Emotional Branding: Past, Present and Future
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The term ‘emotional branding’ was first coined at the beginning of this century by Marc Gobé in his book, Emotional Branding; The New Paradigm For Connecting Brands to People. His groundbreaking philosophy observed that connections between people take place on an emotional level, therefore effective customer and brand interaction should revolve around senses, feelings, emotions and sentiments.

His findings and predictions were far ahead of their time, foreseeing the break-up of mass media and growth of targeted and personalized modes of communication. As these predictions have materialized, the work of Gobé has become increasingly relevant in the marketing environment we see today.

In recent years, Emotional Branding has complimented the shift in marketing approaches from a focus of products, to people. This gradual shift has been evident throughout the 7 marketing eras experienced from the 1860s to now. If you pay attention to where the focus of each is, you will probably be able to identify where your own industry lives today, and start to think about how you could be able to get an edge over your competitors by moving your brand to the next step.

The early eras of ‘simple trade’, ‘production’, ‘sales’ and ‘marketing department’, placed the product firmly at the helm. Little thought was given to what the product could do for the customer, instead taglines focusing on the impressive benefits of the product were touted at every given opportunity. This included salespeople making their way into the homes of the customer. This style of marketing was defined as “interruption marketing”. It was effective at first, but the over saturation of consumer goods and decreased timelines for innovation of new products brought in a need for products to become differentiated.

A new age of marketing was appearing as early as the 1960’s, in the era of the ‘marketing company’. For the first time, the scale started to shift more heavily towards the customer, as organizations such as Apple started to show customers why they needed a Mac, rather than spewing facts about their new technology. But it wasn’t until the 1990’s that the era of ‘Relationship marketing’ redefined how we see customers today. 

“The customer is king” mindset drove the Relationship Marketing era. From this point in time, customers began to be defined by their personal needs. Standard practices such as segmentation began to lean into increasingly emotional factors, and as a result, brands started to witness increased levels of loyalty. Our current era, the era of ‘social’ or ‘collaboration’, takes this loyalty to a further level, viewing and appreciating customers as individuals who are part of larger conversations with brands.

Each of these eras has been led through a deeper relationship model between brands and customers. As we moved from a state where consumers defined themselves through things, to defining themselves through brands, and now through causes and purpose, so too have brands had to do the same. Creating connections through conversations broader than the product, that tap into human emotion and belief, is the new gold standard of marketing.  

Gobé discussed the parallels between branding and ancient Greek culture, which used philosophy, poetry, music and the art of discussion and debate to stimulate the imagination.1 Emotional branding’s relevance today has soared with advances in neuroscience and the scientific proof that our brain reacts to these stimuli by creating subconscious emotional bonds stronger than those formed by rational thought.

In short, emotional branding has already existed for 20 years. In that time, the development of marketing eras has been led by the requirement for a deeper relationship model with customers. As such, emotional branding has become increasingly relevant, and today it is seen as a necessity. We have witnessed a gradual shift across categories, starting with CPG and more recently, rational categories such as banks and transport. These organizations now place empathy at the heart of their strategies, creating a two-way trust and commitment through open conversations with customers. Ultimately, what matters most is to seeing customers as complex individuals and relating to them on a human level.


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