Happily, Not a Dry Eye in the House (A Branding Story)

I could hear the rustling in purses and pockets for tissues, and the telltale sniffs. She was going to survive and they were going to be OK, leaving behind all of the danger, heartache and despair (unless there is a sequel).

At the movies, people love the emotional ride; the fear, the happiness, the disappointment, the anger, the sadness, the joy. Why? Even if the story has no practical, ethical, or moral lesson, we leave the theater after a good movie feeling enriched, like we were part of something. We got attached to someone or something and felt the pull of that attachment through the action of the story. It was dramatic, emotional, extraordinary, and it felt good.

There is a useful observation here for branding and design: We all want to feel, we're built to feel, and what we feel is more immediate, and more real to us even than what we think. In the course of our routines we go numb and blind to the same sights, sounds and activities that we experience day after day. Our typical emotion is dull dread that the car payment is due.

So why is emotion so great? The answer is that without thinking, we react viscerally to stimuli. Without thinking. A flash of anger, a knot of anxiety, a smile, a laugh; they all happen as automatically as our hearts beat. For us in today's western society an emotional experience is like exercise--we seek out "good" drama (harmless to us, like a movie) to flex our emotions, to beat out the cobwebs.

As it applies to branding, drama happens by evoking a feeling, a mood, a memory or an aspiration in the viewer. Like all relationships, a brand relationship starts with a first glance. You see the logo on a bag someone is carrying; you spot the store as you drive through town; you notice a post on Twitter, and something makes you want to remember it.

That "something" is the emotional tag built into the brand. The combination of color, icon (if there is one), type, composition, the essence of what you see touches a receptor in your emotional vocabulary as naturally as coffee connects to a receptor that is already there in your brain. This connection gives you a sense of wanting to know more, to see if there's an attachment to be made.

That's the goal of branding: create a connection with an inclination toward attachment. How to create this connection and then to to fulfill your audience's attachment are the next steps in the process, which I'll discuss in parts 2 and 3 of this post.

Connect, attach and over time reinforce the  attachment, and the brand ultimately conveys far more than its visual elements alone ever could (Red Cross, Apple, JetBlue, etc., for example). Until then, the logo, tagline and other brand elements should do the job of registering the initial emotional response that will move the audience to the next step of engagement.

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