Branding 101: It’s All About Eliciting Emotion

What is a brand?

Sure, a name, tagline and logo are important.

But that’s just the beginning.


“Ultimately a brand is a set of values, beliefs, and emotions that live in hearts and minds of consumers,” said Todd Arata, the Senior Vice President of Brand Marketing and Communications for Comcast Cable and leader of the Xfinity brand.

Todd dropped by LIFT Labs PHL to offer lessons he’s learned during his career with startup founders — a group in the unique position of building brands from scratch. Todd offered three questions to help budding founders better determine their brand positioning: What are you creating? How are you creating it? Why does your brand exist?

“People don’t buy what you create, they buy why you create,” said Todd. “Think of it as an onion with the ‘why’ in the middle. If you can’t get to the core  — why you ultimately exist — you’re not going to be around long.”

Harley Davidson has a rebel mindset that entices not only bikers but doctors and accountants who love a weekend ride. Southwest Airlines has a caring vibe — which is why they paint a heart on the bottom of every airplane and allow staff to show off their personalities.

Xfinity is about making connections. To show how he makes the brand’s voice actionable, Todd showed the audience a recent Christmas Xfinity commercial. It features a teen girl upset about spending the holidays at grandma’s house because there’s no connectivity. By the time she arrives, grandma has high-speed internet and X1 TV service. Soon the two were taking selfies together, and the teenager is posting it all on social media. The commercial got to a core notion — connection — and showed how the brand can make it easier for grandma and granddaughter to connect. The lesson for startups is clear: Rather than showcasing product capabilities, the commercial elicits emotion.

“Emotion is incredibly powerful. In anything you market, there is both a functional and emotional truth,” he said.

But, he cautioned, your messaging has to be real.

“The biggest thing to watch out for is authenticity,” he said. “Consumers are very smart. If you start to borrow off faux emotion for the betterment of your brand, people will sniff it out and you will become another company that no one notices.”

“Every action you put forth is a deposit you’re putting into the marketplace that’s shaping that perception and that belief,” said Todd. “It’s about shaping each one of those interactions in a consistent way that consumers can get behind to not only see the value in what you’re trying to do but ultimately the differentiation.”