Is emotional branding bunk?

In today’s cynical age, people are skeptical of identifying with institutions of any sort, and that certainly includes corporate institutions. The notion that people are going to identify emotionally with corporate “Lovemarks” seems positively quaint these days. Even storied brands like Apple seem to have a more hard-nosed and transactional relationship with its customers. Does the tide going out on “emotional branding” mean that brands are slowly dying as a concept and source of value?

Personally, I don’t think so, and the reason why is simple.

Brands work because they act as mental shortcuts that make people’s lives easier. There is no requirement that you “love” a brand, or anything like it, in order for that to work. If a customer ends up falling in love with a brand, that’s certainly a positive outcome for the brand, but it’s not required for that brand to be successful. Moreover, focusing too much on these heightened emotions distract many brands from delivering the basics well.

For example, I was recently looking for new audio speakers on Amazon.com. There were thousands of options, so I narrowed pretty quickly to just three brands, Polk, Yamaha and Bose. These are all brands that I’ve had positive experiences with in the past. I quickly found some Bose speakers that met my needs and ordered them. Total time spent: less than 10 minutes. Had I not used brand familiarity to narrow my choices, I might have had to spend hours comparing minor differences and wading through customer reviews.

The value of a brand in this case is very clear, and it did not require me to fall in love with Bose in order for there to be a benefit to me. All that was required was that I trusted the Bose name to meet my needs. I had a set of positive beliefs / associations that were sufficiently positive for me to buy with confidence.

Rather than chasing the often impossible dream of trying to get customers to fall head over heels in love with your company, perhaps the more pedestrian work of giving them a more tangible source of value is the more important work. Customers might even appreciate the directness and honesty that such an approach entails. Love, after all, can be capricious, but trust, once earned, can last a lifetime.