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Why You Should Build a Prosocial Emotional Brand Identity

03/30/2015 06:20 pm ET | Updated May 30, 2015

Whether deliberately designed or not, every organization has an identity, both tangibly -- that is, in the design and feel of the products and services it brings into the world -- and intangibly -- in the way people relate emotionally to the organization. This takes form in a number of ways; when we talk about branding, positioning, and differentiation, we're discussing organizational identity.

Western and Eastern psychological traditions make a distinction between the individual ego and the social ego. The individual ego is the way we think about ourselves, how we relate to ourselves, the gossip that tends to chatter in our mind as we go through our days. Then there's the social ego, which is what other people think of us, how they regard us, and the feelings we leave with them. If we extend this to an organization, the individual ego graphs effectively to the organizational culture--the way people relate to one another in the organization and especially to the idea of the organization itself, that is, the way the employee regards the brand of the organization she's working for.

We can see this intangible identity by evaluating the way we regard some of the major brands. The difference in emotional connotation between a laptop made by Apple and one made by Dell is staggering: the former is sleek, understated, and emotionally aware, and the latter is robust and utilitarian.

That cuts into high-end goods as well: Ferrari and Tesla both make cars that you might kill for, but only Tesla gives you the feeling that it's making the world better to live in. Identity rests in locations as well: Starbucks has a complex social ego, for it is more upmarket than a deli and more down-market than a posh café, and its ubiquity lends it an array of properties--extremely hip people may not wish to associate with something so common, but the chain's pervasive penetration lends it a comforting familiarity.

This social identity, of course, is most palpable in cases in which you're interacting with people who represent the brand--Trader Joe's, the widely beloved grocer, makes a point of hiring creative, outgoing employees and pays them well. One of the positive outcomes of that prosocial behavior of the organization is the prosocial interactions its employees have with customers, which is very, very good for the company's brand, its social identity, and its overall blueprint.

Take a look at one of Nike's "Find Your Greatness" campaign ads.

"Luck is the last dying wish of those who want to believe that winning can happen by accident. Sweat, on the other hand, is for those who know it's a choice. So decide now because destiny waits for no man." - Nike ad

Nike's strategy to continue to differentiate their brand identity is superb. It focuses on you -- your aspiration -- your struggle -- your life's battle. You don't have to be an athlete to relate to it.

It connects with the consumer on an emotional level.

  • they make it about you
  • they tap into your inner hero
  • they tell a story
  • they focus on feelings vs. facts
  • they create timeless inspiration

Authentic emotional identity of a brand can create lasting customer loyalty because it creates a personal and social relationship with the brand's audience.

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Serial entrepreneur and author Faisal Hoque is the founder of SHADOKA and other companies. Shadoka Enables Entrepreneurship, Growth, and Social Impact. His newest book is "Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability" (McGraw Hill, Spring 2014). His upcoming book is "Survive to Thrive: 27 Practices of Resilient Entrepreneurs, Innovators, and Leaders" (Motivational Press, 2015). Copyright (c) 2015 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved. Follow him on Twitter @faisal_hoque.