Emotional Brand Coding: Expressions Of Strong Digital Brands

The uniquely clear and appealing image of your brand consists of all contact points between itself and the user. The more frequent the contact and powerful the experience, the easier the user learns. Feelings become a turbo boost for that learning.

These contact points happen offline via television spots and online via the brand website, with every contact conveying your reward promise: i.e. what your brand stands for, what it does and how it uniquely and attractively rewards users. You use the same reward promise on- and offline, utilizing digital branding as part of this holistic branding effort.

The signals you use to communicate your reward promise are brand codes.

People all around the world think, feel and act based on culturally-learned meanings: Brand Codes. This happens mostly unconsciously. Some examples include:

  • Gold and diamonds signal permanence and endurance
  • Silver trays, red carpets, Rolls Royce, and the color gold stand for royal and luxurious qualities
  • Feathers and floating fabrics stand for light characteristics
  • Water, ice, and sea breezes stand for freshness
  • Muscles indicate that a thing is powerful

Can we classify codes in order to systematically grasp and form them?

The Three Memory Systems

Our brains decode and store signals in three ways:

  1. What does it look like?
    Our brains process sensory impressions we collect through our senses. Here, we store what something looks like – not, however, what it signifies.
  2. What does it mean?
    We store what the signs and signals stand for: what does Apple’s bitten apple signify? The Mercedes’ star?
  3. When and where did I see it?
    Have I experienced this before? Was I with someone? Our brains store episodic impressions – stories – we connect to brands.

Our brains do not store memories as complete packages. Rather, they codes signals in three ways and store them in different places. Neuroscience, therefore, differentiates three forms of memory:

  • Sensory memory
  • Semantic memory
  • Episodic memory

The Four Brain Signals

Your brand can use the four types of brain signals, which the brain optimally orders, processes, and stores:

  • Sensors (Brand Sensory Codes)
  • Symbols (Brand Symbolic Codes)
  • Stories (Brand Episodic Codes)
  • Language (Brand Semantic Codes)

Sensors – Brand Sensory Codes

Users can see your digital brand; they can hear it, taste it, smell it and touch it. By itself, the color of a website creates different reactions: red excites, blue calms. A site can address all senses – we will come back to this later.

Interpreting senses differs considerably from place to place: Lindt chocolate is softer in Switzerland than elsewhere because they like it that way. Seeing and touching play vital roles in the Arab world – CD Roms, promotional films, and product samples are well-liked. People like to hold what they buy in their own hands in order to examine it. One culture might consider a speaker quiet, in another culture loud. White stands for purity in Germany, but for mourning in China. Blue is loyalty in Austria, indifference in Brazil, quality in Denmark, innocence in Finland and anger in France.

It is impossible to create a dictionary of colors to meanings like we can with different languages. If you utilize colors to talk to users from different cultures, it’s important to clarify what they signify in those cultures.

Core Questions:

  • How does your brand smell?
  • How does it taste?
  • How does it feel to the touch?
  • How does it sound?
  • What does it look like?
  • Does any of this differentiate it from other brands?

Symbols – Brand Symbolic Codes

Symbols are signs that stand in for something else, like Nike’s Swoosh does for the Nike brand. Some symbols and key visuals are understood across cultures like the Marlboro cowboy and the Wild West. Other key images are tied to a cultural space, like the theme of the Alps.

Core Questions:

  • Which symbols are signals for your brand?
  • Do you use any key images/visuals?
  • Are your symbols clearly differentiated from those of other brands?

Language – Brand Episodic Codes

What is said using language, is as important as how it is said. Language should generate feelings like the words love, security, joy, and victory.

Mother tongues evoke stronger emotions than do foreign languages. Even though we may understand a foreign language, it does not speak to us as deeply. Examples: “You can’t beat the feeling” (Coca-Cola), “There is no better way to fly” (Lufthansa) and “In touch with tomorrow” (Toshiba).

Before developing language around a digital brand, the meaning, foreign words, names and the sound of the word should be investigated thoroughly.

Core Questions:

  • What kind of language will you use to talk about your reward promise? (digital brand language)
  • Which one-of-a-kind core terms are you going to use?

Stories – Brand Semantic Codes

Stories are highly effective in proving your brand’s reward promise – success stories, biographical brand stories, stories about the brand’s work and achievements, and stories about satisfied consumers.

Core Questions:

  • Which stories is your strong digital brand going to tell?
  • Who are your heroes?
  • Where does the action take place?
  • What is the conflict your brand will solve?

The Digital Brand Code Book

Your Digital Brand Code Book is where you collect your established digital brand codes:

CodesDimensionsMy strong digital brand









Key images


Core terms

Tone of language, style






The elements of the Digital Brand Code Book

Three Approaches To A Clear Positioning

You can utilize the digital brand codes to clearly illustrate your standpoint and constantly differentiate from the competition. To accomplish this you have three approaches to positioning, that establish your digital brand uniquely in your user’s psyche:

  1. Reward Promise: Your brand clearly differentiates itself from other brands with its reward promise.
  2. Reason Why: You might have a similar reward promise as other brands, but you deliver it differently, e.g. through your special service.
  3. Digital Brand Codes: If you cannot clearly differentiate with your reward promise and reasons why, you can simply develop your own unique digital brand codes

The key to a strong digital brand is charging it with powerful emotions and staging it effectively. The user should be able to have your one-of-a-kind brand experiences along all brand contact points – on- and offline. In this way, your digital brand can secure a solid and uniquely appealing place in the hearts and minds of your users, as well as create pleasing, lasting memories that can be quickly activated.