An emotional and human centered approach to brand strategy

Products and brands are created by firms, but driven by its customers. Whether your customers already exist or not, they are the key value of your business. So why are so many brands talking to their customers, instead of talking with them? Creating a dialogue instead of a monologue.

Buying the product

Do you know Blue Ribbon Sports? No? Well, a lot of people don’t. Blue Ribbon Sports was founded in 1964 and later officially became Nike in 1971. Does it ring a bell now? Their first products were running track shoes. From there it grew out to a real status symbol in several domains, even outside sports: hip-hop, the urban scene,… And even now, it is a brand that appeals to a lot of people and makes them believe they will run faster, jump higher, look better,… How can a brand create such a connection with people? Inspiring them to run faster, jump higher and look better? Are there better shoes on the market? Most probably yes. But that doesn’t change people’s mind of buying Nike shoes with those intentions. With Nike gear, people think they will just do it.

Nike is a masterpiece example when it comes to connecting with customers or on the human centered approach. As their name is derived from the Greek goddess for victory Nike, they play out their brand strategy on the heroic message. Everybody has a reason why he/she wouldn’t start doing sports: physical disabilities, laziness, … But despite this, we can all get to our goals. Slow or fast, we’ll get there. There is a hero in everybody. Do you remember this movie about the heavy-weighted kid that is jogging? Perfect example!

nike campaign emotional design.jpg

Of course there are some real advantages in doing this emotional approach. When it comes to decision making — read: buying/using the product: yes or no — the heart speaks louder than the head. It seems contradictory though, because we — humans — are capable of very logical thinking, collecting arguments, making a list of pros and cons … But when it comes to decision making, emotions are the driving force. Either your decision is fully based on emotions or emotions supported with a pseudo-logic.

Antonio Damassio studied people with brain injuries in the part that generates emotions. He found out that they were unable to make decisions. When they had to make a decision, they could compare the pros and cons of the suggested options and logically describe what they should do. But they found it very difficult to make the final decision. Even more when there were an equal amount of pros and cons, like choosing between fish or beef for dinner.

Using the product

Not only in the branding but also in the product’s design, an emotional and human approach is important. After all, you are designing for human beings. Doesn’t sound too crazy, right? A lot of valuable lessons are to be learned from Donald Norman. Start with knowing how your customer will try to use the product, for what it will be used, when it will be used,… But also how it could be misinterpreted to be used. This doesn’t start behind your desk but in the field. Talk with your customers and listen. What might seem logical to the designer, might not seem logical to the person using it.

Using the product will establish emotional connections on different levels. And off course as a designer and as a brand, you want the user’s emotions to be positive. It happens on 3 levels: the visceral, the behavioural and the reflective. Within the visceral the user will follow its “gut” reaction. How does this products look/sound/smell? What perception does this evoke? Next comes the behavioural. How is the usability of the product? Do I understand instantly? Can I use all the functions that were promised? And last but not least: the reflective level. This comes to the experience after we’ve used the product. How do we feel when not holding it anymore? What kind of values do I associate the product with in retrospect? These 3 levels lead to your overall product experience, and should be kept in mind during the design process.

As an example of our own design agency Edmire.Design, we did some thorough research when it came to the development of a new cleaning tool called ‘I-mop’. A lot of cleaning supplies are designed like it would be used by men, although more than 90% of the users are women. We’ve talked with several cleaning women in the industry, listening to their needs, their frustrations and their ideas. The output? A machine that has all the functionalities required, is very easy to use and has the looks that appeal to the users — women.

I-mop — EDMIRE BVBA — All rights reserved

I-mop — EDMIRE BVBA — All rights reserved


So… to wrap it up. What do we see as five tips for emotional and human approach?

  1. Start your research in the field, with real users or customer, not at your desk in your office.

  2. Sharing is caring. Share your ideas with your colleagues and the people that will use it.

  3. Start with a strong product, honour it with an even stronger story and brand strategy.

  4. Create a product that connects on the 3 emotional levels: visceral, behavioural and reflective.

  5. Always keep your eyes and ears open. As the world develops, so do the needs of your customers.