The Art of the Feeling: How Brands Can Show Authentic Emotions in a World of Used Car Salesmen

people on bench holding talk bubbles out of paper

By Alan So, Executive Creative Director, Sköna

Ads follow us everywhere in today’s world of analytic, SEO-driven marketing. They find us online, at the grocery store and in our homes through devices like Alexa. Like the used-car salesmen of old, they’re relentless. But humans are remarkably adaptive and very good at tuning out the noise. Younger generations like Gen Z were born with heightened skepticism of everything and everyone. But it IS possible to break through the clutter with more emotive, memorable, and believable advertising.

That said, even the most well-intentioned campaigns can come off as disingenuous and tone-deaf. Remember the Live for Now Pepsi spot where Kendall Jenner attempts to soften tension between police and protestors on a hot day by offering cans of Pepsi? The ad was so universally cringe-worthy, it was pulled after one day.

A fail like Pepsi’s begs the question: is it worth taking a chance on a bold idea? With an authentic and emotive approach, the answer is a definite YES. But it’s not enough to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk. Brands need to be rooted in the meaningful. Today’s consumers will check the disingenuous and leave your brand behind. Consumers also appreciate honesty and a backbone. Here are three tips to help you create and maintain an emotive, authentic brand that builds trust and retains loyalty.

1. Live your truth. Believe in what you’re saying and demonstrate it through your actions. Patagonia evolved from a small manufacturer of climbing gear to a worldwide outdoor apparel sensation by living its truth. Not only in making durable and dependable outdoor gear, but by implementing environmentally responsible manufacturing practices.

Patagonia Provisions builds on the trusted Patagonia name with food products that enlist the support of more than 800 regenerative organic farmers. With trust and loyalty built into the brand, the company can take a mission approach and launch a sustainable food revolution, which is so much more profound than simply offering organic camping food. Customers are applauding the effort and many other food producers are following suit.

Another example of walking the talk is Salesforce’s #TeamEarth campaign which fits into their company core values of ‘Ohana’. Living their truth ladders into inspiring businesses and individuals to build a more fair, equitable and sustainable future, on Earth. By calling out the excesses of a select few billionaires’ space race (ahem Bezos, Musk and Branson), SalesForce takes a more humble and contrasting approach to help people right here at home.

2. Meet your audience where they are mentally and physically. Take a stand for something both you and your customers believe in. Doing so shares your values with your audience and demonstrates your commitment as a brand to do the right thing, even if it ruffles a few feathers. When grounded in authenticity, it can be highly impactful.

We also know that traditional advertising isn’t enough anymore. Marketers need to create brand experiences where customers exist both digitally and physically. As a brand, you need to be a part of the communities and platforms your audience trusts. Get to know your consumer and meet them on social media platforms, with influencer advertising and Account Based Marketing (ABM), which offers marketers an opportunity to tailor the conversation to an audience of one. Crafting and developing content for sites, podcasts, videos or events is an opportunity to bring a thought leadership POV and build connections with consumers without sounding like a used car salesman. And you’re using your brand to relate and educate.

Nike chose Colin Kaepernick for their Dream Crazy campaign, not only in support of Kaepernick’s stand against racism and police brutality but also because Nike is in the business of selling inspiration. After the campaign launched, people were seen burning their Nike’s and the company’s stock dropped three percent. But it quickly rebounded and went up 10% and solidified more consumer loyalty. Kaepernick was transformed into a seminal American figure – a single football player standing up (rather, kneeling down) for racial justice.

Another example is SunBum’s We Don’t Care campaign encouraging people to wear sunscreen, any sunscreen, to avoid skin cancer. It’s a clever and memorable way to build brand equity. The company comes off as authentic and genuinely concerned about the health of all consumers, not just its own consumers.

3. Rinse and Repeat. Use integrated branding across multiple touchpoints to drive awareness and demand. Building consistency and frequency through repetition is far more effective at creating a rapport than a one-off. The days of one big commercial to get your message across are over.

The customer journey doesn’t end with the sale either, though the used car salesman might like to think so. Brand authenticity grows when it travels along the path from purchase to experience. The Apple brand for example is consistent across every touchpoint of the customer experience from ads, stores, events, customer service, products, sub-brands and apps. A single customer can become a brand ambassador, the most influential billboard you could ever cultivate. Nurturing existing customers is the single best tool to expand brand awareness and conversion.

When people feel engaged with your brand’s DNA, they have a sense of belonging and trust that connects to the living, breathing true representation of your values. And when you have a true understanding of your audience’s needs and desires, in the right context, they feel something akin to love for your brand.

So stand up, stand out, be brave and activate your brand so that it focuses on your values, and your value to audiences and the world.