I think it was the ad men from the Mad Men era who changed the focus of advertising to appeal to our hearts as well as our heads. They embraced the impact emotional reasoning has on our buying decisions.
In a marketing context, we’ve learned to differentiate benefits from features, like an example I found on LinkedIn the other day which used a new golf wood to explain the two. For example, let’s say that I’m considering a club that has ‘ABC’ titanium technology and a reinforced graphite something-or-other. (I’m no Lydia Ko, you can tell.) The main benefit is that it will make my ball go further. Excellent…so long as I hit it straight. (I know enough about golf to know that!)
But the additional consideration marketers also leverage is the emotional edge. What does the ability to hit a golf ball further mean for me? That I’m more likely to win and get my handicap down from the teens, and I will feel better about my game and, therefore, about myself. Also, that my playing partner will have to play first and I can, just quietly, feel smug about that too.
Experts say we buy with emotion but justify with logic. How many times do you hear the house-hunters with Kirsty and Phil say a property ticks all the boxes on their wishlist but that the house doesn’t give them that elusive ‘special feeling’?
It’s not only in selling products and services where head and heart are factors. How we behave and present our brands can also reflect both sides – it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
I’ve been doing some brand management work with an immigration firm, Pathways to NZ. Working through their clients’ visa and other immigration applications, and helping applicants through appeals or complex cases is, essentially, a strict legal process. It’s serious and detailed, requiring in-depth understanding of the regulatory constraints or opportunities. Their clients need to know they can trust them to do a good job. But Pathways had felt it was underplaying the importance of human relationships in how they talk about the business – after all, they are dealing with people’s lives and futures.
The process we’re working through together is about how to get a balance between that high level of knowledgeable professionalism and showing that you care. Empathy is a good thing and it’s OK to express it – especially when your business is already known and respected enough for its expertise.
But one interesting discussion is around whether showing a human side can ever undermine your brand. Can it make you look weak? Is leading with your heart ever a bad thing?
There are a few people who’ve told me I need to ‘toughen up’ and that I let my heart rule my head in my business dealings. Maybe I do need to give away less of my time and, yes, I could be more pushy to clinch a deal. Sure, I could hassle delaying clients more vigorously and be more emphatic with clients who my experience tells me are making poor decisions. But even if my business was more than only me, I’d still be cautious about that.
If being the nice guy will hold my business back, then I’ll just have to live with that, because the alternatives don’t often represent how I want my business brand to be known.
I’m not saying that we’re surrounded by bullies! Far from it. But there’s a definite brand behavioural scale. The majority of people I meet share the belief that doing business well is based on relationships and personal connection – and I love that Hamilton and the Waikato genuinely seems to pride itself on creating that positive environment.
If a company or organisation manages to earn a reputation for being great at something, it doesn’t mean it should be able to get away with negative brand behaviour. “I didn’t mind waiting longer than they promised because I’ve heard they’re really good” shouldn’t be something we say. Or we shouldn’t feel OK about a brand where the person we deal with makes us uncomfortable – “She was a bit off in the way she spoke to me, but she did a great job.” Yeah, nah. That’s not right.
We marketers talk about life-time value but often in terms of income generated. But even if the financial transaction with a brand is infrequent or only a one-off, it is important for us to remember how firmly a brand’s reputation lives in our hearts.
The perception of excellence in a product or service, the attributes that we judge with our head, can all be undone if emotional value is undermined. Caring counts.