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How Branded Content Can Make An Emotional Connection

dechay wattsThis post was co-authored by Dechay Watts, Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder of Sprout Content. Follow her on Twitter @Dechay.


CoverThe emotion that a brand evokes in someone — or more importantly, in a specific group of people — has a big impact on a company’s success or failure. Emotions play a huge role in how consumers act and react. Emotions drive decisions, prompt actions, and change mind-sets, leading to strong loyalty and a deep personal connection with a given brand that can extend beyond its rational attributes.

These emotional connections are more psychological than logical, and are usually subconscious feelings. Brands that develop distinct personas in people’s minds project an image that people want to buy into. Someone may buy a product because it makes them feel smart, affluent, or sophisticated (e.g., “I’m really stylish and have good taste because I wear these shoes.“) Generally, people buy products that are consistent with their positive, or aspirational, image of themselves. 

One of the best-known books about the importance of emotional connections between consumers and brands is Lovemarks — The Future Beyond Brands. Written in 2004 by Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi, the book tells the evolutionary story of how products, trademarks, and brands become “Lovemarks.” In this groundbreaking book, Roberts said that by building respect and inspiring love, businesses can move the world. When brands — and branded content, by extension — make strong emotional connections with consumers, the feeling goes beyond brand loyalty and leaves an indelible mark that cannot be replaced.

Branded content examples & inspiration from J.Crew and LUNA Bar

We all have those brands that we can’t live without. In our recently launched book, Brands in Glass Houses, my business partner/ co-author, Dechay Watts, and I talk about our own personal brand obsessions, and why we feel their branded content marketing efforts are successful. Here are just a few of these branded content examples:


I love J.Crew; I have since the late ’80s, when the company was mail-order only. I tore out the pages of the hot male models and hung them on my bedroom wall next to the current teen heartthrobs of the time. It wasn’t just about the cute guys I dreamed of dating; it was the complete lifestyle depicted on the pages (Tennis in Nantucket? Brunch in SoHo? Yes, please!). I also wanted to be the girls in the pictures and still try to emulate that perfectly preppy, intentionally disheveled but highly stylish look. I always joke that if money weren’t an object, I’d just order the entire J.Crew catalog every season and would be happy! 

Whenever I need a special occasion dress, a new bathing suit, or just feel like some retail therapy, J.Crew is still the first place I go. I just feel like everything they offer is ‘so me,’ and they’ve had my loyalty for 20 years. As a marketer and copywriter, I know it’s the lifestyle story they created that I love just as much as the gorgeous nude sandals and pop-color tops. I not only love the clothes, but also deeply admire their creativity, style, and whimsical language. The words on the pages (the puns, the alliteration!), in print and on the web, just sing to me, and each product description is like a mini short story, compelling me to covet each piece. Even the product names perfectly fit with the entire brand (Catie, Viv, Jules!), personified like the chic best friend you wish you had. Debbie Williams

J.Crew’s branded content has an above-average vocabulary that its core customers completely understand. Above average, doesn’t mean big words; rather, it uses specific and unique language that resonates with its core audience base. For years the brand was solely catalog-based, focused on direct sales. In 2012, it started calling its iconic catalog a “Style Guide.” This change in terminology altered the perspective of the catalog for customers. A Style Guide is an echelon above, delivering the experience of a magazine or evoking the seasonal collection of a high-end designer, rather than an in-the-mailbox book with items and prices.

The brand’s Style Guide offers features and tips from employees who are experts in their category, whether it’s the company’s CEO, a member of the design team, or an in-store associate. J.Crew also continually “bares all,” revealing images and stories from photo shoots, staff members’ favorite pieces and pairings, and suggestions on creating original looks, with combinations made from items that probably are already in your closet.


I’m not really a big shopper or brand addict. Nor do I have a great memory. So, it takes a lot for a company to gain my loyalty so that I’ll love it so much that I choose its products or services over any other options. The company story that does it for me? LUNA Bar. Lemon Zest, Blueberry Bliss, Iced Oatmeal Raisin… I’ll grab any of them off the shelf without even considering the ‘on sale’ options nearby. LUNA had me at ‘hello’ when I read their label years ago while scouring the gas station aisles for a healthy snack on my way to a camping trip. It was as if the words on the package were put there just for me at that exact moment in time: ‘Created by and for women, LUNA Bars were the first bar just for us, with the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to stay healthy.’ Yay! 

From there, I couldn’t stop learning more about the company. I love that the women at Clif Bar & Company took it upon themselves to create these delicious, nutritious snacks made just for other women (so the story goes). I love that the company cares about the environment, community, and their employees. I love that they’ve extended the brand to events like LUNAFEST, which features films about and for women, and LUNA Chix for sports enthusiasts. Whenever I’m feeling like I need a little pick me up, not only does a LUNA Bar satisfy my taste buds and growling stomach, but it also makes me feel connected to like-minded people and reminds me of the bigger world I live in. That’s a story I don’t want to live without.—Dechay Watts

LUNA’s strategic branded content approach: One of LUNA Bar’s best examples of its skill in emotionally tapping into its consumer base was in the 2013 web short series, “Debunking the Diet,” which follows the creed that, “Strong beats skinny any day of the week!”

LUNA is highly aware that American women don’t respond to soapbox speeches on nutrition. So, it hired Funny or Die actress/comedienne Erin Gibson to put a funny spin on serious nutritional concerns. In the video series, Gibson “interviews” women on the street about their opinions on common dietary myths, then offers the advice of nutritional experts to debunk myths, such as not eating after 8 p.m. The segments rarely ever even mention the LUNA brand, and the original content is not only funny, but proves how well the brand knows its audience, and cares about what they appreciate.

3 musts for creating an emotional connection with branded content 

Both of these brands make emotional connections with people through interesting narrative, authentic communication, and by bringing the brand’s unique selling points to light in a human way that differs from its competition. Is your branded content connecting this way?

Here are three must-dos to start bonding authentically with your target market:

  • Use real words that resonate with people at a level that goes beyond the functionality, features, and benefits of your products or services. Offer a perspective and share a philosophy through words on websites, social media, packaging, videos, and more.
  • Create something that others want to be a part of. Make your content interesting, without industry jargon or boring lingo, and show that you really “get” who you’re speaking to and what they need.
  • Stay true to your mission and be fearless about what your brand really represents.

With deep market saturation and growing consumer apathy, it’s more important than ever to connect honestly and intimately. What brands give you the warm fuzzies? Share your brand content obsessions and branded content examples in the comments below.

Looking to score big points with your target audience? CMI’s 2016 Content Marketing Playbook has tips, insights, and ideas that can help increase your success with 24 of the top content marketing tactics.