In this issue of the Positioning Tip®, we want to highlight the power a strong emotional benefit can have in distinguishing your brand. When we refer to an emotional benefit, we don’t mean simply highlighting a product’s functional benefit in an emotional way, we mean a truly emotional benefit; one that your customers experience when they choose your brand over a competitor’s brand.

When a brand team develops a brand positioning strategy and considers the benefits their brand can provide, the benefits that come to mind most quickly and clearly are usually functional. “What problem or need does my potential customer have and how can my product resolve it for them?” is often the question asked. The word “product” was used here intentionally, because a positioning strategy based on functional benefits is less about brand development and more about problem resolution. It’s also a potential competitive liability because when a competitor comes along that can provide a better functional benefit to satisfy the customer’s need, your product begins to slide toward irrelevance.

As marketers, you recognize that product success follows the identification of a customer problem or need that is uniquely resolved by your product. Functional needs are paid off by functional benefits and emotional needs are paid off by emotional benefits. If you think back to your basic marketing or psychology class, you’ll likely remember the eminent clinical psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow. Most famous for his development of the hierarchy of needs, Dr. Maslow postulated that humans have a set of needs that they attempt to satisfy in a specific order, with the most basic level consisting of the need for food, air, water, sleep, etc. As we move up in the hierarchy, these needs evolve from purely functional to purely emotional; this is in part where the phrase “higher order needs” comes from. It stands to reason that if emotional needs are higher order needs, then emotional benefits are higher order benefits. Continuing the thread, emotional benefits have a greater magnitude of value to customers than purely functional benefits and, therefore, are more integral to creating a successful “brand”.

The goal of every brand should be to create an emotional connection with their customers. Emotional connections are much more difficult to break and will insulate your brand from losing customers to a competitor that may be able to match your product’s functional benefits. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Most marketers are familiar with Volvo’s brand positioning and its link to the high level of safety engineered into its cars. However, “safety” alone is a functional benefit comprised of a series of product attributes such as better brakes, stronger side impact protection zones, airbags, etc., which can be easily matched (and have been) by other automobile manufacturers. To reach beyond the rational and create a stronger connection with their customers, Volvo needed to appeal to a higher, emotional need. That emotional need was identified by what their customers intended to protect by purchasing a “safer” automobile. Looking back at the history of Volvo ads, you see imagery of children, families, and loved ones, all entrusted to the safety of a Volvo. The emotional benefit clearly connected to the idea that only Volvo can protect the people you love most; that’s a pretty strong emotional benefit.
  • Another example of an automobile manufacturer aspiring to drive home an emotional connection with their target customers is Mini Cooper. While Volvo hits the emotional spectrum of protection through their safety measures, Mini has an entirely different approach. As a brand, Mini identifies as unique, different from every other car on the market. They encourage their purchasers to also remain unique, telling them to “defy labels”. Mini approaches the emotional connection by enabling their target customers to stand out as the unique individuals they are, encouraging them to “be themselves” and not worry about what labels other people apply to them. By enabling their customers to take pride in their individuality, Mini drives home a relationship with its target customers that sits in a unique emotional space.
  • Our final example of brand positioning with a strong emotional benefit is one that may not be so obvious; MasterLock. When you mention the brand, most people conjure up the image from an ad that ran during the Super Bowl in the 1970s of a MasterLock remaining locked after a rifle shoots a hole through it. However, the brand team at MasterLock evolved the brand’s positioning from a functional benefit: “staying locked even through extreme stress”, to a higher order, more emotional based benefit. In more recent MasterLock commercials, the viewer is immersed in the chilling world of a late night inner city. Fast moving scenes depict criminals attempting to gain entry to various, buildings, businesses, and homes, all protected by MasterLock. The ad communicates the functional benefit of MasterLock while at the same time touching on a base fear of customers, to keep the families and possessions secure. Anyone who has walked through a questionable neighborhood or has been awakened by a strange sound at night can relate to the terrifying feeling MasterLock is attempting to prevent.

Considering these examples, it is easy to see how a strong emotional benefit can help secure brand loyalty. Most marketers familiar with the Volvo case study know that Volvo is not the only safe automobile and may not be the safest, however, the strong emotional positioning created for the brand has helped them secure the leadership position in safety. Volvo has successfully placed their brand at the top of the list for any customer purchasing an automobile with safety as a primary consideration. Mini Cooper delivers a unique sense of individualism to those who most desire it, enabling them to satisfy their need to separate from the crowd. MasterLock maintains the leadership position in its market as well, in part due to the emotional benefit the brand delivers. In fact, many consumers fail to name another lock company when asked to name something other than MasterLock. You know you’ve created a strong brand when customers cannot even name your competitors.

So our challenge to you is to review your brand’s positioning strategy statement and determine if you have truly identified an emotional need your customer’s have and set up your brand to uniquely resolve it. Do not just pick some vague feeling, but a true emotional insight that drives the purchase decision, one that secures your place in the market and insulates you against the competition.

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