bridge and partners


The heart of branding

Words by Tom Robinson
Date 2019-10-08

Advertising has long served to create emotive resonances in products and services; the same is increasingly true for corporate brands, whose communicators have unparalleled tools and opportunities to create emotional connections with their stakeholders.

In April 2015, Disney released the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. One of the consequences was a near instant rise in share price that added $2billion to their market capitalisation.

While the share price eventually settled back, the initial response was credited to the “emotional connection” investors felt with the Star Wars brand. Quite a response to a two and a half minute trailer.

We are seeing a greater focus on the importance and role of emotions and emotional intelligence (EQ) in business. Consequently, people are increasingly talking about the concept of emotional branding as if it’s a relatively new idea, based on “building brands that directly appeal to a person’s emotional state, needs or aspirations”.

Branding has always been about developing a connection between people and products, services, companies or organisations that is both functional and emotional. One rarely comes without the other. It is about creating a bond between a person and brand that, over time and repetition, creates lasting connections. It enables you to differentiate yourself and engage and inspire the audiences that are critical to your business, be they customers, employees, investors or society at large.

Marketing has long talked about concepts such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the path from awareness to advocacy. However, brands do not just exist as products and services. Brands are just as much about companies and organisations and the relationship they have with key stakeholders. Human resources understand the need for employees to be both emotionally and physically present. Investors strongly factor in trust in the management team. The basic point is that the more a person is emotionally invested in you, the greater chance you have of positive engagement and loyalty.

"People, even in business, make decisions based on emotion. We just don’t always know the extent."


It turns out that, most of the time, we do not know just how important emotions are in the decisions we make. In the early 2000s, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio showed that emotions play a vital role in decision-making. By studying patients with damage to the amygdala (the part of the brain where emotions are generated), he discovered that not only were they not able to feel emotions, they were no longer able to make decisions. We may be rational about weighing up options, but emotions are critical to making choices.

More recently, in 2011, Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman wrote the best-selling book Thinking Fast and Slow, summarising decades of work into two modes of thought, unsurprisingly called Fast (emotional and instinctive) and Slow (conscious and logical). Fast, intuitive thinking has a far greater impact on our decisions than we realise.

"Whether we like it or not, emotions play a vital role, not only in the decisions we make but also in our ability to make decisions in the first place."


There are many ways to build an emotional connection through branding and communications. Here are some of them. Technology has clearly increased the number of ways this can be done, through different platforms, media and data. However, much of what we do is actually a proxy for human interaction and the core truth remains that, fundamentally, you are looking to develop a human connection.

  1. Know your audience: You need to identify and understand your audience(s) before you even start. It’s not just about what you want to say: effective relationships are two-way, and you need to listen and learn. Data and insight are critical and different approaches to this will generate the greatest value, depending on the audience.As previously mentioned, it’s about their emotional state, needs and aspirations. Find out what is important to them, what they currently think of you and how they want to engage. That is your basis for understanding how you start to build a relationship, based on the kind of connection you are trying to make and response you want.
  2. Be bold: Great brands are built on big ideas; one that finds the inherent connection between a company or product and their audience. Big ideas are more likely to create impact and, the greater the impact, the stronger the emotional response. Apple’s Think Different and Nike’s Just Do It are two classic examples of brands that connected with their audience and built a passionate following.

“Big ideas have the power to inspire and motivate. They boil everything down to a simple truth. They cut through the noise to create a platform on which everything else can be built.”

  1. Building trust: People will not commit to you if they don’t trust you. Consistency and credibility are key. This does not mean repetition, but is about creating a distinctive positioning in the minds of your audiences and reinforcing that in everything you do. It’s not just about visual consistency but ensuring a seamless experience across all touchpoints, be that the messages you deliver, the behaviour you display or the engagement you create. Technology has broken down many of the barriers between audiences and people are aware, not just of their own interactions but also how you engage with others. Seeing yourself in a holistic way, across audiences, and behaving accordingly is essential. Lack of trust is highly contagious.
  2. The power of values: People are more likely to develop an emotional connection with you if they feel you share compatible values. Companies are being challenged, not only to find new ways to create value but also evolve their definition of value. The rise of sustainability concerns, environmental and social, and the increased focus on areas such as purpose and culture are clear examples. This isn’t about cynical marketing strategies but about what you really stand for as an organisation.

The benefits are clear. As an example, Unilever’s purpose driven brands are growing 50 per cent faster than the rest of the portfolio and providing 60 per cent of the company’s profits. They also report that around half of graduate applicants now cite their sustainability work as the primary reason for choosing them as a potential employer.

  1. Story telling: Humans have been telling stories for millennia, to share information and bind communities, and it has been adopted by many brands as an effective form of communication. There is far more to storytelling than simply packaging corporate messages but, when done well, it is a powerful way to create and deliver more sympathetic and personally engaging types of content.

Compelling stories aren’t one-offs. They are developed over time, creating a narrative arc that continues to build on core messages in increasingly powerful ways. Red Bull’s sponsorships – from flugtags, Formula One and air races to Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic freefall – are one such example. “It’s not just about gaining someone’s attention, it’s about keeping it.” Storytelling isn’t just for films and their (very successful) trailers.

  1. Sensory branding and technology: The development of technology has had a dramatic impact on the way people connect with brands and the range of interactions available. Immersive technologies and sensory branding have come together to create far richer and more engaging experiences. Virtual and augmented realities are placing people in a brand’s world. Content is delivered in increasingly innovative ways on a multitude of platforms, and brands are defining not only what they look like but how they sound, smell and feel. Artificial intelligence has brought Siri and Alexa into our homes and given them a voice we respond to and buy from.

Increasingly, brands are built through a multitude of individual interactions that continually reinforce a core brand positioning, delivered across a broader range of platforms, using a wider range of senses.

  1. Control and involvement: Technology has not only transformed the way people can engage with a brand but also relationships with the brand. They are no longer passive recipients of a brand’s message but active participants. Social media allows for conversations between individuals and brands, and content can be personalised and co-created. The more active the participation and the more time invested to create and reinforce collective experiences, the stronger the potential relationship.

Companies realise they are no longer the sole owners of their brand message and understand the importance of peer group advocacy in how they are perceived. Virtual communities are being developed where content can be created, values shared and ideas exchanged. This fluid, multi-audience and very public engagement, with all the associated risks, can be a real challenge for company structures and cultures but lasting, positive connections don’t come from controlling the relationship.


Companies continue to look to develop emotional connections between themselves and their audiences; consumers, employees, investors and broader society. There are many ways that branding and communications can help to build these types of relationships.

Technology is helping to provide new and richer ways to do this. Data and insight are fundamental to understanding these audiences. Brand strategy is critical to creating consistency and relevance, rather than being blindly led by advances in new technologies and evolving forms of engagement.

However, what really inspires people and creates strong emotional bonds is the creativity with which you bring this all together. That is where the real emotions exist. Otherwise, you’re just fitting the pieces together and where’s the emotion in that?


  1. Capturing the emotions: BBC Two was founded in 1964, with a remit to carry more knowledge-building programming than any other UK channel. But, without a rebrand in over 20 years, and in a now-much-busier media landscape, viewers were struggling to say what BBC Two stands for.

We worked with BBC Creative to conjure a different identity system that puts diverse, contrasting emotions at the heart of the experience.

We began from the inside-out. BBC Two’s programming is an emotional rollercoaster. Where else can you move from hard-hitting documentary, to raucous comedy, to cookery or art show, without warning? Whatever it is, it gets a reaction. It makes you feel something, immersing you into its stories and entertaining the viewer.

Since the shows are about what you feel, we made our idents do the same. Instead of genre, we divided by the spirit of the programmes: ‘offbeat’ for comedy, ‘visceral’ for drama, ‘anarchic’ for cutting-edge documentaries, all varied in style, texture and tone, but all reflecting the character of the content. We then collaborated with some of the best British and global animators and artists to bring each mood, or emotional state to life.

The central curve of the numeral ‘2’ becomes a glue for infinite artistic expressions. Meanwhile composer Alex Baranowski’s two-note soundscapes create a seamless, atmospheric gateway between each animation. Echoing the subtle swings and sudden emotional jolts that are now beautifully, unmistakeably BBC Two.

  1. Capturing momentum and drama: The LSO is one of the world’s top five orchestras and boasts a pioneering spirit. From running its own record label and music education to performing to one billion people at the opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the LSO is passionate about finding new ways to connect with audiences. We embraced this spirit to create a brand identity that captures the emotional power, texture and movement of classical music and makes it relevant to a new generation.

If an orchestra takes inspiration from its conductor, why shouldn’t its brand? Our work with the LSO coincided with the appointment of Sir Simon Rattle as its new musical director, so we decided to put him at the centre of our thinking.

Working with Vicon Systems and The University of Portsmouth School of Creative Technologies, we used state-of-the-art cameras to capture Sir Simon’s every movement as he conducted Elgar’s Enigma Variations. The cameras recorded the performance at 120 frames per second, which painted a striking picture of every sweep, stab and twist of the baton. We used the data to create a series of animated films and stills which captured the momentum and drama of the music. A new approach to typography reflected the sweeping movements of the conductor. Together, these create the visual language behind the LSO’s 2017/2018 season.

Placing Sir Simon Rattle at the heart of the brand brings new life to the LSO’s conductor identity – an evolved version of our own design, in use since 2004. The identity now stands where the LSO’s real-life conductor stands: front and centre, the source of direction and interpretation for the LSO’s musicians.

First published in Communication Director.