Emotional Connections & Purchasing Habits

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Check out Marc Babej's interview of Robert Passikoff. Especially the part about the role that emotional connections play in branding (and by default, in purchasing habits).

If it isn't obvious to you already, there definitely seems to be a correlation between the role that emotions play in our purchasing habits, and the degree to which a product has been commoditized. (Assuming that's even a real word.)

How much of a role, for example, do emotions play in buying toilet paper vs. a cup of coffee from Starbucks?

A set of truck tires vs. a new Powerbook?

A new furnace vs. a beautiful carbon fiber time-trial bike?

My point is that not every product (or brand) needs to worry about creating an emotional connection with its customers.

(No, I haven't fallen on my head. Thanks for asking.)

I know, I know, this seems to go completely against what I usually preach, but it needs to be said: When it comes to building brands, sometimes, just giving customers a simple and effective product is all you need to worry about. You don't need to sell a dream or a lifestyle or a coolness factor. You don't need to promise great customer service or tell your customers about your family values or your commitment to quality. Sometimes, emotions have absolutely nothing to do with why your customers buy your product(s). All they want to know is that it's going to work, that it's going to work every time, and that it'll always be there for you.

Look, as a victim of seasonal allergies, all I care about when I buy tissues is a) that they won't explode when I blow my nose, and b) that they won't rub my skin raw after a few hours of heavy usage. That's it. It's more about product features and dependability than emotional connections.

Same with my dish soap.

Same with my running shoes.

Same with my rewritable DVDs.

Same with my Chiquita bananas.

When AT&T - wait... no, it's at&t now - tries to sell me on the concept of a connected world (whatever that means) with warm visuals and emotionally charged music, it's wasting its time - and mine. All I want to know is that I'll be getting the best possible connection on my international calls at the best possible price, and that my bill won't get screwed up. Whether the honchos at at&t want to admit it or not, their global telecom empire is little more than a commodity in my world.

Your world.

Our world.

Sorry, at&t, I don't mean to bruise any egos, but you're just another bill in the mail, right next to my credit cards, my trash service, my cable provider and my utilities.

The reality is this: If your product is a commodity, emotions are pretty unlikely to affect your customers' purchasing decisions. Instead, building value (features, dependability and pricepoints) might be a more straightforward affair. Perhaps even more importantly, focusing on broad (and deep) distribution channels might yield better results.

If your product is more of a luxury (even a small luxury - or "treat"), the importance of features doesn't diminish, but the role played by emotions in your customers' decision to purchase it increases. Think Cartier watches. Think Zipp 808 race wheels (yes, I'm a cycling geek). Think a dozen hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts, even.

If you think that one of the prerequisites for building a strong brand is the development of an emotional connection with customers, think again. Whenever possible, yes, it's great, but if you're an at&t or a Kleenex or a Heads & Shoulders shampoo, don't waste your time. There are more relevant things for you to focus on.

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