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4 Keys to Effective Awareness Campaigns

The discussion of emotional vs. rational branding is not new at all. Nor is the concept of emotional branding: Dale Carnegie developed famous courses in self-improvement, salesmanship, corporate training, public speaking, and interpersonal skills and published How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936—advising business people to appeal to their customers’ emotions.

Wikipedia defines emotional branding as: a term used within marketing communication that refers to the practice of building brands that appeal directly to a consumer’s emotional state, needs and aspirations. Emotional branding is successful when it triggers an emotional response in the consumer, that is, a desire for the advertised brand (or product) that cannot fully be rationalized. Emotional brands have a significant impact when the consumer experiences a strong and lasting attachment to the brand comparable to a feeling of bonding, companionship or love.


There are innumerable examples of successful brands utilizing emotional connections (think Apple, Nike, Coke) and there are significant examples and scholarly articles on successes within the B2B category as well. (See past posts about B2C and B2B being replaced by H2H because of this very concept.) A nicely compiled overview can be found here.

But what about the emotional connection of brand messaging within the realm of cause marketing and public awareness campaigns? I argue it’s the same balance between emotional and rational, regardless of the product, service or cause. The main difference with campaigns aimed at changing people’s behavior around public awareness issues is two-fold: 1) the complexity of the issue, and 2) the fact that it is likely not even ‘on their radar’. So what works? The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation claims there are three main components for an effective campaign:

1. A Broad Support System – The more individuals working on an awareness campaign, the greater the likelihood of the campaign’s success.

2. Diverse Activities – A campaign’s message should be relayed to the public through a variety of means in an effort to reach more people who will connect to the campaign’s purpose.

3. An Accurate and Concise Message – The message of a campaign must be short and powerful to mobilize people to action.

And I’ll add the fourth:

4. Visual and Verbal Emotional Resonance – make a connection with their heart as well as their brain.

The first two components often are a factor of budget, resources and policy. But the third and fourth are where we as experienced communicators can make all the difference. McKnight Kurland has been involved in creating and evolving awareness campaigns since our inception—beginning with the first AIDS walk in the early 80s. Think about the challenges of that campaign:

• the term AIDS was unheard of

• the issue was frightening, confusing and deadly

• we didn’t even know what behaviors we were attempting to change

So our campaign developed as one of hope, constantly evolving knowledge and strength of community—all emotionally powerful concepts.

Fast forward to today and we are involved in the infancy stages of developing a very different campaign: raising awareness for the importance of math in early childhood development, and communicating ways to engage with children for more positive outcomes. Our first task was to develop the theme—an accurate and concise message with emotional appeal. We know that one of the (somewhat) unwritten rules of emotional branding is: “Don’t get consumers to listen, get them to care”. This is the challenge of effective messaging development and the rule of thumb for actionable key value propositions. This is where defining and understanding your audience makes all the difference. Once you know who you’re targeting, you can create the link to their emotions and place it squarely within your brand promise. Oh yes, and do it in 10 word or less. Because regardless of the brand involved, you are competing with what is generally stated as 3,000 – 6,000 advertising messages received by consumers each day.

So going back to our early math campaign, our solution for this initiative is:



Short and powerful—and that includes the visual embodiment of the verbal theme. Remember, any brand can embrace emotional branding, and indeed, must, in order to compete and thrive in today’s marketplace. What emotional response does your marketing trigger? Are you creating a desire for your brand? If not, now is the time.


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