Prop Prop, Fizz Fizz

by Chris Harges | Director of Strategy | Tank

In marketing, as in life, there are two basic appeals: emotional and rational. Traditionally, consumer brands have used emotion to engage with consumers while B2B brands have favored the rational. Lately though, something funny has been happening. B2C brands have been cribbing off the B2B playbook. That’s unusual. And not always a good thing.

The standard B2C marketing model, especially for brands with an aspirational or empowering message, works something like the diagram below.

Emotional messaging is used to draw consumers in. While rational messages may be used to close, the emotions come back into play to nurture loyalty. Big consumer brands like Nike, Patagonia and Harley-Davidson have built deep emotional relationships with their consumers by sticking to simple, compelling and thoroughly emotional brand propositions.

But with the advent of direct-to-consumer disruptor brands like Caspar, Dollar Shave Club and Warby Parker, we began seeing B2C brands leading with a rational message, often two or three of them, generally presented together, often with little illustrations.

In a sense, these brands are using rational messages as emotional messages. They’re selling a populist ideology: we’re disrupting business norms to benefit the consumer. Rational statements about the mechanics of that disruption do double duty as an invitation to a better life through disruption.

In the wake of this rational/emotional disruptor messaging, many non-disruptor brands have adopted the rationalist messaging model. Take the basics brand ADAY. They position themselves as suppliers of technically superior business apparel. Here’s how they make their case:

Or the footwear start-up Nisolo. They have a not-so-differentiated positioning of ethical manufacturing.

In both these cases, the brands are trying to engage consumers by stacking up rational arguments. Yes, the statements are simple and clear. But the just-the-facts delivery is better suited to IKEA instructions than to a consumer brand looking to create lifelong loyalty. This stilted, facts-only approach lacks the emotional connection of brands like Patagonia, Quiksilver or SoulCycle.



Brands like these are in the tradition of Nike, Coca-Cola and Dove. They create demand by spinning emotionally resonant stories. Brands with powerful emotional connections rarely articulate their value proposition point blank. Instead of plodding through a rational case for why consumers should engage, these brands trickle out their appeal through images and ideas that build connections. Like all good storytellers, they “show, don’t tell.”

Unless you’re marketing a disruptor brand whose business model is its primary appeal, you’re making a mistake when you ask your agency to “list value props on the home page.” Despite the current pervasiveness of value props lists, they’re a hollow substitute for compelling, aspirational brand stories.

To build long-term, profitable consumer relationships, stick to the golden rule of consumer branding: Rational messages are transactional. Emotional messages are relational.


Read the first part of this article here.

Read more at Tank Design

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