PR Insider: Why Emotion Matters in Brand Positioning – Part 1

One of the most predominant conversations we have with clients has to do with emotion in brand communications. We hear it said constantly in our business – a message has to “connect on an emotional level” with the audience, or it won’t succeed.

Marilyn Fancher
Marilyn Fancher

Both clients and practitioners believe in the axiom of emotional resonance. But do we examine the precise reason why emotional connectivity matters so much? Aren’t other brand attributes, including point-of-entry expectations such as pricing, consistency, competitiveness, uniqueness in the market and other characteristics as important, or even more so? Why are we so worried about audience and stakeholder feelings?

Some of the reason has to do with the nature of relationships. And today, a lot of it has to do with the context of the modern society in which we live. First, let’s talk about the nature of consumer-brand interactions.

Each of us has a relationship, to some extent, with the human beings, animals, animate, and inanimate objects and systems we encounter in the universe. We experience them physically, emotionally and intellectually. We love, hate, embrace and ignore them.

Certainly a transaction can be a component of a relationship. But one of the reasons I’ve never liked the concept of a “value proposition” is that in essence it’s purely transactional. I give you something, and you give me something back. Give to get. Most of us instinctively know there is significantly more going on beneath the surface of relationships between most consumers and brands.

First – brand relationships begin with relevance and curiosity – some spark that leads the consumer to engage. The brand must be open and feel approachable, and not intimidating, for the consumer to want to do this. Then it’s important that the consumer begin to gain insight and understand the brand, and have the sense that the brand also understands them. As consumers experience and learn more, they will hopefully begin to admire the brand, and have a sense of empowerment and pride in the association and connection.

Through a well-told brand story, consumers should also have an awareness of the kind of challenges or conflict the brand or company has experienced. Most clients hate to talk about conflict publicly, and would rather face a firing squad, or worse, a product recall. But how a brand-protagonist handles conflict is what reveals character, and character helps their customers understand who the brand is. This is true even if the conflict is deciding where to build a factory or what new pharmaceutical to produce and which one – however important – has to wait.

That’s a very quick summary of the elements in a critical bonding process between every consumer and brand – eight emotional steps that form the building blocks of APCO’s Emotional Linking Model of productive and positive brand-consumer relationships.


Specifically, Emotional Linking measures the relationship between the emotions and purchase intent, price elasticity, and the willingness to recommend one product over another. The strength of brand relationships – or lack thereof – translates directly to the bottom line, shareholder value, support for policy and regulatory positions, and a host of other invaluable benefits.

Price, market position and other product attributes matter, but they may not be differentiating. Functionally, a Lexus and a Volkswagen are essentially the same. Emotionally? There is all the difference in the world, at least for some consumers. As is often said, reason may draw up the list, but emotion usually makes the choice.

Forging strong consumer relationships isn’t the only reason that emotion is critical in brand positioning. Next time we’ll talk about the context of connecting with stakeholders and consumers in ways that actually do break through that nemesis of all communicators – message clutter.

(Click here to read Part 2 of this article.) 

Marilyn Fancher is Chief Creative Officer at APCO Worldwide. Follow her: @mjfancher. Follow APCO Worldwide: @apcoworldwide.