The rational and emotional benefits of brands

None of us like to think our buying decisions are ever influenced by fluffy things like image or brands. If you ask us, we’ll tell you we always make logical, rational decisions based on things like quality, price and availability. Sure, it might be a nice brand of ’thing’ we end up with, but ask us why we bought it and we’ll jump straight to how it’s better quality, lasts longer or is made from much better ingredients. That’s just how we are. We don’t want to be perceived as shallow, book cover readers. And mostly we genuinely think we are not, and only challenge our thinking if really pushed. The truth however is that most of our purchasing decisions are made up of both rational and emotional considerations. Depending on what it is, the choice may be weighted more rational or emotional, but nearly every time our choice is a balance of the two. What this means for product and service owners is that we need to understand what are the rational and emotional benefits of our offer and make sure we leverage both of them when communication to our audience.


To illustrate the point let’s use the well know, modern brand PAYPAL. You all know Paypal right. It’s a payment platform. Paypal helps you pay for things or helps you get paid for things. Sure it does its more, but that’s the basic model.


If I were asked to list a few benefits of Paypal to me, first I’m going to jump straight to the rational benefits:

  • it’s free to set-up
  • it’s available for nearly all online purchase I make
  • it’s simple and easy to use
  • the site rarely crashes (I’ve been using it for ever and not once has it been down)


But there is much more value in the Paypal offer for me if I think a little deeper. On the emotional side:

  • it is trustworthy (important with things that handles my money!)
  • it’s US based. That will mean different things to different people, but for me it’s a plus. No systems are perfect, but the US tends to look out for consumers
  • it is big. So if need to do something more or if I have some questions there will likely be someone I can talk to.
  • it is a successful, growing company so out is nice to be with a winning team that is keeping pace with technology.


So as a package I really like the Paypal brand. It is my payment platform of choice whether buying or selling. And it’s more than just the payment products and services the platform offers. I like the brand and what it stands for. 


The point of this story it to illustrate the that the rational and emotional benefits of brands is real. If you are a brand owner you need to articulate what your rational and emotional benefits are and make sure you flex both of these muscles when communicating your offer. Don’t get stuck on rational benefits only. Depending on what you are selling, that may be only half the story (or less!).

USP explained

USP is a term you may have heard bandied around when discussing marketing and brands. Just another one of those ACRONYMS right. Well kind of. I agree there are lots of useless, complicated ACRONYMS out there most of which I avoid like the plague. But USP is a rarity. It is actually very useful in branding. So let’s break it down. What does USP it stand for?

U= Unique

S= Selling

P = Proposition


So we all know what these words mean individually, so where is the value and insight in such a simple phrase for brands? The killer word in Unique.

What this phrase is asking for is THE (singular) UNIQUE (different to all others) SELLING (the act of..) PROPOSITION (a suggestion you might consider) for your product of service. And why is this so important? Because it makes us critically focus on our offer. The phrase is not interested in all the selling propositions you may have, the top three selling propositions you are proud of or a list of the types of propositions that are valuable to your customers. It wants just one. One that is different from everyone else’s. The one proposition that is going to sell you product or service to your customers when comparing with your completion. And there is a reason why designers, advertisers and marketers want brand and business owners to answer this critical question. Because we are charged with selling your product or service and we need to be single minded with our communication messages so it sticks in your target consumer’s minds. And we need something we can pin down and own!


Examples of rationale USPs are: cheapest, strongest, lightest, fastest, brightest, smallest, prettiest, oldest, tastiest, healthiest, bluest, smelliest, fastest growing, longest lasting.

Examples of emotional USPs are: most authentic, friendliest, most stylish, most trustworthy, most french, happiest, meanest!


It is helpful to contextualise your USP in a phrase. For example.


‘At 10,00 lumens, our bike headlight are the brightest headlights on the market.’  A singular, unique selling proposition for those looking to buy bright bike headlights. If you’re in the market for super bright headlights, you are definitely going to stop and take a look at ours. Whether or not you end up buying them will depend on lots of factors, but the job of getting your attention is done.


Get the idea?


Think about your brand or business. What is your USP? Come up with a list. Firstly make sure that they are true. Then test them versus the ACRONYM. How did you go? Do you have one stand-out that you can own?


Working out you USP is a very important excise and sometimes one that opens your eyes. You must do it. What if you don’t have a USP – your product is just like everyone elses. Say you are an accountant that does tax returns. All the same right? Wrong. You can be the fastest, the cheapest, the most expensive (lots of people choose based on high price!), the expert in cleaning businesses, the most local, the smartest, the only one in your city that speaks Thai!. What-ever it is you need to give your customers a reason to pick you. Find your USP. If it doesn’t yet exist, then build one into your business.  If you are starting a new business, there is no better strategic foundation than starting with your USP.


Logos that last. The key to an enduring logo.

Some logos really pass the test of time. They are strong, ownable and memorable year after year. Others fade away with every new entrant and look tired within a year of launch. If you are assessing some new logo options for your brand or business and you want to pick one that is memorable and enduring (you want it to be memorable and enduring!) then make sure it passes these 3 fundamental logo hurdles.


Make sure:

  1. It is strong without words and in any language. Make sure its shape is unique and memorable.
  2. It works in 2D black & white. Make sure it doesn’t rely on colour, shading, textures and other visual effects to have cut through.
  3. It is identifiable when small or seen from a distance. So when someone only gets half a second to see it, or it is embroidered on the polo shirt of the guy across the room, you still know what it is.


Think Nike, Lacoste, Shell, Lucky Strike, Qantas, WWF, Apple, Target, Volkswagen. Aspire to have a logo like one of these. And maybe a business like theirs too!

5 Logo traps to avoid

If you are trying to come up with a new logo for your business, please try to avoid these traps:


1. Uttering ‘It’s just a logo’

At your peril. That is like saying ‘It’s just my face’ when you meet a new group of people. Sure, what you have to say will be important. But they are looking at your face as you approach and making strong judgments about you with every step. If you look dishevelled, uninterested or nervous then you can expect that’s what they’ll think you are. It’s not ‘just a logo’. It is the face of your business or brand. Make it attractive to your customers.


2. Insisting on a funny image or word play

These can work for sure, but for the right business or brand and then only occasionally. Just because the name or logo is a funny play on words or images DOES NOT necessarily make it a good logo. Open up your mind to as many different ideas as you can think of.


3. Designing a logo that you (and only you) love.

You may be a dentist that LOVES cats. That doesn’t mean you should have a smiling cat for a logo. ‘But I love cat’s’ I hear you say. That’s great… but leave them at the door when designing your logo unless they makes sense for your business and to your customers.


4. Choosing a winning design via a friends & family ballot.

Logo design is not a democracy. Sure, it is good to get feedback from people around that you trust, but you are the one in the driver’s seat. You know your product or service, you know your competition, you know your customers and you know what you want to say about your business. Choosing a great logo is as much a strategic decision as it is creative. You are the boss… not uncle Jim.

5. Getting lazy or ambivalent when forced to make choices.

Do your homework and have a clear set of logo deliverables you will assess options against. The logo that ticks the most boxes wins.



Your logo will be the first visual anyone gets to help them understand what it is that you do. Make sure it is a great piece of communication.

Why your logo is more important than you think

In times gone by people trotted off to the local shops to get what they needed or talked to their friends and neighbours when they wanted to find a lawyer or agent. A business or brand logo was important, but mostly as a re-inforcement to what someone had already learned about the product or service. But today… well, we just don’t get out as much as we used to. We don’t talk with our neighbours as much. And we certainly don’t stroll the shopping malls as much. So what do we do with all our time? We’re online of course. Like it or lament it, we are living more and more online every year.

I’m not here to discuss the pros and cons of this quantum shift in life, rather simply to recognise it and relate it to brands and logos. Does it make a difference in the world of branding? Well yes, it makes a HUGE difference. Without a salesperson or shop-assistant, let alone touching and feeling the product, we still have to makes choices about what we buy and who we engage. So what do we have to go on? Photos, testimonials, reviews. Sure. AND the business or brand image.


  • How does it look to us through the screen?
  • Does it look good?
  • Can I trust it?
  • It is what I’m looking for?


We may never utter these words out loud but we are always thinking them.


Let’s imagine you are shopping online for some dive gear for an upcoming holiday. There are two pairs of dive goggles you are looking at. They look very similar, roughly the same price, roughly the same specifications, both rated 5 star. So what’s left to make the decision? You’ve never dived before. How do you choose? You want to buy them now. There is only one thing left. It’s the brand. Is that really important? Hugely. In the level playing field, comparative shopping, all across the world of the internet we can find plenty of comparable products and services to consider. We don’t just pick the first thing we see. We scope the marketplace quickly and efficiently and check out our options. We collate, filter and then pull the buy trigger.


So how do you make someone like and trust your brand the 3 seconds they are going to consider it online? They are about to spend $59 on a pair of goggles so the decision is not without risk. Well, to start with you give them a strong, unique and appealing brand and logo. That is your point of different. Yes, it is emotional, not rational but don’t underestimate how important emotional benefits are in purchasing behaviour. We like to think we are all sensible and rationale and would never be influenced by something as shallow and emotional as a brand or logo. Surely not!


So if we have done a good job and presented our shopper with an appealing brand and logo, how will they articulate it when they see it. No doubt it will be something like ‘those look good’. Hallelujah… the holy grail of desired consumer responses. ’They look good’. Three little words that will mean the difference of $59 in your banking account or not.

If you are online, your logo is more important than you think. It can be as important as everything else you do to make your product or service great. My advice. Give it some time and respect. It will reward you.

I want a new logo. Should I change?

Changing the logo of your brand or business is big decision that should not be entered into lightly. To change abruptly may disenfranchise existing customers. On the same token, sticking with a poor logo because ‘it been that way for ever’ can be just as damaging for new business. Ask yourself the following questions to see how careful you need to be:
  • What sort of business am I in? Are brands important to my customers and my industry?
  • How long have I had my logo? Do my existing customers identify it with my business?
  • Is my current logo helpful in explaining what we do and how we do it?
  • How different is my logo to my competition? Does it help me stand apart or is it just another generic type logo for my industry
  • How much is my logo used. If I change it will it be an expensive exercise to change everything over to the new logo?
  • Has my business moved on from how it used to be when the current logo was designed? Will our current logo still be relevant in the coming years?
  • If you are planning to moving into new markets, how will you existing logo fair? Will it still work for different nationalities? Does it infringe any trademarks in the new market?
  • If I change the the logo will my customers still know it’s us?


Make sure you ask yourself all of these questions and more before jumping headlong into a new logo. And remember, you don’t only have the choice of old or new. Often the best solution is to ‘evolve’ a logo. Retaining some of the existing equity and adding some new personality. This can be a single step or can be spread over two, three oven more iterations on the way to a final new logo. And don’t forget to tell your customers you are chasing BEFORE you change. In consumer goods this can be a flash or banner on an existing product saying ’great new packaging is coming’. For services businesses maybe a flyer about the exciting change coming. It is hard to win customers, so don’t be lazy and loose them in the change.