Emotional Branding: The Case for Connecting with Meaning

September 30, 2022

Emotional Branding: The Case for Connecting with Meaning

Marketing with emotional branding has never been more critical. Covid-19 changed people and changed how home builders and developers market to them.

According to the Harvard Business Review, marketing messages must be personally relevant and align with the customer’s values and situations. This is much more important than age or gender. The other reality is that you aren’t necessarily competing with another home builder or developer. You are much more likely to compete with your customer's prior positive experience. And because of this, customers must be the focus of your unique customer journey.

In most markets, consumers now engage with brands on a more profound level than you’d find in a traditional brand-to-buyer relationship. Among other upsides, this deeper level is creating a new type of buying experience. Undeniably, a better one – driven by emotion and brightened with meaning.

And now, brands get to – have to – win consumers over with something more than a list of features and a competitive price.

Before we move on, here's a quick reminder of what your customers have today:

  • Choices, plenty of them
  • High expectations
  • Emotionally charged needs, wants and desires

And here’s what they don’t have:

  • Time and money to spare
  • Patience, in general
  • Tolerance for brands that lack empathy

From the shoes they wear to the coffee they drink to even the homes they decide to purchase, customers have more buying options than ever. Very few markets are exempt from this.

With so many choices, their decision-making is rarely as straightforward as exposure to the right product at the right time.

Instead, customers can now make purchases driven by equal parts logic and emotion while leveraging brands for utility and a chance to express themselves and establish or solidify their self-identity. That is emotional branding.

The New Fundamentals of Emotional Branding

Sure, the classic tactics, such as direct advertising and lead generation, are still the lifeblood of any industry. But their central role is less about pushing out offers to move customers through an entire sales funnel and more about inviting customers into a relationship.

Essentially, advertising and outreach open the door to your brand, but storytelling and emotion are what motivate – and convert your audience. From complete unawareness to ongoing retention, the entire customer journey needs to be designed for rewarding, seamless experiences.

Because without a compelling brand and a deliberate strategy for empathizing, you’re left to compete on product or price alone. And as you may have seen, price competition is a minefield worth sidestepping. It's an almost guaranteed race to the bottom – few of which end in honest celebration.

Product, to its credit, makes a stronger case. And perhaps you’re convinced it can still prevail in the end – that a classic “build it and they will come” mindset is where to draw the line. This may be your strategy as a home builder or community developer, but in today’s post-Covid world, it is unlikely to work without an emotional connection or experience.

We won’t denigrate the importance of developing great products (read: homes), but to focus on the product without first developing your brand and your market is to sit down at the table without the table stakes.

The trouble with real estate branding

Home builders and developers are tasked with overcoming a few extra hurdles other industries don’t face to the same degree.

For one, homes are purchased less frequently than other goods and services. And homes are typically the largest purchase most people ever make. It comes loaded with the hassle, expectations and a downpour of positive and negative emotions.

The issue here is that given the lack of purchase frequency, builders are afforded little opportunity to engage with customers over time while fostering brand loyalty through touchpoint after touchpoint. Often, it’s a one-and-done engagement.

The workaround is to search for what makes your company unique and communicate that message consistently during your few touchpoints. Of course, this is how you earn the sale, but it’s also how you create a better relationship with customers and turn them into advocates for your brand.

Another hurdle:

Home builders are seen as generic. Very few consumers fantasize about purchasing from a particular builder in the way they fantasize about driving a specific car model. For whatever reason, the real estate landscape has a baked-in chasm between product and brand, and few builders know how to bridge it.

Why? Well, perhaps they haven’t fully realized they can bridge it. And this makes sense because often, the extent of brand and market research is to look around and observe what competitors are doing – and then aim at doing just a little better. In this dynamic, you can imagine how quickly strategy starts to stagnate and fall behind the curve.

Now is the time to move up to a higher level, where customers have more awareness of your brand and see what makes it different and suitable for them.

Logic, through products and price, can persuade them. But again, emotion – shaped by your brand – will motivate them.

And here’s the good news: whether you’re already well-established or just getting started, it’s never too late to think about improving – or re-developing – your real estate brand.

Nor is it anything less than an essential ingredient for success.

Dialing in your emotional branding

Let’s look at how this happens in real time – starting at the beginning.

Think of a few ways a potential customer can contact your brand first. Maybe they are delivered an ad through paid social, click a PPC link, or notice physical signage while driving.

In less than the time it takes to blink an eye, your audience makes a judgement about what they are seeing.

At this moment, they evaluate your brand's underlying message and decide whether to pay attention or engage with it. If not, the watch will move to your competition – and the evaluation repeats. Remember: they have choices.

Legendary marketer Seth Godin has described this process in more straightforward and more practical terms than I’ve found anywhere else.

He builds his case on the fact that, when encountering a new brand, people don’t study – they scan. From a billboard to a website visit, the first and most crucial moment is not an in-depth analysis but a quick once-over.

Here, Godin says, we all unconsciously ask ourselves a single question: What does this remind me of?

It might seem like a simple question, but its implications are limitless.

Because today, any given consumer has had experiences with hundreds of brands throughout their life. If we had to start from the ground up each time we entered the market for something new, we wouldn’t have time for anything else.

Instead, we rely on mental shortcuts. We aggregate our past brand experiences and interactions into categories, and when exposed to a new brand, we very quickly decide which bucket it falls into. It’s an emotional decision that happens in an instant.

You can try it right now.

Search any business and click around to a few websites. Notice your thought process in those first few hundred milliseconds.

You’ll quickly know what it reminds you of and react emotionally. From there, you’ll form an opinion.

Good emotional branding keeps this in mind and sends a strategic signal that leaves little doubt as to what exactly customers are reminded of. And good emotional branding reminds customers of something they love and trust.

But what does this mean for you?

It means that every little detail throughout the customer journey carries weight. Individually and collectively, these make-or-break messages are sent by your logo, story, typefaces, design, voice, imagery, ads and appearance. Everything matters, from start to finish.

Your audience’s expectations are higher than ever, and they expect skillful, pitch-perfect execution at every turn.

So what message should you send?

Moving past commodity exchange is moving past a textbook transaction.

On its face, a transaction is defined as the output of the “Five P’s” working in tandem: product, price, promotion, place and people.

This makes technical sense and has worked well for generations, but the underlying and glaring premise – give me your money, and I’ll give you a product – is no longer viable.

It’s no longer enough. We demand more from brands, mainly because we can. In the simplest terms: we control the process and want to lead it in a more personally rewarding direction.

If we aren’t quickly and consistently reminded of something we trust, the fear of being taken advantage of – or making the wrong choice – will drive us away. And conversely, trust without a connection to the brand leaves more to be desired.

For instance, we might trust that a new suitcase we ordered will arrive on time and hold our belongings, but do we love how it makes us feel? Are we proud to show it off? Does it improve our perceived status and self-satisfaction? In modern branding, this is the correct level of analysis.

Emotional Branding and Storytelling

So now, successful transactions have a couple of added variables: emotion and storytelling.

Sure, you’re selling something worth buying, and you know how to price accordingly and promote yourself. This is seriously tough work and you should be proud of getting this far.

But do you have a story worth telling? What emotions are you selling, and how well are they conveyed in your messaging and branding?

In this regard, the challenge businesses now face is to understand and implement two things:

  1. Solutions for negative emotions are likely to come up throughout the customer journey.
  2. Branding (through design, stories and messages) creates and augments positive emotions throughout the journey.

That’s to say: a hedge against fear, doubt and uncertainty – and capitalize on trust, empathy, and understanding.

Creating a connection

The connection with your buyer starts from the very first touch point, whether on social media or your website. But chances are the consumer's first experience will be through technology in our digital world.

Incorporating meaningful technology into the customer's journey is a must. Internet shoppers are more comfortable with online technology and making decisions behind a screen. And there are several tactics available to home builders and developers. Here are five things to implement in next year's budget. 3D Tours

  1. Video
  2. Buy Now 
  3. Design Studios
  4. Unassisted Access

Virtual and augmented reality allows home shoppers to walk through homes from the comfort of their current homes. Matterport and other 3D tours help these buyers to visualize how the home will live. This online experience can help to create a connection to your home and is much more memorable than a 2D floor plan. Add 3D tours to your website and include them on social media to delight and inspire potential buyers.

A Video shares the story of the home and the neighborhood. A compelling message from your founder or online sales counselor can convey trust or explain how the process works. Putting a human face on your brand connects the buyer to a real live person and makes a stronger connection than a typical brochure website. Consider adding video to your website and social media.

Today's shoppers can buy almost anything and everything online, allowing them to start their new home purchase online too. A Buy Now button on your website helps walk the prospect through the buying process, from selecting a home plan and lot through the mortgage process. Understanding available selections and the monthly cost helps cement the buyer's decision. Seeing and selecting firsthand creates a relationship with that plan and that lot.

Design studios are usually visited after the contract is signed. Why not move them up higher in the buyer’s journey? Seeing the selections and understanding the simplicity of the various design packages can put the buyer at ease in the home buying process. Virtual design studios are a super easy way to showcase beautiful design options and create an emotional connection. Help them to see how living in the home feels and the lifestyle they will have.

Unassisted access provides buyers with a way to shop for your homes 24/7. Although they can't tour a house from the comfort of their couch, technology such as NterNow and Utour provides home shoppers a way to tour communities after regular business hours. This removes any pressure they may feel from a salesperson and generates a genuine connection to the home they just toured.

Finding your voice

You’ve probably heard this a thousand times: No one needs a quarter-inch drill bit; they need a quarter-inch hole.

It’s valuable insight, but there’s more to it.

What if they don’t need a hole? Do they need to hang a hand-selected painting to add character and style to their room? Perhaps that makes them proud and impresses their friends when they visit.

In this framework, the feature (a sharp drill bit) becomes a benefit (a hole in the wall). But it can’t stop there.

Because behind every benefit is at least one emotional benefit (in this case, the feeling of pride and self-expression).

That is what to look for – and what to emphasize in your offer.

If you’re a builder, your buyer might not need 3,000 square feet, enough room for the whole family to connect and live happy, fulfilling lives.

And if you're selling Harleys, your buyers don’t need a mode of transportation; they need a chance to shut down Excel for a few hours and channel their inner Bruce Springsteen.

The bottom line is that to establish a connection with your audience; you first need to identify their emotional needs, fears and desires.

And then see where you might fit in.

In steps:

  1. Understand the importance of emotional branding (hopefully, you can check this off the list right now).
  2. Identify your audience. Hint: it isn’t everyone.
  3. Know what emotions you are selling them – what lies beneath the product.
  4. Tell your audience a consistent, powerful story through rich, well-designed content, experiences and messages.

You will earn attention when steps 2 through 4 are aligned and accurate. You will build trust.

Now, it’s time to get started. Ask yourself: who are you for?

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