Understanding emotional drivers: The key to building powerful consumer connections

May 27, 2024

To truly connect with your customers, you need to understand what drives them emotionally. In short, what are their emotional drivers - and more importantly - how do you understand them to drive that connection?

What are emotional drivers?

Emotional drivers are the underlying feelings and desires that influence people's decisions and behaviours. They go beyond the practical needs that your product or service fulfills.

As Isabelle Landreville, Sylvestre & Co.'s Chief Insights Seeker and President, explains, "The emotional driver is really important to uncover because that's where you actually start building a real relationship."

The main emotional drivers that motivate human behaviour and decision-making are:

  • Belonging/Love: The need for connection from being with others or connection with oneself.
  • Control/Security: The desire for a greater ability to maintain security and stability in one's life.
  • Diversity: The craving for variety, excitement, and new experiences.
  • Recognition/Significance: The need for acknowledgment of one's virtues, achievements, and being noticed.
  • Achievement: The drive to make progress, accomplish goals, and complete tasks.
  • Challenge/Growth: The motivation for learning, personal growth, and self-improvement.
  • Excellence: The pursuit of self-satisfaction, pride, and a sense of quality in one's efforts.
  • Responsibility/Contribution: The need to contribute to others and make a positive impact.

These eight fundamental emotional drivers stem from basic human psycho-emotional needs developed through environmental factors like family, culture, and life stage.  However, while all are present in each individual, their relative importance varies.

Think about some of the most iconic brands out there - Nike, Apple, Pepsi. Sure, their products serve a functional purpose. But what makes them stand out is how they tap into people's emotions. They make you feel something.

What matters is to understand which ones matter most to your customers.

Examples of emotional drivers

So, what do emotional drivers look like in practice? Let's look at a few examples.

Imagine you're in the business of selling luxury cars. Your customers need a vehicle that gets them from point A to point B. All in all, they might be driven by a desire for status, success, or even a sense of freedom.

Or let's say you're a health and wellness brand. Your customers come to you for products that improve their physical well-being. But what really motivates them might be a desire for self-care, confidence, or a sense of control over their lives.

The interplay of emotional and functional drivers

Now, this doesn't mean that functional needs don't matter. In fact, emotional and functional drivers are closely intertwined.

As Isabelle puts it, "You have to serve a purpose. Play a functional role and back it up with something. But I believe you need to lead with emotion."

Take the example of a chocolate brand. On an emotional level, chocolate is often associated with comfort, indulgence, and even nostalgia. In effect, those positive emotions aren't likely to last if the chocolate doesn't taste good (a functional driver).

The road to success is understanding how emotional and functional drivers work together for your specific product or service. Which one is the primary driver? And how can you leverage both to create a more compelling offer?

Getting to the heart of your customers

So, how do you uncover the emotional drivers that matter to your customers? It starts with research and a genuine curiosity about their lives and experiences.

This might involve traditional methods like surveys and focus groups. At the same time, it can also mean getting creative and finding ways to observe and engage with customers in their natural environments.

As Isabelle shares, one powerful technique is to have customers keep a diary of their experiences with your product or service.

"Every time you have a drink, just use your phone, snap a picture, say, 'Hey, this is where I'm at. This is what's happening right now. This is how I'm feeling. This is kind of what I feel like drinking. And these are the other choices that I've considered," Isabelle said.  

By gathering these rich insights you'll be able to gather a holistic view of your customers and what drives them.

Building a brand that resonates

Once you have a handle on your customers' emotional drivers, you can infuse them into every aspect of your brand - from product development to marketing and customer service.  

This is where the concept of brand archetypes can be particularly useful. By aligning your brand with a primary emotional driver and archetype (like the Hero, the Innocent, or the Explorer), you can create a more consistent and resonant brand experience.

"If you know if you're more emotional versus functional, then you can figure out what the persona of my brand is," said Isabelle. "What are the characteristics you can use to humanize your brand? And then you can start building a narrative and strategize and then connect the dots and how you build a connection with your consumer in a meaningful way."

The key is authenticity and consistency. You can't just slap an emotional driver onto your brand and call it a day. It must be woven into the fabric of who you are and how you show up for your customers.

Emotional drivers in action

Let's bring all this to life with a real-world example.

Consider Nike. At its core, Nike is about more than just sneakers and athletic gear. It's about the emotional driver of achievement, of pushing yourself to be your best.

This driver is reflected in everything from their iconic "Just Do It" slogan to their sponsorship of top athletes. When you buy a pair of Nikes, you're not just buying shoes - you're buying into a mindset and a feeling.  

And it works because it's authentic to who they are as a brand. Nike has consistently championed the idea of personal achievement and excellence throughout its history. It's not just a marketing tactic - it's a fundamental part of their brand DNA.

The business impact of emotional drivers

At the end of the day, understanding and leveraging emotional drivers isn't just a feel-good exercise. It can have a real impact on your bottom line. Emotionally connected customers are more valuable in a number of ways. They tend to spend more, stick around longer, and be more likely to recommend your brand to others.

But perhaps more importantly, focusing on emotional drivers is a differentiator to win in a crowded market, which is the ones that make them feel something.

The future of emotionally driven branding

As we look to the future, the importance of emotional drivers is only set to grow.  

In many markets - maybe all - functional aspects of products and services are becoming more standardized and less differentiated. What will continue to set brands apart is their ability to connect on an emotional level.

In the meantime, we're also seeing a shift toward more values-based and purpose-driven branding. Customers, especially younger generations, are increasingly looking to brands values and beliefs in addition to product quality. And at the heart of values are - you guessed it - emotions.

To this end, investing in understanding and activating your customers' emotional drivers is no longer a nice to have. It's a business imperative for any company.

How to get started

If you're inspired to start exploring emotional drivers for your own brand, here are a few key steps to get started:

  • Make customer research an ongoing priority. Don't just rely on a one-time survey or focus group. Find ways to engage with and learn from your customers continuously.
  • Look beyond the obvious. Don't just ask customers what they want - try what drives their behaviours.
  • Involve your whole team. Understanding emotional drivers shouldn't just live in the marketing department. Engage everyone from product development to customer service in the process.
  • Be authentic. Don't try to force an emotional connection that isn't true to who you are as a brand. Find the drivers that align with your core values and purpose.
  • Test and iterate. As with anything in business, understanding emotional drivers is an ongoing process of learning and refinement. Don't be afraid to try new things and adjust based on what you learn.

The power of connection

At the end of the day, understanding emotional drivers is about creating deeper, more meaningful connections with your customers.  

It's about seeing them as human beings with complex needs, desires, and motivations. And it's about crafting a brand experience that meets them on that level.

"If you want to, as a brand, have a real relationship, there is something about emotionally connecting with people, at a deeper level, so that you have a more long-lasting, sustainable relationship," Isabelle said.

In a world where authenticity and connection are increasingly rare and precious commodities, the brands that master this will be the ones that not only survive but thrive.  

How can we help you understand your customers' emotional drivers? Please reach out to chat!