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Winning on Sustainability Through Emotional Brand Connections

Winning on sustainability through emotional brand connections.

Car buying could be one of the most emotional decisions you ever make. I was reminded of that recently, listening to the story of a new car purchase by one of our Shelton team members, Lauren.

Lauren bought a Subaru and is still bubbling over with Subaru love. She is definitely a 'true believer' and an 'active' in our segmentation system typologies, so I wondered why a non-hybrid Subaru was the winner instead of another car brand with a hybrid option.

The key seems to be her love for the overarching Subaru brand.

Research from the field of neuroscience may explain why purchase decisions are ultimately emotional and not rational. Author and professor of neuroscience Antonio Demasio has explored the lack of decision-making abilities among people with brain damage in the emotional centers of the brain. He describes how this particular kind of damage does not affect the ability to rationalize through decision alternatives, but without the aid of the emotional centers, choosing becomes almost impossible. Without our emotions, we literally cannot decide.

Her feelings about the Subaru brand helped her choose a Subaru product. Brands play an especially big role in purchase decisions because they help consumers relate to products and services. Brands are the signifiers, the cognitive shortcuts, to our cumulative experiences with that branded product or service. Brands are the portable handles to a very large suitcase of consumer experience and consumer emotion.

After hearing a little more from Lauren about her Subaru love, it became clear that she had many emotionally positive, early memories of Subaru. In childhood, it had been the car of choice for her parents, making possible many outdoor adventures (and arguably encouraging general conscientiousness toward sustainability). When it came time to buy a new car, all those happy Subaru experiences put the brand at the top of the consideration list. Rationally, Lauren backed up her car purchase, too. She explained that even though Subaru didn’t offer a hybrid option, Subaru’s commitment toward zero-waste to landfill practices seemed to serve as an equally acceptable counter-weight, especially when considering that the Subaru she chose had a similar MPG rating to the hybrid option.

Subaru is a great example of a brand that is more than a product with a name and logo – they have a great brand story and personality, in addition to a great product and a corporation that cares about its entire sustainability footprint. Instead of emphasizing functional features, the brand’s messaging builds an emotional connection: Subarus are perfect for your four-legged family members, they’re made to take you to your next outdoor adventure, and they care about sustainability just like you do.

Companies working to sell consumers on the benefits of sustainability need to remember that they must make the emotional case, not just the rational one. By making sustainability part of your emotional connection to consumers, your brand can bypass many of the functional benefit discussions and skip right to the kind of enviable brand love and loyalty Lauren has found with her new Subaru.

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