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You Can't Buy Emotional Connection on Amazon

When differentiating through intangibles, like lifestyle or values, it’s critical to get them right in the initial stages. In this lesson, learn how to bypass the most common struggles by honing in on the right persona.

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Chapter 1
Thank You!
Erik Huberman
CEO of Hawke Media

In this lesson, learn how to bypass the most common struggles by honing in on the right persona.

Differentiating by Building Emotional Connections

Direct-to-consumer brands have a unique advantage over Amazon because they can form an emotional, one-to-one bond with shoppers. When you’re buying basic utility products, a purchase is purely a transactional exchange: I want X, you sell Y, I’ll pay Z.

Most of the time, customers who buy from direct-to-consumer brands don’t buy purely out of necessity — they often buy just because they want the product. In these cases, shoppers make purchase decisions emotionally, which is why the brands they like win.

Like most things you can’t see, it’s hard to bottle and sell emotional appeal. That’s why for direct-to-consumer brands, marketing goes beyond the tangibles of your product. It’s about marketing via the intangible selling points: your brand story, your values, the people behind your brand, causes you support, or interesting content.

Working with brands of all sizes and across all verticals, from Red Bull to Hum Nutrition, I’ve seen just how much communicating these emotional selling points in the right way can propel businesses forward.

Finding the Persona that Really Resonates With Your Buyers

Your brand persona is not your target audience, it’s who your target audience wants to be when they buy from you. People don’t buy from brands because they want to be who they currently are: they buy because they feel like they’re going to be a better version of themselves.

I’m buying shampoo because I want to smell better or look better, not because I want to just come out of the shower and be the same person as before I got in. If that’s what I wanted, I would choose whatever generic shampoo or soap I could find.

That’s why campaigns that have focused on “real people” and “being yourself,” while interesting and valuable, don’t have the same kind of long-term impact for a brand as a really defined persona that your customers can aspire to. They lack the specificity of campaigns that really understand their buyers’ aspirations.

So, in order to find the right persona, you have to come at it by thinking about the aspirational identity your customers are seeking.

Use Your Product to Inform Your Persona, Not Define or Limit It

Start with the product you’re selling as your baseline. From there, you can begin to determine what a customer might want to achieve when buying from you.

Take law firms as an example. You generally see law firms are very buttoned-up, they’re kind of cold and boring, but they’re professional. And the reason for that is because, when you’re hiring a lawyer, you don’t want bright colors and excitement. You want to know that it’s going to be professional, calm, and level.

When you buy laundry detergent, that’s where you see characters like the Downy Bear, which gives off a vibe that is cute, fluffy, and comfortable. These are the different ways you think about different products. And then, from there, the best way to establish this persona on a digital basis is to actually fill out that identity with content.

Your Customers Choose You, Not the Other Way Around

Often, new brands pre-determine a target audience and try to create a persona they believe that audience would connect with. But, the smartest brands start with their persona and see who it attracts. An old business partner of mine used to say that your customers choose you, not the other way around.

We worked with one company that created a brand with a very typical archetype, a 25-year old California girl. But their main buyer was middle-aged women in the South. It wasn’t that their original persona was off-base. It’s aspirational. These women apparently want to feel like they’re a cute, southern California girl.

That doesn’t mean they should have changed their brand to be what they thought middle-aged women in the South want to see — these women already identified that this is what they want. They’re buying the product. You should never adjust your persona to suit an unexpected audience — they’re already telling you that they want your brand. It’s about understanding that your market and what you stand for might be very different.

To be successful, brands have to run with the audience that loves them, regardless of expectations. Once you’ve identified that audience, you can find lookalikes.

Make Your Brand a Destination for Discovery

Use content to make your site a destination that encourages people to visit even when they aren’t looking to make a purchase. This gets people to your site more often than a utilitarian “I just need to buy, and your product is efficient.” You don’t want that to be the only time they engage with you because if they do, that’s when Amazon can win.

If all your shoppers do is think, “Oh, I need a pair of shoes” and then they head to your site, sooner or later Amazon is going to sell similar shoes, and you won’t be top-of-mind for that product anymore.

If you make your site a place where they can consume relevant, interesting, and fresh content, if you can create an experience around your products, they’ll come back. Amazon can’t use this strategy because they have no emotional appeal to their “brand.”

This can mean anything from customer photos with your best products to videos or blog posts about the cause your brand supports. Consistently update and post fresh content so that shoppers learn to come back frequently.


  • Establish your persona. Your brand values, story, cause, and content should rest on a persona.
  • Use your product as a foundation. That brand persona should be related to but not limited by your products.
  • Don’t let Amazon eat your lunch. Use your persona to create enticing content that brings shoppers back to your site even when they don’t need to buy anything.
  • You can’t choose your fans. Listen to the audience that loves your brand, even if they’re not who you’d expect.