Regardless of how many consumer reports you read, the numbers you crunch, or the analysis you conduct when making a purchase, in the end, your emotional response to an item plays a much larger role than many of us would care to admit. We all like to think we’re rational human beings, but every buying decision we have ever made has been triggered much more by emotion than by reason. This is particularly true of the choices we make during stressful times — like a global pandemic. Take last spring for example.
Industry leaders attempted to predict whether people would buy more junk food or healthy food during COVID-19. Chris Kempczinski, the CEO of McDonald’s believed it would be the former, while Alan Jope, Unilever’s CEO, was confident the result would be the latter.
Surprisingly, both executives ended up being right.
This can be explained by emotional theory. Throughout 2020, there were two powerful emotions: avoidance and fear.The infectious disease itself triggered avoidance, and fear made things feel out of control. As a result, we gravitated toward familiar products. Health-conscious consumers doubled down on healthy eating; while those who never put much stock in the “you are what you eat” maxim took advantage of being housebound and wearing elasticized waists 24/7 to indulge in full-time comfort foods.
The crazy conditions of 2020 would be tough to replicate, but what about brands that continue to trigger an emotional connection year after year?In the late 90’s, the ratio between rational and emotional considerations in driving brand preference was about 60%-40% in favor of the rational, according to a published study. Now, the ratio across all categories is closer to an 80%-20% split in favor of emotional ties over rational appeals.That’s a huge swing over a quarter century, and one that doesn’t seem to be coming to an end anytime soon.
What does that mean for modern brands trying to get a foothold in an already crowded e-Commerce marketplace? It means that fostering an emotional connection to your brand should no longer be viewed as a byproduct of good marketing but a primary focus of great branding.
Here are 5 strategies to implement that can help foster a genuine emotional connection and engender lasting brand loyalty.
Strategy #1: Know Your Customers
Brands need to ensure they are spending enough time thinking about the emotional drivers behind each stage of the customer journey. The goal is to get a sense of how it feels to be that customer, in this experience, so that you can get a better understanding of what marketing and service messages resonate. The more your communications are aligned with the needs and behaviors of your prospects and customers, the more effective they become.
And the single most important thing a brand can do? Make customers feel valued and listened to by demonstrating you know them.Better marketing starts with the appropriate insights into the prospect and customer base. Using persona-specific campaigns based on data that is culled from behavioral data, habitual data, and preferential data, brands can market using messages, imagery and channelization that speak to the individual consumer, and not to the masses. For example, if this is an anxious, cautious B2B buyer, present them with a case study demonstrating results or testimonials from existing clients of how they have received an increase in ROI. If it’s an excited, early adopter, tell them how smart they are for being on the leading edge of the technology. Ultimately, the goal is to address their emotional needs throughout the journey.
This may sound simple at the outset, but with today’s diverse consumer base, it’s much more challenging than one might initially think. How do you connect with ALL of your audience, when your audience is diverse? What do you do when something that connects with one customer persona is meaningless to another? These divides aren’t just demographic in nature either. Connecting with a potential customer is much different from connecting with an established customer. The same applies when dealing with an unhappy customer vs. one that has had good experiences with your audience. Your focus must be on pleasing customers in all phases of the buyer journey, and to do that, you must have the clear and present, single-customer view that only a data driven platform like FiO’s Insight Marketing Platform (IMP) can provide.With a tool like FiO’s IMP, you’re able to:
- Use customer journey mapping to identify places where you can best make emotional connections.
- Look for points of friction and frustration as well as places to provide more personalized service.
- Create content that addresses customers in all stages of the sales funnel.
- Identify common values, goals, and concerns through small-batch, smart segmentation.
Strategy #2: Engage Your Customers
The human brain is wired to be drawn into stories. Across times, cultures, and industries, stories bring us together. They activate the emotional centers in our brains and evoke strong emotions. Which is why they’re such powerful tools for creating connections.
Many studies have been conducted on storytelling and how the brain reacts to it. One of the most interesting neurological facts you should remember, though, is the decisive role of mirror neurons. Put simply, mirror neurons make us feel the emotions that we read about or see.
Think about a customer testimonial. In a compelling testimonial, customers read about people who had the same problem as they’re experiencing. They see someone feel the same frustrations. They go through the same process of trying to find solutions.And then—the magic moment—they see how your product or service solved that problem. They see the relief that your company provides to someone just like them. And because of mirror neurons, they feel it, too. They feel the emotions they see in the testimonial.
You can tell stories outside of testimonials, too. You can ask readers in a blog post to imagine themselves in a certain situation and show them how your product or service will guide them to a better situation. Or use images on your website to imply a specific story.Almost any story related to your company will help you build an emotional connection. Funny, happy, or surprising stories are the best, but just about any sequence of events related to your company can be made into a story that gets more emotional reactions than a slew of facts and figures.
Strategy #3: Simplify Your Customers Lives
Most every consumer has experienced a customer service call where they get transferred two or three times, and each new agent ask for the same basic information. There are now dozens of ways businesses can engage and interact with their customers. The increase in channel options can only increase the potential number of handoffs and ultimately frustration. For example, a customer may initiate contact via a mobile device, and then get a message to “enter the full site”. This tells the customer that not everything is included on the optimized mobile site – a huge omnichannel fail. The next step will be to come back later using a desktop to fill in any issue details via an online form. Or even worse, the customer can’t get their answer resolved online and is forced to call a live agent for a one-on-one consultation.
Companies need to make sure the customer experience is integrated and not disjointed. Businesses should start by designing experiences that address customers’ needs, emotions, and goals, then figure out what integrated technologies can deliver that experience. A business needs to provide one unified customer experience that spans multiple mobile devices and screens. The experience needs to let customers pause any activity, and be able to resume it at another time, from a different device. Lastly, the experience should be personalized and tailored to the customer’s preferences, habits, and behaviors regardless of channel or platform used to engage with the brand.
A meaningful omnichannel strategy first starts with a solid data management strategy. Make sure 100% of customer interaction and VOC data is captured, along with all customer profile data such as past purchase history, loyalty status, coupon redemption, and website page visits or email opens. The next step is making sure all decision support applications tap into the same data warehouse so real-time engagement can be personalized and predicted messages and offers displayed, no matter what communication channel used. Lastly, analyze your user interface design for each channel and device and make sure it is uniform, consistent, user friendly, and addresses first touch resolution (getting your issue resolved digitally, the first time, in as few touches as possible). To achieve these goals, it’s crucial to have a data platform that enables and encourages a comprehensive data-driven approach, like FiO’s Insight Marketing Platform.
#4 – Anticipate Your Customers Needs
Historically, customer service has always been viewed as being very reactive to customer needs. For example, if the customer has a problem, they must call customer service. Rarely is it the other way around where customer service proactively reaches out to the customer. Anticipating a customer’s needs gives companies an opportunity to provide a WOW experience or fix the problem before it amplifies.
This is where predictive analytics comes in. Predictive analytics is a technology that uses predictive modeling to find the probability or likelihood that a future event will take place such as placing an order or recommending a friend. To predict consumer behavior, one must have lots of historical customer data such as spending patterns, product use, and service interaction history are all important data points to analyze.
Using predictive analytics, marketers and customer service professionals can predict which customers need attention and why. For example, which customers are going to churn? Which customers are likely to renew their subscriptions? Which customers are extremely happy and loyal and have a high probability of accepting a cross-sell offer if presented? To do this, marketing and service must come together, and tap into the goldmine of data stored in a robust CRM system like FiO’s Insight Marketing Platform. One example is those customers who haven’t logged into your online store in a while, or even submit a “forgot password” request. This group of customers need to be put on a nurturing campaign and shown some proactive, one-on-one personal attention. Another example is a customer who puts an item in their cart, and then deletes the item. This could trigger a video chat to pop open, so a customer care advocate can help the customer find something better suited for their needs. In addition, by using data from customer interactions, businesses can predict and deliver increasingly relevant communications, content, and offers. Marketers also can dive deeper into customer behavior by examining how often a consumer returns to a website and tracking the page that prompted him or her to pick up the phone.
#5 – Reward Your Customers
Companies like Apple, Nike, Southwest, and Zappos have mastered the art of making customers feel connected to their brands. These well-loved brands have structured their experiences around meaningful, emotion-driven marketing triggers that build trust, loyalty, and advocacy. They have created a value proposition that is not solely reliant on a discount, but rather on one that fulfills customer needs, makes customers feel recognized and valued, and engages them through relevant and personalized experiences.
For example, take the Nike+ online community which is made up of loyal Nike running shoe customers. This community makes consumers feel a sense of belonging as well as friendly competition (which all athletes love), ultimately driving them to run farther and more often. This is an action that puts some wear and tear into those Nike sneakers causing them to get replaced more often. When the consumer goes to purchase his or her next pair, you bet it will be a Nike purchase. Why? Because the consumer can’t live without his or her Nike+ community which tracks his or her runs, calories burned, and goals achieved on a daily basis – an experience that is hard to replicate.
In today’s reputation economy, brands need to focus on becoming a loyalty brand, and not just a brand with a loyalty program. To achieve this, it’s essential that any loyalty program into which you endeavor is built on a solid platform that enables you to promote, reward, and expand when needed, like FiO’s Customer Loyalty Platform.