Ever have a decision to make, like which car to buy, but the comparison is overwhelming? You can compare gas mileage and horsepower, cup holders and legroom, towing power and turning radius, and you can still be confused. Finally, you just go with your gut—I like Ford better than Chevy.

That's how many consumers feel when choosing someone to build a new house. They walk through models, check out dumbwaiters and loggias, hardwood flooring and cappuccino makers in the sitting room, granite countertops, and even talk to references. Differentiating between home features becomes very difficult. In today's world, if you have a unique feature in your home, you can bet someone will copy it in no time. So they go with their gut.

How do you get to be that gut choice?

Many folks think branding is just advertising or a logo. But the heart of developing a strong brand is to understand people's deep-seated motivations, most of which are unconscious, and tap into those motivations in a visceral way. That's really what branding is all about—making a visceral connection with the homeowner, a connection that's so deep, they don't even think about it.

This goes beyond just functional benefits. It gets to people's self-concept. For example, people who unconsciously need to rebel are drawn to brands like Harley-Davidson and Virgin Atlantic. People who have a need to nurture others are drawn to brands like Campbell's soup and Johnson's baby shampoo. If they feel the need to achieve and reach the pinnacle of success, they will be attracted to Nike.

An unconscious attraction manifests itself as a gut feeling. Oh, consumers are good at rationalizing decisions—the price was right; it could be completed on time; I liked the Sub-Zero freezer—but we know there's more to it than that. Are Nikes really so different, feature for feature, from Adidas, Reeboks, or New Balance? Consumers are drawn to brands that share the same values they do, even though they may not the able to explain it directly.

We follow a model that uses 12 archetypes to represent subconscious consumer needs: hero, innocent, rebel, mentor, explorer, magician, caregiver, lover, jester, creator, ruler, and everyman. Archetypal characters have been around for centuries. These characters keep appearing in literature, fairy tales, and films because they represent deep universal human needs.

Archetypes help us understand how a brand fills an emotional need in a way that may be difficult to articulate any other way. They also provide guidance to those who must develop communications, identify sponsorship opportunities, and create new offerings. So, while Virgin Atlantic could generate a list of adjectives that describe its brand—iconoclastic, crusading, rebellious, and charismatic—if you say Virgin Atlantic is Robin Hood, the image becomes much clearer.

We all have all these archetypal needs to different degrees. That's why they are universal. So you can't go wrong appealing to one of the archetypal needs. After all, Nike didn't create the need to achieve. Victoria's Secret didn't invent the need for sensual attraction, and Jeep didn't create the need to explore. They all tapped into these needs that are hard-wired as part of the human psyche.

When a brand is associated with a deep emotional benefit, it becomes a much stronger brand because it is more difficult for competitors to usurp that position in the consumer's mind. Functional benefits—vaulted ceilings, lower price, copper downspouts, latest technology gadgets—are easy things for competitors to copy.

Choose an archetype, then ask what you can do with your product design, service, building process, and communications to better deliver on the benefit. You'll find a number of things you can do to foster a stronger, more emotionally connected image that will create that gut feeling. It won't overcome a 40 percent price differential, and it's not a substitute for a strong business model. But when the choices are similar for the consumer, you will win. So, what is your company's archetype? What universal emotional need does your brand fill?

Rick Stone is senior vice president and chief brand strategist at Madison, Wis.-based consultancy Lindsay, Stone & Briggs.