The traditional understanding of why we may choose to purchase from one brand over another may draw us to believe that we do it based on objective factors, many people when asked, will say they do it for logical reasons. We chose product A over product B because it was cheaper or it was better quality, it may have looked nicer or been more convenient than the competitor brand. 

But more attention should be paid to the implicit motivational factors that attract us to make a purchasing decision. We are much more likely to choose a brand based on how it makes us feel and what using or having that brand says about us.


Why do we respond in this way?

Antonio Damasio, a neuroscience professor at the University of Southern California and author of Descartes Error, asserts that almost all our decisions are made with emotion. He came to this conclusion after studying people who had lost the connections between the “emotional” and “reasoning” parts of their brain.

The patients he studied could think objectively about choices but found it almost impossible to make a confident decision because they didn’t know how they felt about the options. What his research demonstrated is that when we are confronted with a decision our emotions are driving our preferences.

Of course, advertising professionals have known for a long time about the effectiveness of emotional advertising in increasing sales. In an analysis of over 1400 IPA case studies of successful advertising campaigns, it was shown that adverts with purely emotional based content performed twice as well as adverts with purely rational content. They even performed better than adverts that had mixed emotional and rational content proving the effectiveness of emotional advertising.


This is why advertisers invest heavily in trying to work out how to influence us to feel a certain way when we watch or see one of their adverts. If they get us to subconsciously elicit and associate the right emotions with a brand they have done their job correctly.



Advertising is not the only way brands can get you to feel a certain way towards them, a great brand knows that the way we feel towards them is made up of the experiences we have with them at every single touch point. From how the media talks about them to the interactions their customers have with them in person and digitally.

One of the biggest ways a brand can end up damaging itself is by creating an emotional campaign that doesn’t live up to reality. This is why brands must weave emotion into the fabric of their existence if they are to succeed. One of the best ways they can do this is by having a brand purpose at their core and using this as the basis for all their emotional advertising.


What is brand purpose?


Harvard Business Review defines brand purpose as “an aspirational reason for being which inspires and provides a call to action for an organization and its partners and stakeholders and provides benefit to local and global society.”


Simply put, brand purpose is when a company goes beyond the simple idea that they exist purely to make money by fulfilling a need, they want to make the world a better place.


Brand purpose should not be confused with Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR policies are important but they don’t directly relate to what the business does. If a company sponsors its staff to run in a marathon or ensure they use ethical labour practices, that doesn’t relate to the purpose of their brand if say they are an architectural firm.


Businesses need to stop seeing themselves as “what” they do or even “how” they do it. They should leave this to their mission statements. Instead to find their purpose they should focus on “why” they do what they do. Once a brand knows why they do something the rest will follow.


The most inspiring companies in the world all have strong brand purposes at their core…


Nike – “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world (and everybody is an athlete).”


John Lewis – “The happiness of all our members, through their worthwhile, satisfying employment in a successful business.”


Disney – “To make magical experiences come alive, and to create happiness via these experiences.”


Ikea – “To create a better everyday life for the many people.”


Lego – “Inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow.”


Apple – “To empower creative exploration and self-expression.”


Southwest Airlines – “To connect people to what’s important in their lives.”


Tesla – “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport.”


How brand purpose impacts our emotions


Lisa Feldman-Barrett, a distinguished professor of psychology at Northeastern University and author of How Emotions Are Made, is famous for pulling apart the notion that our emotions are preprogrammed and instead has developed the theory that our emotions are built and shaped from our experiences.

She argues that our brains predict how to respond emotionally to something based on the context of our knowledge and past events. A simple example of this is why some people can love snakes and others are terrified of them.

What her research helps us understand is that our emotional response to a purpose is based on what we value and believe to be true. This is why a company’s brand purpose should resonate with the key demographic they are trying to sell to.

In the case of Tesla, if you care about the environment then you are likely to find an emotional connection with their purpose. Most people have a desire to be creative and express their inner selves, this is why Apple’s purpose is so effective.


Brand purpose enables us to feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. When we identify with a company’s brand purpose we feel good about deciding to make a purchase from them because we feel it aligns with what we think is right and meaningful. The power of brand purpose can be so effective that when well communicated it can create tribal loyalty that binds consumers to a brand. 

Ash New - Organic Account Executive

Author: Ash New - Organic Account Executive

Ash recently joined Total Media to focus on technical SEO and CRO as an Organic Account Executive but has previously worked both client and agency side across a broad range of marketing channels and sectors. He studied consumer psychology at The University of Reading and is excited to be able to put this to work on Total Media’s clients.