Marketing Communications: Emotional connection

Getting under the skin of consumers can equal successful PR campaigns, says Alex Blyth.

Earlier this year, Lever Faberge's Dove brand launched a new campaign for its Firming product range. Within six months the campaign had generated a staggering 700 per cent increase in sales. The firm needed to create some stand-out and, explains Dove brand manager Caroline Philiponnet, it knew that women wanted to see 'real women' in advertising rather than the traditional stick-thin models. Real women were therefore used in its ad campaign and PR was used to give the high-impact advertising more depth.

The PR element of the campaign brought those real women to life for consumers by conveying their personalities in press profiles. It also involved consumers through a competition to find a group of friends for the next campaign.

'It was incredible to witness the extent to which women connected with the campaign,' says Lexis PR director Margot Raggett. 'For example, Closer ran a negative column about the campaign and then received so many letters disagreeing (with it) that the following week the column admitted it was wrong and got behind it.'

Those women took that action because they had become emotionally engaged with the brand. Dove is far from the only example of where this is happening.

Advertising tells consumers that if they care about their children they should buy a certain car because of its safety features or a particular surface cleaner because it will remove germs that other brands miss. In the same way, they will feel more attractive to the opposite sex in the right clothes, and they will have a happy home if they buy the right sofa.

It is also taking place with corporate brands in the form of corporate social responsibility. For example, Samsung sponsors Crufts dog show in the UK because it sees it as the key platform through which to highlight the good work it does on dog welfare in Korea. It has gained coverage of its work in animal-related trade media, as well as selected national and international press. UK and European PR manager Esther Porta says that not only are many dogs helped but also: 'A positive impact is being made on overall brand reputation.'

Engaging consumers

There are three main reasons why achieving emotional connection is so important to today's brands. The first is that it can lend a human aspect to a product that otherwise would be sold on its technical features. So, in trying to reverse years of declining sales, in-car entertainment firm Blaupunkt has moved away from emphasising its products' technical excellence and begun to sponsor grassroots music events such as DJ tours in Ibiza.

Matt Fearnley, a director at Blaupunkt agency Mantra PR, explains: 'These are specifically designed to create brand passion among trade, consumers and journalists.'

The second reason is that emotion can provide differentiation in a highly commoditised market. When mobile phone service One2One launched, it sold subscriptions on a value-based proposition of free off-peak local calls.

It soon realised that this was attracting large numbers of unprofitable customers, and so developed a campaign focused on the more emotional proposition of 'Who would you most like to have a one to one with?'. The PR built on ads in which celebrities talked about figures such as Elvis and Martin Luther King. Through editorial, consumers were encouraged to develop emotional connections to those and, ultimately, to One2 One.

Finally, emotion creates loyalty. Ariel has demonstrated how making an emotional connection can provide the foundation for long-term relationships through its 'Championship Whites' initiative, which uses Tim Henman and invests cash in young British players of the future. PR has included leaking aspects of the ads, such as Henman going 'naked' in the first-year ad.

This has all resulted in parent firm Procter & Gamble's share of the laundry sector exceeding 55 per cent for the first time.

PR is particularly well suited to enhance the depth that provides all these campaigns with emotional content. While an ad might attract attention and a direct-mail piece might spark action, PR can tell a story and make consumers care about the subject.

Third-party endorsement

Furthermore, consumers are increasingly sceptical about overt appeals to their emotions and so it has become ever more important to gain independent third-party endorsement. As Media Foundry head Simon Crellin explains: 'As consumers become as marketing-literate as the brand managers who are trying to target them, the simple didactic approach of advertising is easy for them to interrogate, and editorial coverage is increasingly the best route through which to influence them.'

This is creating significant opportunities for PR teams to develop marketing strategies. Fewer brand managers care where an idea comes from. It can be from sales promotion, advertising, research, or PR agency or department.

They just want a strong idea that will create an emotional bond with the brand.

Nevertheless, some brands make these emotional connections more successfully than others and this strategy certainly introduces a new set of risks that brand managers and PROs ought to bear in mind. The first and most vital is that the product must be able to deliver on the emotional promise.

It's no good promising that a fragrance will make your customers more attractive to the opposite sex if it doesn't smell great. Matthew Bayfield, partner of customer-insight agency Tree, offers one way of avoiding this disjuncture: 'By developing brands in conjunction with customers, firms can build natural emotional angles that are genuinely in touch with how people feel about the product.'

Even if consumers have been involved at this stage and the advertising proposition is credible, it can still be a challenge to convince cynical journalists of the emotional qualities of a brand. But the same principles need to be applied here as they are in any campaign. Planning ahead and developing evidence to back up claims is the key.

Many PROs suggest that generic research into a market or consumer behaviour is often the most powerful evidence, but independent endorsement from approved consumer bodies or credible individuals can also work.

Most importantly, brand managers need to invest in the PR campaign. Classically trained marketers, particularly in the FMCG and retail sectors, have been taught that PR should be no more than around five per cent of the overall budget, but this is often not enough to deliver a campaign that will build an emotional connection with consumers.

Brand managers and their PROs need to be aware that this is an expensive and risky strategy, but it is also one that, if executed effectively, can produce successful results.

THE PSYCHOLOGIST'S POINT OF VIEW

According to Professor Leslie De Chernatony, director of the Centre for Research in Brand Marketing at Birmingham Business School, emotional branding works because it helps people to feel that they fit in with others.

'A brand is a cluster of functional and emotional values that allow a company to make a claim about experience. The functional aspect is easy and any product must be able to do this, but as markets become more crowded, so brands are looking to appeal to the emotional side. This encourages consumers to stop thinking about what they want to buy, and to begin feeling how a certain purchase will fit with them as a person. What characteristics will it give them? Will it associate them with a desirable social group?' he says.

To illustrate this, he uses the example of choosing what to wear for a dinner party: 'We ask who will be there, not because we want to look forward to talking to them, but so we can decide what to wear. We might choose the Levi's jeans or the Jaeger dress. Once at the party, we will decide if the clothes are right or not. Later on we will be exposed to marketing messages about that clothing brand, and these will confirm to us that we share the positive characteristics associated with it. If we didn't fit in at the party we will conclude that it is the fault of the people who were there. They didn't understand us because they don't have the right characteristics to fit in with the brand. This is powerful marketing.'

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