Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Emotional Brands, Functional Brands

I often think about brands along two fundamental axes: Emotional vs. Functional.

When I get asked "how do we get a better premium for our brand?" one of the first things I look at is the emotional connectedness the consumer has to the brand and ask what the brand is doing to foster the ongoing connection. I have found that functional advantage can garner a premium in the marketplace so long as the functional advantage is unique, well articulated, and (obviously, or not-so) valued by the consumer.

A number of years back I learned a great lesson on this when we tried to leverage a premium for the Honeywell brand of room humidifiers. We had had great success on Vicks-branded humidifiers and thermometers in pharmacies through a combination of answering consumer problems (check), consumer friendly design (check), concise and persuasive packaging (check), and, of course, the Vicks brand.

Applying the same checklist into the room humidifier category under Honeywell yielded very different results vs. Vicks – a much smaller premium. Why?

Nothing is more important than the health/recovery of your child – the key job of pharmacy-bought humidifiers (emotional and functional benefits), whereas a room humidifier has a specific role where only your degree of discomfort is at stake (very functional, much less emotional).

We pondered. Our CEO brought it to earth: "There's a big difference between Mom rubbing Vicks on your chest and Dad turning a thermostat on the wall" in terms of your connectedness to the brand.

How are you connecting with consumers? How are you relevant to the things that matter to them emotionally? It is only when you connect with consumers on an emotional level that you can win in a functional category, and it can work in all categories. Perhaps my favorite example of a functional offering that drives emotions is Zappos, the mail-order shoe company that many people just LOVE. Read up on it – my next blog posting will be about familiarity driving emotional attachment which drives brand loyalty.

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