By Contributing {grow} Columnist “Social Steve” Goldner

Creating an emotional connection between customers and a brand is probably the Holy Grail of marketing.  Most often, brands strive for this by being the pinnacle of something and then reinforcing that position at every touchpoint.

Maybe the easiest brand to think of in this sense is Apple.  Apple is cool, the hipster of technology.  And they have achieved a level of fanatiscm with their customers by being the pinnacle of innovation and design and then continually reinforcing this message.

Emotional branding goes beyond loyalty and almost creates this “I-am-with-<brand-name>-no-matter-what” mentality.  Recently I was reminded of the awesome power and massive strength of emotional branding.  And this story has nothing to do with a brand you might find in a store.  It involves well-educated, smart people acting in what I consider to be an irrational manner … all for the their love of a brand.  The people I am talking about are my friends (hopefully still my friends after this article) and family.

The brand I am referring to is Joe Paterno, the beloved, long-time head coach of Penn State University’s football team – up until the time he was fired under a cloud of child sexual abuse scandals.  No, Paterno was not charged with sex abuse.  But after a long career of being an icon of integrity, he was ultimately vilified because he had not alerted law enforcement officers about the horrific events when he knew of them.

Joe Paterno was the Penn State University brand.  The passion and emotion of alumni toward Paterno is unbelievable.  Many of these alumni are people from my own network – tons of friends and family that are so emotionally tied to PSU and Paterno, that they refuse to let the scandal tarnish the brand.  This is the acme of emotional branding — a bond so strong that even the most heinous blunder cannot deter the support, love, and admiration for the brand.  I am not emotionally tied to the Paterno or PSU brand and I cannot fathom how bright, intelligent people refuse to move from this irrational, emotional connection. But there it is.

And while the example I highlighted above consists of repulsive allegations, it does represent a situation brands would legitimately want to aspire to – establishing such a bond with your audience that they will stand by you, and defend you, no matter what.

So are there any positive lessons about emotional marketing that we can learn from the Paterno case?  Create brands where winning is a shared experience and then reinforce it.  How does your ideal customer win with your brand?  Incorporate this ideal into every aspect of your product or service.  When building emotion into your brand, think about leading your customer through a continuum:

Emotional Stage 1 – How you get someone interested?

Emotional Stage 2 – How do you get someone to consider a purchase?

Emotional Stage 3 – How do you continually reinforce that their purchase decision was absolutely the right decision, the “winning” decision?

Emotional Stage 4 – How do you create a loyal customer such that they want to continue to buy your product and/or are most receptive to cross selling and value add purchases?

Emotional Stage 5 – How do you create a brand ritual (www.brandrituals.net) so that your brand becomes part of your customer’s life?

Emotional Stage 6 – How do you get your audience to be your cheerleader?

You could literally create a blog post on every single one of these steps and it would certainly be a fascinating concept to explore. But on the social web, where consumer emotions can turn on a dime, doesn’t it make sense to start building loyalty in a truly emotional way?

Steve Goldner is the Senior Director at MediaWhiz where he leads the social media practice. Steve has been a marketing executive for the past 20+ years and engaged in social media for the last 4 years. You can follow him on Twitter @SocialSteve and visit his own blog at http://socialsteve.wordpress.com .

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