Have you ever wondered about the science behind branding? After all, there must be some kind of system in place behind all those colors, fonts, and slogans, right? How else would agencies justify charging so damn much money for their branding services? Take the case of Landor, a branding agency founded in 1941. They’ve had a lot of time to hone their processes, so you’d figure it must be based in sound, objective principles. Well, judge for yourself: In the following passage, they explain their thought process for how they came up with the concept for Enactus, a global entrepreneurial non-profit:

The new name, Enactus, was initially inspired by the idea of compounding “Entrepreneurial Action,” but it was created to transcend those roots and encompass the strong emotion that the brand evokes. The name encapsulates the intricate balance between youthful energy and a sophisticated stature that defines the organization.

So …. How are you handling that strong emotional reaction you must have felt when seeing the name “Enactus?” Wait -- you're not overcome with associations? Your brain wasn’t immediately filled with visions of youthful energy and sophistication?

Yeah … ours weren’t either. And we aren’t picking on Landor by singling them out: The “science” behind most branding efforts is about as sound as the explanations you’ve heard for flat earth theory or chemtrails. You might as well pay big bucks to have your product’s abs electrocuted. It just feels like a bad 90s scam.

The Science of Emotion

We get it -- trying to apply a scientific method while creating emotional connections to a brand is tough. That said, emotional content does play an important role in creating winning brands. For one thing, according to a study conducted by Princeton psychologists, it’s true that people form an opinion in less than one second. So you need to grab them, and emotions are the best way to do that. And it’s also true that what you buy -- and use -- is very much influenced by emotion. As an article on the Instapage blog points out, “Even though we consider ourselves logical and modern human beings, the majority of our decisions are made by the ancient, instinctive subconscious part of our brains, sometimes referred to as our ‘reptilian brain.’”

So mostly everyone seems to agree that tapping into the customers’ emotional responses are important. But the generally accepted wisdom gets some very important things wrong in their search for a method behind the emotional madness; specifically, why emotional content matters and how to identify the right emotions to convey. Take this Nike branding analysis from the “Branding” entry in Entrepreneur's “Small Business Encyclopedia”:

The added value intrinsic to brand equity frequently comes in the form of perceived quality or emotional attachment. For example, Nike associates its products with star athletes, hoping customers will transfer their emotional attachment from the athlete to the product. For Nike, it's not just the shoe's features that sell the shoe.

This assessment is correct in that emotional attachment is an important component of branding. But the assessment misses the mark by asserting that the emotional connection is most influenced by the allure of the spokes-athlete. Sure, the spokes-athlete won't hurt (we'll come back to this in a moment). However, modern day consumers have computers in their pockets. And, they're more mistrustful of false claims. So, they do their own research, they consult their friends, and they dig deep into online reviews. In today's modern era -- more than in the past -- the focus should be on the Job To Be Done. Nailing the Job To Be Done will lead to a flurry of glowing online reviews, positive word-of-mouth, and ultimately — a growing emotional desire to become an avid user of your product.

What do we mean by this? Well, as we’ve discussed elsewhere people “hire” your product to do a job. In the case of an iPod, that job is “listening to music,” or in the case of TurboTax that job is “Making my taxes easier and painless.” Or, to put it another way, in the (semi) famous words of Theodore Levvit, “People don’t want a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.”

The Three Faces of the Job

But there’s more to the story than a single job. There are multiple facets to this All Important Job: There’s the functional aspect, which we just described, but there’s also an emotional and social aspect to the Job. And nailing those is every bit as important as nailing the functional element, especially when it comes to branding.

In the Nike example, the functional job is (more or less) “Being better at sports.” People hire Nike shoes so that they can be better at the sport they love. And if that’s the job you’re being hired for, you better make sure your shoe does that job better than any other shoe out there if you want to remain competitive.

But as we mentioned, there are also emotional components to the Job. Nike’s branding approach has resonated with customers -- but not for the reasons Entrepreneur seems to think. The emotional job is not about transferring some attachment or connection from an athlete to a shoe. It’s tied directly to the functional job: It’s about fulfilling the emotional component of doing a sport better -- and perhaps feeling as awesome as your favorite athlete while doing so. It’s about feeling like an athlete, and feeling pride or a sense of accomplishment. And the social job could be thought of as twofold: There’s the basic social validation of “I spent good money on these cool shoes;” but more importantly, it’s about saying “Look everybody, I'm athletic .. I -do- play this sport well ... Just like [famous athlete].”

Brands that align their look and feel with the most desirable emotional and social outcomes dominate their market by becoming synonymous with the job-to-be-done. Think Google, Amazon, Subway, and yes, Nike. And conveying the emotional aspects of the job right from the get go are what can help customers make the difficult decision to make the switch to your product. Simply put, emotional jobs matter. As thrv.com founder Jay Haynes wrote:

If two products get the functional job done equally well, customers will choose the one that makes them feel better. For instance, if two different 401k services produce the same rate of return, they get the functional job done equally well. But, if one service hides the day-to-day data, it will make me anxious. I will choose the one that makes the health of my fund more transparent, relieving my anxiety. As [Harvard Business School Professor and author of Competing Against Luck] Clay [Christensen] writes, 'Overcoming customer anxieties is a very big deal.'

And it’s not just a concept that applies to B2C products. As Clayton Christensen said in a recent a16z podcast: 

You can ask, ‘In order to get job done, what are functional social and emotional dimensions?’ Almost always -- even for high tech [emphasis added]-- they all have these three job elements. If you understand that you can get to the next level. If that’s the job, what are all the experiences in purchase and use so they will nail job perfectly? That becomes the criteria by which the customer decides to buy your product.

No More Voodoo

We get the importance of making sure your product conveys the emotional job people would hire it to do, and that’s why we approach branding differently than most agencies. We aren’t here to help you pick your favorite color or makes things pretty just for the sake of it. We want your value -- functional, emotional, social -- to align with your look and feel so people clamor to switch to your product. To that end, our processes help you understand all aspects of the job, and then help you uncover how to convey the emotional and social aspects visually. Yep -- it’s actually science, not voodoo.

We applied this scientific approach with Key, an app that helps people build and maintain relationships. First, we worked with them and dug deep to uncover the functional job that people would hire Key to do: “Become a better people person.”

Then we helped Key uncover the emotional and social jobs. These encompassed things like:

  • ‍To feel better about their relationships
  • To feel like a better person
  • To feel more successful at being social
  • To foster deeper friendships

Once we understood these jobs, we were able to help guide Key, using mood boards, style tiles, and in-depth interviews, to nail the best look and feel that aligned with the emotional jobs people would hire Key to do. This resulted in a look that feels light, upbeat and friendly. Rather than a sterile environment, there’s a focus on human faces to align with the warm feeling of being a better friend and being liked.

This visual alignment of emotional jobs with the brand alignment is shown off to perfection in the loading animation. The user’s face is front and center. The faces of their connections move towards them, as if magnetized and drawn to them. This striking visual is reinforced by the microcopy: Build rapport at work. Deepen friendships. Be a people person.

We didn’t use voodoo when it came to helping Key create the right brand that hit the right emotional notes. As we do with all of our clients, our branding process was based on sound, objective principles and grounded firmly in the Job to be Done. It’s as close to science as you can get when finding the right way to convey the right emotion through your branding.