Neither word is quite right, is it?
Only a handful of brands engender feelings that are genuinely emotional.
And only the strongest create more than fleeting connections.
So why do we so love the phrase?
Partly it’s because of what it doesn’t mean.
‘Emotional’ in marketing means not functional. Or rational. Or even irrational.
But that makes ‘emotional’ sounds unreasonable. Or even without reason.
On top of that, ‘emotional’ sounds…well, emotional. As in “I’m getting all emotional here”. And people invariably don’t when they’re around brands.
They may feel an emotion, ideally a positive one. Happiness or interest or nostalgia or craving or satisfaction or relief or amusement or surprise.
But every one of those is a response. An affect. Not a need. Which is what matters most for brands.
With needs, it helps to divide them into ‘conscious’ or ‘unconscious’, with ‘subconscious’ somewhere in between.
Better still might be ‘explicit’ and ‘implicit’. That gets round the issue of emotion and reason being opposing forces. It also brings in a bit of gravitas, as those are the words that proper psychologists use.
But ‘implicit connection’? That sounds weak, like a suggestion.
So how about that word ‘connection’?
We seem to have landed on it by a process of elimination.
For many years, everyone was happy talking about benefits, functional or emotional.
‘Relationship’ was in for a while. But it got hijacked by relationship marketing and that all ended in divorce.
‘Engagement’ then took over, the whole idea of people wanting to have conversations with brands, which was great, except they didn’t.
‘Bond’ appeared briefly before it sailed slap bang into a Sharpian iceberg.
Now we’re on ‘memories’, the associations that build up over time in your brain and spring to mind when you come across a brand. Neural connections.
So Al Ries and Jack Trout were right all along. Positioning is a battle for your mind. It’s just that now we can explain it like we’re neuroscientists.
And most brand choices are made when we’re on auto-pilot with our thoughts elsewhere.
And even in these nano-moments of decision, we still have our motives. A combination of our biological and social drives.
And in these we all have tensions that form over time.
And what we really, really want is to resolve those tensions.
So maybe the word to go with ‘implicit’ is ‘goal’. There are a few around that argue for this, like Phil Barden in Decoded.
‘Goal’ is good because it embraces all kinds of motivations. Achieving your goal also sounds way more dynamic than meeting your need, even if they’re the same thing.
Maybe that’s what all briefs should say.
‘Our brand’s objective is to enable consumers in this category to achieve their implicit goal of … (select one from freedom, togetherness, nurturance, safety, control, discernment, independence or empowerment).’
And the KPI would be the length of time the commentator inside people’s brains shouts: “GOALLLLLL!!!!!!”.
But we all know what we mean by ‘emotional connection’, don’t we? The thing you want between a brand and its target to create a difference.
So why don’t we stick with that? I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of attached to it.