How to design your brand around emotions

How are you feeling right now?

Now think about how you felt this morning on your commute. Were you fed up, excited, nervous? Do you even remember?

Emotions often pass us by, fleeting and unrecognised, but they are incredibly powerful in determining our reactions and decisions.

In a world where consumers are saturated with choice, the brand-consumer relationship is increasingly fragile. Therefore brands need to go a step further to strengthen their bond with customers. Those that know how to build deep emotional connections will be in a better position to earn brand loyalty.

the tone

Why are emotions important? Let’s consider you’re in the market for a new smartphone. You see billboards, newspaper ads and social media hype for an upcoming model. You’re intrigued by the sleek and slender phone. Feeling curious? On release day, you walk into the store and you’re met by a friendly tech guru who places the phone in your hand. She shows you all the ‘wow’ features. Feeling impressed? You look around the store at the other people now making a purchase. Don’t want to be left out?

Designed well, these individual moments — from the first sight, to the first touch — build on each other to continuously build a deeper emotional connection. It is this bond that builds association with a brand and influences decision making behaviour.

Designed poorly however, each interaction has the potential to produce a detractor in seconds.

Think back to when you walked in the store. This time there’s only a handful of staff, who all seem preoccupied. When you pick up the phone, it’s not turned on so you can’t explore it. Feeling neglected? You wait a while but still no-one comes to help. Were you disappointed? Did you just walk out the store?

It’s only one part of the experience. The product may be fantastic but if all the interactions don’t continually build on each other to create an end-to-end positive impression, then a tone of dissatisfaction is set which may be impossible to recover from.

The opportunity then lies in carefully targeting customer emotions and designing each interaction to influence desirable responses.

for emotions

A key challenge in designing for emotions is that despite their inherent nature, emotions manifest themselves differently in each individual. This makes it difficult to predict how a customer may react.

Consider shaving brand Gillette’s marketing campaign The Best Men Can Be. Launched in early 2019, it leveraged the prevailing debate around sexual harassment to “challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man”.1 Responses were varied. Some people were angered by the campaign’s use of stereotypes and generalisations, while others felt optimistic for change and corporate social responsibility. Two very different reactions as a result of the way emotions allow different individuals to reflect and respond.  

This is why it is important to consider the emotional effects of interactions early on in the design process and design them with intent.

This is typically the work of a customer experience designer, who would undertake research to build a picture of an audience’s emotional drivers and then carefully design triggers to invoke desirable responses. It’s a delicate art and requires a lot of research and testing but, by getting it right, brands will be on the front foot when it comes to taking their customers on a positive journey.

Let’s go
on a journey

Brands who have made the effort to understand the emotional drivers and responses of their intended audience, now need to turn their attention to the type of experience their customers have.

Positive experiences aren’t just about making a customer feel good enough to buy something. They could be built from negative emotions that evoke empathy or remorse, which might be equally desirable to a brand.

Think of a charity advertising campaign. It uses different posters on the same street to take potential donors on an emotional journey. One makes them feel sad, another makes them feel angry and the third is designed to inspire hope.

The posters are arranged in such a way that the passerby may experience initial feelings of empathy and outrage, followed by the motivation to make a difference. This will encourage them to explore online. Deciding to donate, they receive a thank-you email explaining the impact of their donation. This makes them feel that they made the right decision. With continuous updates they reflect on their good deed, are convinced of the positive impact they’ve had and advocate the charity’s work to their friends.

It is the careful design of each interaction in triggering certain emotional responses that ultimately led to the donor’s decision to donate and advocate.

The three layers
of emotion

Brands that understand the emotional experience they want to provide, then need to delve deeper into the micro-interactions that enable the end-to-end experience. When designing these interactions, there are three layers to consider2:

The visceral layer is the first to impact emotions and comes into play when products or service artefacts are first seen. Emotions in this layer respond to how the brain interprets visual signals and are important because they form the first impression. It is therefore necessary that these visual interactions are designed to create intrigue, association or ambition — encouraging customers to explore a brand’s offering further.Remember the first time you saw the new smartphone on your social media feed? Did it create the intrigue to walk into the store?

The behavioural layer is the second emotional layer that comes into play when consumers start interacting with products and services. Emotions in this layer respond to how consumer needs and desires are met, which means brands should design for usefulness and usability.
When you picked up the phone and the tech guru demonstrated the ‘wow’ features, did you find it easy to use?

The reflective layer is the final layer. It comes into play when consumers consciously reflect on a product or service when they’re not interacting with it. It determines the deeper, long-lasting emotional connection that drives loyalty and advocacy. For this reason, it is important to design end-to-end experiences that consumers are proud to be associated with and that tap into their core values and ambitions.
Whilst looking around the store, did you fear you might miss out if you weren’t to buy?

It is the combination of these layers that work together to build lasting and positive impressions of a brand.

Create a
great feeling

Done well, emotional design can be a powerful force to drive engagement and loyalty. To start on this journey you’ll need to have the right designers to bring this to life — emotive thinkers with highly empathetic research skills. These designers will:

  • Ensure customer research is focused on understanding the emotional drivers and responses of your customers, not just their needs.
  • Determine the ideal emotional journey for your customers.
  • Design for micro-interactions that target the three emotional layers.

By hiring the right people with the right skill sets to design around emotion, your brand will build positive experiences for your customers and maintain long-lasting relationships with them. For that reason, it pays to get emotional about design.


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    How are you feeling right now? Now think about how you felt this morning on your commute. Were you fed up, excited, nervous? Do you even remember? Emo
    [See the full post at: How to design your brand around emotions]

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