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The Impact of Emotional Branding

Furniture World Magazine


Interview with David Blair

The most powerful way for any home furnishings company to define an experience, says David Blair, is in emotional terms.

This installment in Furniture World’s series on advertising presents David Blair’s thoughts about how retailers can attract and serve customers by re-framing their messaging in terms of emotion.

Blair is a brand strategist and founder of Welcome Ideas, LLC, an agency specializing in helping companies determine what they need to say, how to say it, and with whom they should be speaking. He formerly served as Director of Strategic Services at Emisare, a company that has provided strategic and creative leadership to a broad range of clients, including the High Point Market Authority.

Getting Messaging Right

Furniture World asked Blair to explain why the emotional content of branding messages should be a major consideration for retailers. “To get your retail experience right,” he replied, the first step is to define the experience you want to deliver. The most powerful way for any home furnishings company to do this is to define its brand in emotional terms.

In this edition of Furniture World, you will find a number of next big things I believe are worth your attention and consideration.

“Just about every memorable experience people have involves their emotions. That’s why everything you do and say as a retailer should be framed in terms of the delivery of an emotion.

“Most home furnishings brands focus on delivering messages about service and quality,” Blair continued. “These have become cliches that don’t deliver any emotional value. Instead, retailers can benefit by thinking about their brands in terms of words like joyful, happy, cozy, comforted, relieved, inspired, thrilled or secure. These are the kinds of attributes that some of the most successful retail brands inspire.

"Most home furnishings brands focus on delivering messages about service and quality. These have become cliches that don’t deliver any emotional value."

“Once defined, an emotional message that describes what a brand is about can be matched to a targeted group of people.”

Blair explained a process companies can undertake to get a sense of which messages will be effective at motivating certain customer groups. “A 35-year-old man,” he observed, “will most likely be inspired by different emotional messaging than a 50-year-old woman. So, a good way to start to match up a customer group you want to inspire with your messaging is to create wanted posters with each group represented by a picture.”

Create “Most Wanted” Posters

The Customer Wanted posters David Blair describes are similar to those romanticized in the American west, distributed to law enforcement and put on display in post offices, complete with a photo and information to aid in their capture.

“Identify them by age, gender, income and marital status,” he continued. “Do they have children? Do they live in an apartment, a small free-standing home or a large one? In what zip code ranges might they be found? What preferences might they share with their neighbors?

“Avoid making each wanted poster a word cloud or outline. Instead, use photos of real people. Add images of what the customers’ homes might look like. This should give you and your staff a visual sense of who each person is. Additional photos of their neighborhood, family rooms, entertaining areas and outdoor spaces can provide a way to visualize how they live and the context for how your brand will enter into and improve their lives.”

Define Emotional Content

Blair observed that it doesn’t matter if a retailer’s messaging is delivered via digital advertising, strategic placement of billboards, radio, microtargeted direct mail, social media, broadcast TV or programmatic cable advertising. The value of delivering the right emotional brand message to the right target audience cannot be overestimated.

When asked how furniture retailers might choose the best emotional message to deliver to a specific group of customers, he replied, “It has to do with what you believe your target customer wants and what you are comfortable with and capable of delivering. If your messaging is directed to busy professionals, keep in mind that they may view spending the better part of a Saturday morning shopping for furniture as, at best, drudgery, and, at worst, robbing them of their time. Instead, think about how making their path to purchase more effortless, more productive and faster will make them feel, and define that emotion.

“If you are a discount operation, then my advice is to ask yourself, what emotion do customers feel when they get the best possible price? Figure that out, and you can craft a series of messages. An example is ‘Joe’s Discount Furniture, Where You Always Win.’ Then you can build on this theme by adding that the customer wins in every selection, negotiation, delivery, etc. If you’re the discount guy, be the discount guy.

“What positive emotion might a retailer want to convey to a customer with poor credit who is concerned about financing a furniture purchase? Maybe it’s confident, comforted or relieved. Retailers often address the fear of being turned down with advertising messages such as, ‘good credit, bad credit, no problem,’ which positively addresses a potential negative.”

Delivering The Emotion

Once a retailer has a sense of the emotions they want to deliver, it’s time to make a list of media, such as digital advertising, billboards, newspapers, TV and radio. “You are ready,” Blair said, ”to determine, for each platform selected, the best ways to deliver the emotion that defines your brand.

“Bear in mind that it is rare to find a clever headline that works better than a good picture. To the extent that an emotion can be presented visually, it’s usually the best way to go, especially when trying to deliver emotional content in smaller spaces, such as digital ads viewed on mobile devices.

“When text is needed to describe product images, explain what isn’t obvious. For example, if you present a photo of a beautiful traditional sofa with three cushions in a floral print, there’s no need to restate the obvious. If the customer looks at it and doesn’t think it’s beautiful, telling them it’s beautiful isn’t going to change their mind. If they look at it and say, ‘oh yeah, that’s what I’m looking for,’ they don’t need to know it’s a traditional style.

“It’s much better to mention that the sofa is stain resistant and can be placed in a sunlit room without worrying about fading. Orient the copy to convey emotional content, such as, ‘Relax, this sofa is stain-resistant, won’t fade and will give your active family years of comfortable service.’

“Likewise, rather than throwing an available low percentage financing rate at them in big numbers, consider leading with text that reads ‘We have lots of comfortable financing options. Just ask.’ Again, in this example, the messaging is built around delivering an emotion of comfort. Even the call to action should make it easy for them to take the next step. ‘Want to know more? Just call us at 888-888-8888. Want to see it in person? Make an appointment. We’ll tell you everything you want to know. Want more options? Make an appointment with one of our design pros.’”

Move Customers Forward

An important idea to keep in mind at this point in the process is that in addition to just delivering the emotion, retailers need to continue to move customers forward. “Remember, that this is supposed to be a customer journey and you need to get them to the other side of the cash register,” Blair reminded us. “So, the other question to ask yourself after ‘How can I deliver the emotion I want to deliver,’ is ‘How can I get them to the next step, click on a digital ad and go to a website where further engagement and follow up can occur?’”

Is It Working?

“Here’s where retailers need to watch their analytics to determine where things aren’t working,” Blair suggested. “If you’re investing substantial dollars in advertising, getting good exposure but achieving too few website clicks, your advertising messaging isn’t working. Fortunately, the great thing about digital advertising is that you can A/B test different types of messages to determine what works better.

“If you are getting good traffic to your website but people are not taking the next steps that lead to a sale, the problem is with your website. Take a step back and think about creating a website experience that’s more intuitive, straightforward, uncluttered and consistent with the emotional messaging you want to deliver to your most wanted customers.”

Comfortable Example

“Here’s how this might work. Let’s say you’ve decided that your retail furnishings brand is about making customers feel cared for and comforted in every interaction with your business, leading to comfortable living as the end result.”

The Target: “You’ve determined that a key target is married, 35- to 44-years old, has a couple of kids and probably a dog. Their annual household income is in the $150,000 range. Also,” Blair said, “these customers see themselves as people who live a casual, informal lifestyle, and they might start their shopping experience by googling the words, ‘casual furniture near me.’ They assume that the results will match their style preference, unaware that the furniture industry considers casual furniture to be outdoor furniture.”

The Message: “Having invested in the appropriate search term, your targets see your message on the first page just below ads for the national brands. It reads, ‘Casual Furniture for Active Families¬≠—Henry’s Home Furnishings.’ Underneath that, a message of comfort appears in the meta description, something like, ‘Relax, Henry’s is here to make sure you get the right styles at the right prices, delivered to your door and professionally installed.’”

The Result: “The shopper clicks on the ad and is directed to a website that’s easy to navigate and visually pleasing with images of families in comfortable settings, enjoying their homes. Everyone looks relaxed. Kids are playing with toys on the floor and there’s a magazine thrown across a coffee table in a way that reflects the casual perception of their lifestyles.

“As shoppers follow the website journey, there are opportunities to click, chat, call, leave contact information or schedule an appointment with a design associate. Everywhere the navigation is clear, uncluttered, and guides them via images, narrowing their choices along the way. They don’t have to read a lot or figure anything out. They just look at a picture and say, ‘Oh, I like that,’ then click.”

In-Store: “When the shopper engages with sales and customer service people who answer the phone, respond to emails, converse via chat or visit the store, the brand promise of comfort continues. Nobody appears to be rushed or annoyed. Store personnel are trained to under-promise and over-deliver in every small interaction so the process remains comfortable all the way to delivery scheduling and first-time perfect delivery.”


Blair concluded by advising that matching up the customer and the service with the proper messaging is critical. “Messaging can change based on the particular service or audience; however, marketers should consistently deliver the same positive emotion—such as joyful, warm, cozy, comforted, relieved, inspired, thrilled. Then build the whole customer journey around that. One of the best ways for furniture retailers to optimize their customers’ journey is to focus on what they want them to feel and make sure they feel that at every point of contact.

More Ideas From David Blair
  • Search Terms: One of the first things I learned when I started working in the furniture industry is that we don’t sell couches; we sell sofas. But when a customer searches for a sofa, they may be thinking about and do a google search for a big comfy couch. One of the best ways to identify appropriate search terms is to be observant. Write down how your customers describe items when they speak to sales associates.

  • Test Messaging: One of the good things about digital advertising is that messages can be affordably tested. It’s easy to allocate some dollars for different messages and measure the results. If it doesn’t play out, it doesn’t play out.

  • Frequency: It’s important to reach targets as often as you can when they’re not looking for furniture, which is most of the time. When people are ready to purchase, they often start shopping at the store with the most familiar name. It’s the one they drive by all the time, whose name keeps showing up on their social media feeds or when they are searching the internet. If you define a target customer as somebody who eats out frequently, there’s an opportunity to reach them on local restaurant sites or perhaps while driving by local restaurants.

  • Social Media Content Management: Facebook and Instagram are excellent platforms for directing ads to the demographic sets you identify based on location, age and the attributes of followers who interact with your store’s social media platforms. At least some of a retailer’s targeted customer groups—their ideal customers—will always be interested in things they can do to make their home spaces more attractive, livable, fun and usable. Even though customers won’t always be looking to make a major furniture purchase, they may be interested in accessory items, candles, towels, Christmas decorations or other items to make their homes a little nicer. Furniture World readers should continue to use their social media feeds to present followers with solid nuts and bolts of interior decorating and advice relevant to their core assortment. They should also consider addressing all the little items that can be used to simply make followers’ homes a little fresher. This can include promoting other product categories for sale and sharing interesting content from non-competitive resources that are consistent with an emotional feeling associated with their brand messaging.

  • YouTube: Consider purchasing six-second info spots on YouTube videos that fit well with the interests of your target customers. These ads come and go so fast that most people don’t have time to click the skip ads button. It’s a really good way to deliver short emotional messages that give people a good feeling about your brand. Your intention with YouTube advertisements should always be to make them interesting, engaging and creative enough so that people won’t hit the skip ads button. If you want to keep viewers’ attention for 15 seconds, make it worth their while. Just throwing up an ad that reads “Joe’s Furniture President’s Day Sale” won’t necessarily do a lot for you. Good brand-building is about creating relationships, not necessarily being so transactional with people.

  • It’s Not Always About Furniture: The message doesn’t always need to be explicitly about furniture. I work with a car care company in Chapel Hill that sponsors a UNC football coaches show every Monday morning during game season called the ‘Drive Happy Drive of the Game.’ It’s just one of the many things this company does to spread ‘drive happy’ messages to make their most wanted customers feel good about their brand. And it’s an effective alternative to promoting a generic oil change for $39.99. See their very happy Facebook page.

Questions about the branding topics covered in this interview with David Blair can be directed to David care of editor@furninfo.com.

Russell Bienenstock is Editor-in-Chief of Furniture World Magazine, founded 1870. Comments can be directed to him at editor@furninfo.com.