What makes a soul-stirring brand?

What is it that makes us love the brands we love? We all like to think we make rational purchasing decisions based on things like quality, price, convenience or service. But when it really comes down to it, how much do these rational factors really influence and drive the decision-making process? And what part does emotion have to play?

Led by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, a strong body of evidence has been built to demonstrate the connection between reason, emotion and decision-making. The conclusions stem from clinical studies undertaken over 20 years ago, of patients with damage to the area of the brain where emotions are generated. It was discovered that, despite being intellectually astute, these patients were unable to make even the simplest decisions. They could rationalize their actions and describe the decision-making process, but they all agonized endlessly over the decision itself. Why? Because it’s emotion that primarily drives the decisions we make.

We are drawn to brands that make us feel something; that touch us or move us in some way. Brands can make us feel a certain way about ourselves and they can also influence the way others feel about us. We choose brands that we connect with; that resonate with our sense of self. Sometimes those choices just ‘feel right’. Yes, we often post-rationalise those decisions with logical arguments – but it’s emotion that’s the driving force behind our brand loyalties.

We are drawn to brands that make us feel something; that touch us or move us in some way.

Studies into consumer behaviour often conclude that quality is the key driver to brand loyalty, based on survey questions which ask respondents to explain their own purchasing decisions. Unfortunately most of this type of research is fundamentally flawed because as consumers, we often don’t recognize the complex emotional factors that drive our decision-making. So we cite things like ‘quality’, ‘service’ and ‘convenience’ as answers because we genuinely believe those things are influencing our behaviour. What surveys like this fail to recognize is that the real decision-making often happens on a subconscious level, making it impossible to recall at a later date. And what is ‘quality’ anyway? It’s a perception of value based on a scale of standards, which is left to the interpretation of whomever you’re talking to. Ultimately quality is a feeling about how well a brand delivers on its promise, and depending on the brand, that quality standard will have an enormous sliding scale of acceptability.

Relationships with brands are a lot like the relationships we have with other people. Strong, long-term relationships are based on deep and meaningful emotion, whereas short-term flings usually stem from superficial surface attraction. The same can be said of brands. Sure, we’re sometimes drawn to make a purchase based on beautiful packaging, a special offer or enticing campaign. But true brand loyalty comes from a more meaningful connection with a brand, based on perception, shared values, experiences and an emotional connection.

A soul-stirring brand is one that moves us beyond a one-off advert. It’s one that grabs at the essence of our belief system and creates a lasting emotional response. It’s a brand that we trust and we’re loyal to because we believe in it and it authenticates who we are. It’s a brand that just feels right.