Love is in the Air(waves)

Early in their careers, most marketers learn a valuable lesson: Aim for the heart, not the head. Even if you’re selling something as ordinary as insurance, or as practical as new database software, it isn’t enough just to present audiences with the key benefits in bullet-point format. If life were that simple, we wouldn’t need marketing departments.

Yet this framing – use emotion to connect with audiences – remains fuzzy. Which emotions should we be eliciting? What should we do once we achieve that connection? And for what ultimate goal?

The concept of emotional marketing helps answer some of these questions. When applied skillfully, colors and visual designs can create a vivid first impression that influences how the actual content of an advertisement is experienced. Happiness is a reasonable enough goal for many advertisers, as good feelings will inspire people to click ‘Like’ and ‘Share’, while positive associations surrounding a product can motivate people to get out to the store and buy it. The following ad is a fine example of the genre:

Other emotions can be just as effective, however. Sadness can help your audience feel empathy and connection, provided you supply a worthy target for these feelings. Charities make use of this emotional palette, but ordinary businesses can too: A sympathetic child or animal, stuck in the cold rain, can get our attention – until we see them at last receiving help from a company that takes its CSR commitments seriously.

Even anger and outrage can be used to good effect, as they often cause content to go viral. Depending on your intention, these or virtually any other emotions could have an important role to play.

But there is one key emotion that most marketers simply overlook. And it may be the most important of all.

Love, actually

Much can be gained if we permit ourselves to move away from the logical, and toward the psychological. On the one hand, potential customers are just like the rest of us – they’re looking for attention and a sense of belonging. They’re tired of the impersonal and the fake, and want desperately to align their purchasing behavior with their own needs and values. If a company comes along and makes people feel genuinely seen and appreciated, that company will hold a special place in their heart.

There is, of course, another protagonist in the drama: The marketing team. With corporate experience often comes a jaded and cynical outlook, particularly around one’s peers. Within a sales and advertising department, to talk earnestly of love is to open oneself to a certain measure of ridicule. And so, the subject is passed over, leaving potential customers unmoved.

Enter Kevin Roberts: British businessman, advertising pioneer, and developer of the Lovemarks concept. Roberts believes that most marketers are aiming at the wrong target. Companies that inform should instead be working to inspire. Attention should be replaced by active participation. Pushing for sales leads to minor victories at best, while real success comes from creating movements.

Advertising based on specific benefits and attributes is an inherently fragile system. A given product may be cheaper, stronger, faster, or prettier than its direct competitors … for a little while. But rivals can always make adjustments and innovations, while new players use other angles to take away your market share. Moreover, individual products don’t inspire love or loyalty.

An effective brand identity can build a much stronger relationship, if the relevant messaging is put together the right way. Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, stumbled upon this insight more than 20 years ago. At the time, when a customer purchased a CD from his site, they received a boilerplate message: “Your order has shipped today. Thank you for your business.”

Sivers decided that this terse message was a poor fit for the mission of his company, which was ‘putting smiles on faces’. So he wrote a better one, which has since become legendary in advertising circles:


The result:

       People were so enamoured that they flocked to music forums and personal blogs to share the email. This led to discussion         after discussion about CD Baby, plenty of valuable backlinks, and in Derek’s words: “thousands of new customers.”

This kind of consumer response reflects a widespread hunger for originality, personality, and warmth. Businesses which recognize and satisfy that hunger will retain customer loyalty, even after their rivals start putting out better actual products.

This is the heart of the Lovemarks idea, according to Kevin Roberts. Lovemarks are essentially modified brand identities that accentuate some combination of mystery, sensuality, and intimacy. And just like love itself, Lovemarks inspire loyalty beyond reason. This kind of loyalty feels perfectly natural when you’re under the spell of a Lovemarks-ian connection, although it may look weird to others viewing the phenomenon from the outside.

Love is blind

We’ve all had friends who became obsessed by a particular band or singer. We’ve been approached by volunteers who spend their free time promoting their favorite political candidate. We’ve seen lines of people camped out in front of Apple stores, waiting for the chance to buy a new model iPhone. These are not one-off character quirks. They are part of our hardware as human beings. We crave emotional connection – and when we find it, even from a corporation or politician, we place a very high value on it indeed.

 That’s why a literal reading of the video clip above makes little sense. What is he talking about? Why are they cheering? What on earth is going on?

Only a Lovemarks perspective can make any sense of it. In this case, the actual content of the speech matters little, because love does not exist on the same plane as reason. The speaker uses mystery (storytelling), sensuality (plenty of imagery), and intimacy (a show of empathy and concern with our private activities). For parts of the country that often feel ignored by Washington, this can be a potent mix. Yet in the eyes of outsiders taking the spectacle too literally, it resembles nothing more than gibberish delivered to a crowd stuck under permanent hypnosis. 

Consider the condescension in this tweet (including the username of the tweeter):

Now consider that the clown in question is a heavy favorite to win re-election this year, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers. The ongoing attempt to explain the inexplicable has led philosophers and cultural critics to arrive at something close to the Lovemarks thesis, but from another angle. At bottom, every plausible summary of the wider phenomenon brings us back to a foundation of connection and loyalty – not to a product based on logic, but to an identity based on emotion.


Simply irresistible


When we’re being honest with ourselves, we must all admit that we’ve done some surprising things in the name of love. At some point in our lives, each of us has acted out of character – and with mixed results – out of loyalty to our passions. Such an observation, all by itself, is proof enough that emotional connections are a potent force in shaping the way we interact with the world. 

The concept of Lovemarks takes this realization to the next logical step: If people are so eager to form and strengthen these emotional bonds, then they must be highly receptive to anyone who sends the right signals. Glimpses of this insight have long been known around the marketing world; companies typically use “Join us” instead of “Sign up” as a call-to-action phrase, because the former brings with it a connotation of bonding and personal invitation that is missing in the latter. With Lovemarks, we now have a fully developed theory and vision which builds up this understanding into a powerful and comprehensive storytelling technique.

The Lovemarks innovation has come into the field of marketing at the perfect time. In today’s VUCA world, where traditions are waning and instability is rising, long-distance emotional connections are perhaps more psychologically necessary than ever before. No matter what industry you are in, most of what your business produces can be – either now, or in the future – essentially replicated by a motivated competitor. What is irreplaceable, and indeed irresistible, is the emotional connection you build with your customers.

This insight helps explain why, according to noted author and business adviser Rolf Jensen, the heroes of the 21st century will be the storytellers. By exciting the imagination through mystery, sensuality, and intimacy, good storytelling succeeds brilliantly at the essential task of bringing people together. The rewards of this approach are enough to turn even the most world-weary marketing team into believers, once again, in the power of love.


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