of human spirit), and Dove (Real Beauty.).

Saxena adds, “The examples of brand building based on great emotional storytelling are endless. Even the recent recognition at Cannes for one of our campaigns 'Mirinda #Releasethepressure 'is a testimony of how emotional storytelling is key to brand’s success.”

He continues, “Even when a seemingly ‘Cut-the-chase’ brand like Sprite promotes the simplicity of thirst quench with ‘Bhujaaye pyaas, baaki all bakwas’ tagline, it sneers over the wooly, over-the-top emotion of Cola brands — and yet ends up driving a deep emotion of ‘Cool’ simultaneously. Then there are also brands like Patanjali, which is an example of driving deeply seeded Ayurveda-based wellness culture in India by building an ‘Anti-MNC’ emotion to achieve the meteoric rise in its success across India.”

Sujit Patil  says, “My favourite  is Cinthol's recent campaign, #ReadyForAwesome. The narrative takes sports as a metaphor to depict today's women who are poised to own the world against all odds. It is supported with a narrative that captures the bold spirit of women, rejecting all societal constructs. The video immediately strikes an emotional connect.”

Vasudev, gives the example of Edward Bernays, the nephew of psychoanalysis pioneer-Sigmund Freud. Bernice is considered the ‘ Father of Public Relations’ and used emotions successfully for a campaign to promote female smoking. The cigarettes were presented as ‘ Torches of freedom.’

Can negative emotions work?

While positive emotions have on the face of it, created a better connect with the audience, can negative emotions also drive brand results?

Says Patil, “Many of my advertising friends opine that it is better to sell positive anticipation rather than anxiety. While I do feel positive emotions (Joy, hope, happiness) win most of the time, I guess sometimes negative emotions (fear, anger, anxiety) also work if they can evoke hope. Certain categories do need it. For example, life insurance. LIC and others talk about future when the protagonist is no more; reaffirming why life insurance is essential for protection against death.”

Adds Patil, “ Narratives with emotions that can evoke fear, feeling of danger or make one anxious have been used with significant success. For example, Saffola communications raises the anxiety of a wife towards her husband’s stressful life that could lead to 'lifestyle' diseases at a young age. I also still remember the Saffola Ad, where apparently the husband is being taken into an operation theatre with an ambulance siren as the background sound. Fear of rejection for a girl with "dark" complexion has been the base for 'Fair and Lovely' narrative.”

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