3 Ways to Develop Deep, Emotional Connections With Your Target Market


From tn.com: “Mattress buyers are paying mostly for bad TV commercials, retail markups, sales commissions, and wholesaler’s profits.”

I had just bought a mattress a couple months ago, and the frustration was still fresh: how could these mattresses be worth thousands of dollars?

That’s when I saw it on my way to meet friends. It was a small billboard with a simple, blunt, curt message: “Mattress stores are greedy.”

It instantly resonated with me. This company that I had never heard of, Tuft & Needle—a startup that produces high-quality, less expensive mattresses—had just instantly built a deep, emotional connection with me.

The experience prompted me to think once again about a critical marketing question: how can any brand large or small develop deep, instant, emotional connections with their target market?

There are many ways to do this, but let’s look at three ways, using Tuft & Needle as our case study:

1. Touch on a common ethical/moral objection
The reason that I took time to pull over to the side of the road that afternoon was not a Tuft & Needle rational benefit communicated on the billboard. It was purely for emotional reasons.

I was drawn to Tuft & Needle simply because they were touching on my recent frustration with mattress prices. They understood my frustration. They “got” me.

I was fascinated with how powerful the resonance was.

It was as if Tuft & Needle were sitting next to me, listening to my complaint, and sharing in my ethical objection to high mattress prices, which seemed like price-gouging.

스크린샷 2016-01-02 오전 12.48.08

2. Be sensitive to aesthetic style
The second thing that drew me to the Tuft & Needle billboard was the aesthetics. Aesthetics and design trigger the emotional centers of the brain.

As a marketer myself, I’m very sensitive to design quality and style. The Tuft & Needle billboard was minimal and easy to read. But it also reflected recent trends in design that resonate with their target market.

Never underestimate the power of good design, and how it impacts the bottom line.

3. Understand the relationship between rational solutions and emotional solutions
To successfully create strong emotional connections with your target market is critical. But it is critical to remember that when people think about buying your product or service, they always make an emotional decision first (for example, I made a decision to learn more about Tuft & Needle because of the emotional impact), and a rational decision second (when I began to do research on the concrete rational benefits of Tuft & Needle, such a sleep quality and price).

when people think about buying your product or service, they always make an emotional decision first, and a rational decision second.

This phenomenon that people make an emotional decision about a brand first has been shown to be true in multiple studies.

What this means in practical terms is that, yes, you must impact people emotionally. But you must follow that emotional impact with a strong rational justification. It is dangerous to deliver emotional impact that is not backed up later with strong rational justification.

So how do we start the process of building a brand that has emotional impact?

First, you must clearly define your target market personas. Do your homework. Do the research. What kind of emotional impact should you deliver?

To know, you must put yourself in their shoes, understand their needs, wants, and desires, and also be absolutely sure you are solving a real problem for them.

Then you’ll be on your way to impacting people like me like the Tuft & Needle billboard when I stopped to think more about their message.


Three Ways for Brands to get it REALLY RIGHT after you get it REALLY WRONG

The power of making good on a bad brand experience is PROFOUND.

We know this from recent research, which shows that people respond with tremendous good will when a brand gets it REALLY WRONG, and then turns around and gets it REALLY RIGHT.


I recently decided to try something new, and bought a pint of Arctic Zero “Cookie Dough Chip” (which I had never tried before). Unfortunately, for a premium-priced ice cream pint, it was really bad. Almost no cookie dough. And tasteless.

Not a good experience to have when you try a new brand.

I though they might want to know, and I messaged them on their Facebook company page about this experience. Soon thereafter, a representative got right back to me, apologized, and explained that the batch from which I had purchased my pint had problems that could be traced back to a factory mistake.

Facebook - Arctic Zero

OK. Fair enough, I thought. She then asked for my address so that they could make it right with a coupon.

This week I received a hand-written apology along with a coupon for a free pint (see main image).

Everyone knows this to be true: when you make an honest mistake, you should apologize quickly and make it right. This kind of behavior builds tremendous trust and goodwill with family, friends, and neighbors. Interestingly, however, it is no different for a brand — whether consumer or service-oriented.

Arctic Zero impressed me with their integrity, their willingness to completely come clean, and then make sure I had another try at their ice cream.

Let’s learn from Arctic Zero and how they handled this so well, and apply the lessons to our own brands:

THREE WAYS for Brands to get it REALLY RIGHT
after you get it REALLY WRONG



Admittedly, I was a bit frustrated when I messaged the Arctic Zero Faceboook page. But the representative who responded was perfect. She did not mirror my frustration at all. She EMPATHIZED with me, and even mentioned that she also would be unhappy if she had spent money on a pint of premium-priced ice cream that was not good.


Contrary to what I expected, Arctic Zero did not act like a huge, hermetically-sealed corporate structure at all. The representative, Michelle, was very personal and distincly un-corporate as she handled my situation, not only in her response to me on Facebook, but also in the hand-written apology and free coupon.


Arctic Zero reponded quickly to my issue. And within a week, I had a free coupon for another try. And to add to the goodwill, they have massively differentiated themselves from other companies by sending me a hand-written apology, something I have never experienced.

Apply the above three rules to your own company, life, and relationships, and you quite simply cannot go wrong.

Well done, Arctic Zero. You are now very prominently first-of-mind among ice cream companies who ACTUALLY care about your brand experience.













The 10-Minute Brand Manager

Objective: Get quick, daily focus on the core habits of top brands with this quick checklist—in under ten minutes.


“My success, part of it certainly, is that I have focused in on a few things.” — Bill Gates

It’s hard to argue with Bill Gates, and like Gates himself, successful brands focus on one thing: solving problems for optimal clients.

The 10-Minute Brand Manager is designed to help directors of marketing, entrepreneurs, and small companies daily make sure that they are focused on solving problems for their best clients and customers on a daily basis, although you can use it weekly, or even periodically.

Use The 10-Minute Brand Manager to check your focus, tweak your fundamentals, and hone in on exactly what makes your optimal clients really love you: solving their rational problems in emotionally endearing ways.

Good luck and happy managing!




Brand Focus — Optimal Client Burning Problems

If you are not focused daily on solving the specific one or two main problems that your optimal target clients are experiencing, then you might need to re-calibrate Brand Focus.

◻︎  1. FOCUS on client burning problems today. Ask yourself, “who do we really want to work with, and what keeps them up at night?”

◻︎  2. CREATE innovative ways to solve those problems today.

◻︎  3. SOLVE those problems better than the competition today.

Brand Promise — Ponder your commitment to optimal client

Your optimal clients resonate strongly with folks who are clearly committed to helping them solve their problems—that’s your Brand Promise.

◻︎  4. REVIEW your brand promise today. How should you map your day such that it is focused primarily on solving client problems?

◻︎ 5. THINK about your brand promise today. What does it look like, in very practical ways, to keep your brand promise?

◻︎  6. KEEP the brand promise today. Once you have an idea of how to keep the promise, renew your commitment to do it.

Brand Impact — Help your organization keep the brand promise

◻︎  7. HELP colleagues focus on your brand promise today.

◻︎  8. PROMOTE strategies for monitoring how well people in your company keep the promise.

◻︎ 9. ASK your optimal clients and customers if they know your Brand Promise, and if they do, ask them if think your are keeping it.


Be sure to print this out and post it next to your desk for easy reference.

The 10 Minute Brand Audit

Objective: Run your brand through a series of quick diagnostic questions to expose brand blind spots and get more focus—in about ten minutes.


The 10-Minute Brand Audit is a powerful tool that you can use in different ways. However you use it, it helps companies of any size get a quick grip on fundamental, key principles on which successful brands relentlessly focus. You can score yourself, or not, depending on how you use it.

Here are a few suggestions for leveraging the power of the 10-Minute Brand Audit.

1. JUMPSTART A RE-BRAND. Not sure if you need to re-brand? You and the team not on the same page? Try bringing them through The 10-Minute Brand Audit. Discuss at the next meeting. How does everyone score your company? The 10-Minute Brand Audit is one way to help you find some consensus about moving forward brand-wise.

2. THINK ABOUT A NEW BRAND. Starting a company? The 10-minute Brand Audit can help you start thinking now about key fundamental areas on which strong brands are built. Note of caution: it’s dangerous to wait until later to seriously start thinking about your brand.

3. DAILY POWER FOCUS. Try The 10-Minute Brand Audit with your coffee once or twice a week. No need to score if you use it this way. It takes under ten minutes, and it will help you keep your brand focused on a daily basis. Five to ten minutes of daily brand mindfulness goes a long way.

4 PRELUDE TO AN EXTENSIVE BRAND AUDIT. The Ten-Minute Brand Audit can serve as a foundational jumping point into a comprehensive brand audit.

How do you use The 10-Minute Brand Audit?

Please leave any suggestions or ideas for leveraging The 10-Minute Brand Audit in the comments.

And of course,  if you have a question or want to talk more about your brand, go to the footer and drop us a line.

Happy Auditing!



1. PREPARE: Take out a sheet of paper and a pen.
2. ANSWER: Honestly answer the 10 questions below.
3. SCORE: Grade yourself from 1 – 5 on each question according to this breakdown:

5 = absolutely yes
4 = probably yes
3 = maybe
2 = probably no
1 = absolutely no

4. ASSESS: When you’re finished, tally up your “Brand Health Score” at the bottom.

Caution: Honesty is important. Don’t plow forward with your company before being honest about your weaknesses.


OK — let’s get started!

1. Branding 101
Our company clearly understands what a brand is, how “branding” is different from “marketing,” and what is necessary to create a great brand experience.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

2. Key Core Competencies
We know clearly where we naturally, easily, and consistently excel. We avoid products and/or services for which we do not have differentiated core expertise.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

3. Target Market & Competition
We clearly understand the “burning problem” our target market experiences every day, and we are committed to help our target market solve that problem. We understand clearly where our competition is weak (and strong) in our market space, and the opportunities and threats that this creates for us.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

4. Brand Positioning & Brand Promise
We understand the concept of brand positioning, our positioning is clearly articulated, and we actively and regularly review our positioning. Our brand promise is our “true north.” It acts as a guide light for us, and it deeply resonates with our target market. We have a system in place to monitor how well we keep that promise.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

5. Brand Personality
We understand our brand personality, brand archetype,  and story. We apply all to our branding and marketing.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

6. Core Brand Values
We understand our core brand values, and we do not waver from them. They form our DNA and our non-negotiables as a culture.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

7. Marketing Strategy
We understand how branding and marketing are symbiotic, and we have developed a marketing strategy that maximizes this symbiotic relationship.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

8. Design: Quality & Consistency
We understand the power of world-class design, and we get compliments regularly on our visual branding across all media and channels. We are committed to the key competitive advantage of design excellence. Our visual brand across all media—print, web, and mobile—all form a powerful, consistent, and coherent picture of exactly who we are, and what sets our solution apart.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

9. Social Media Branding
We understand how to leverage the power of our brand on social media, and we have a consistent brand footprint across all social media.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

10. Brand Vision-casting
We spend enough time brainstorming, dreaming, and strategizing about what our brand can be and how it can delight people — and how we will make it happen.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5



Now that you’ve gone through the 15 questions, tally your Brand Health Score by adding up scores from all questions.

45 – 50 points  =  90 – 100%


Excellent brand health. You understand well the various building blocks of a strong brand. Rock on!

40 – 45 points  = 80 – 90%

doing good, but…

Good foundation, but there is room for improvement. Think about how to improve areas of lower-scoring questions.

35 – 40 points = 70 – 80%

time to make changes

Be careful. Take some time to look into your lower answers and brush up on branding basics.

30 – 35 points = 60 – 70%

running some red lights

Caution. Your score may indicate some serious blind spots that are causing harm. Time to get help.

Under 30 = 60% and under

huge opportunity to make some real gains

You’re to be commended on being really honest. This could mean that you’re poised to make huge gains if you will invest in some professional help with your company brand.


Congratulations on finishing The 10-Minute Brand Audit!



The 10-minute Branding Dictionary

Objective: Minimize the overwhelm and complexity of branding your business by learning key branding terms—in about ten minutes.

I felt completely overwhelmed as I sat on the floor against a bookcase in Seoul’s Kyobo Bookstore ten years ago, gazing at the mass of books on branding. I knew I needed to help my clients understand how to leverage their brands, but wow—what a challenge it was to sort it all out at the time.

Fast forward over ten years, and I have my own branding methodology that helps my clients effectively focus and reach their ideal customers and clients.

The basic terms you see below are foundational to that methodology. This list is neither exhaustive nor definitive, and entire books have been written about each term, but anyone who wants to understand branding must understand the basic terminology.

Think of this as your online small business branding dictionary. A cheat sheet. A strategic (unfair?) advantage.  Bookmark it and refer to it often. It will be updated on a regular basis.



A BRAND is the way that your ideal customer or client thinks and talks about the sum-total of their experiences with your company. It is not a concrete object, but a way of thinking and talking about you when you are not around.

Note: A brand is not a logo, a business card, an advertisement. These are marketing tools that contain the brand, and deliver the brand to the optimal client or customer.


BRANDING is the management of the delivery of your brand using key marketing tools, like your logo, business card, social media, or website.

Note: the term “branding” is also used more broadly to mean everything related to a company’s marketing and branding, but I define branding more specifically as the verb form of a brand—the action part of a small business brand.


The brand experience is a concrete event, a moment that your ideal client or customer has at one of your many touchpoints, such as a website, social media, or networking event.


The attraction that is created when your ideal customer or client is deeply convinced that you can solve their burning problem better then your competition.


How your brand is mentally perceived by your optimal client in relation to your competition.


A BRAND PROMISE is the BRAND POSITIONING in the form of a commitment. 


Marketing is the activity of managing and creating concrete vehicles that communicate your value (contained in the brand promise) to your optimal clientele. There are many different kinds of marketing tools, from social media, print media, advertising, identity, packaging, etc.


Any number of ways that clients or customers come into contact with your company and experience you as a brand. There are many kinds of touchpoints:  your website, business card, a support call, an email, the corporate identity, uniforms, interior design, color palette, etc. Touchpoints are where the “rubber hits the road.”