We interact with a plethora of brands every day, all of which want to stand out. With increasing customer expectations and only 7%1 of millennials seeing themselves as brand loyalists, generating and sustaining brand loyalty is a huge challenge in today’s marketplace. The latest CCI global report2 showed that brand affinity is the biggest driver of consumer centricity, so how can a brand gain our loyalty and make us emotionally invested?
Emotional engagement is eliciting an emotional response from a customer. This does not have to be at a certain touchpoint in the buyer journey, it can be throughout the overall experience, for example creating a sense of community through customer feedback or being there when your customer needs you by demonstrating empathy.
Several brands seek to engage customers on a personal level through advertising, for example, the heart-warming John Lewis Christmas adverts in the UK bringing joy by reminiscing on childhood, or in Australia, NAB’s “Start Talking To Yourself” campaign encouraging customers to think beyond money and reflect on what they value most in life, examples being a comfortable retirement, spending time with family, and general happiness. Evoking emotion through advertising is proven to be effective – a recent IPA study3 showed that 31% of emotional ad campaigns reported very large business effects after 1-2 years, compared to 16% for rational ads.
Another platform for demonstrating brand values is social media. After a nurse posted a photo of his burnt-out Toyota which had been damaged from rescuing people in the recent Californian wildfires, Toyota was quick to respond to the Instagram post with this comment:
By acknowledging the great efforts of the nurse, understanding his situation and donating a new truck, Toyota established a sense of genuine care for its customers, and a wide audience (considering the post went viral) was touched by this.
The concept of emotion as part of customer experience has existed for some time, and research shows that emotionally connected customers deliver 52%4 more value over and above customers who are highly satisfied but not emotionally connected. Yet, too often brands are undertaking customer journey mapping without considering the emotional state of their customer at each touchpoint. With the proliferation of sales channels and influences, the path to purchase is ever more complex with many emotional factors at play throughout the customer journey. Without the emotional overlay, customer journey maps are simply rational process maps.
These days, the customer journey is more akin to an emotional rollercoaster, particularly among the millennial segment. Research indicates that almost 70%5 of millennials feel excited when adding items to their online basket, and brands such as ASOS have capitalised on this emotional state by creating a ‘saved items’ or ‘wish list’ option to help reduce basket abandonment rates. However, the flipside of feeling excited is the feeling of frustration from high delivery charges, or anxiety and guilt from the sudden realisation of parting with a sizeable amount of cash – one in five millennials abandon purchases due to worries that they will regret it later5. Klarna, which enables customers to try before they buy, has revealed that 20%5 of millennials feel less guilty about a purchase if they are offered a deferred payment option, which in turn may help conversion rates. This high and low in the same buyer journey indicates how customer journeys are increasingly non-linear, which can make it challenging to tap into a customer’s emotional state.
It is all well to say that experiences must engage customers on an emotional level to create brand affinity, but the question is how exactly brands inspire that level of emotion? The truth is that this is different for every brand and it does not have to be a revolutionary experience, but ultimately, companies need to demonstrate values that resonate with their target audience.
I recently attended an event where the Managing Director of NET-A-PORTER, Matthew Woolsey, explained how the luxury e-commerce brand is able to spark excitement among its customer base by hosting invite-only events and launching frequent clothing drops instead of seasonal collections. The events promote a feeling of exclusivity and superiority, making shoppers feel they are part of a members-only club, while the drops show that NET-A-PORTER understands that its customers need to stay ahead of trends. With a variety of tactics rolled out across all its markets, NET-A-PORTER is able to create a sustainable excitement, rather than overpromising and damaging its brand.
Collecting granular data points has certainly made it easier for brands to understand their customer base, however, one approach used to enhance the level of personalisation in the individual experience is through employee engagement, which Aon, an insurance provider, defines as “the level of an employee’s psychological investment in their organization.”6 The rationale is that happy employees create a domino effect to lead to happy customers, a motto that the founder of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, stands by as he notes that “if employees are treated right, they treat the outside world right.”7
Apple’s training programme for its ‘Genius’ staff includes ways to show empathy, understand gestures (e.g. moving in closer equals acceptance), and a list of negative words to not use with customers (e.g. bug or problem).Similarly, former Apple executives founded a delivery service, ‘Enjoy’, which aims to ‘engage with customers’ by offering free delivery and expert help for customers to set up tech products. Enjoy has placed a strong focus on its ‘experts’ who undertake extensive, ‘unparalleled’ training on all the products available within its catalogue.
These brands are training frontline staff to live and breathe the brand values, in hope that they will provide a tailored experience for each customer that builds a connection with them.
It is clear that understanding your customer’s emotional state and building a connection with them can reap positive rewards, yet the challenge remains in how a brand measures this sentiment. Traditional methods, such as follow-up surveys, give us an idea of satisfaction, but this does not always show the honest emotion that the customer felt at a certain touchpoint in the journey. To delve deeper into what is going on in a customer’s head, technology is playing a key role in the ability to monitor raw, real-time emotion.
It is not always positive emotions that companies seek to understand. Walmart recently filed a patent for a shopping cart with a biometric handle that monitors various data from the shopper, including: heart rate, temperature, grip strength and how long it has been since they last grabbed the handle. The retailer hopes that collecting this data may help “identify shoppers in distress”, as a rise or fall in the baseline data alerts a customer service associate to locate the customer. This way, Walmart is taking a proactive approach in helping customers in the moment.
In contrast, ‘Nevermind’ is a psychological thriller video game that uses emotion-sensing and analytics technology to read a player’s facial expressions and change the gameplay based on the player’s emotional state, with the algorithm choosing from: anger, sadness, disgust, fear, joy, surprise, and contempt. By analysing a player’s emotions in real-time, Nevermind is able to map these emotions while the player is still in the journey and adjust gameplay accordingly, keeping the game engaging and unique to each player’s own facial expressions.
While technology may be more accurate for a real-time response, it can be intrusive and not appropriate for all commercial brands. Taking a holistic approach and combining various techniques (including social listening, Net Promoter Score surveys, and immersive consumer research), and cross referencing these insights is likely to provide the most in-depth sense of a customer’s emotional interaction with a brand.
Building Brand Affinity
At the beginning of this post I posed the question: how can brands gain our loyalty and make us emotionally invested? It’s clear that tapping into a customer’s emotional state at various touchpoints in the journey can help build a connection with the customer – whether that’s offering a deferred payment method to offset the feeling of guilt at point of sale, conducting employee engagement training to create happy employees and happy customers, or hosting exclusive events to spark excitement pre-purchase. The way in which brands demonstrate their values and achieve affinity from their customers will vary, but it’s important to note that affinity should not be pursued alone. Other elements of a brand’s customer experience strategy remain incredibly important to stand out in a customer’s mind, from the discovery stage right through to retention. Ensuring that customers see themselves reflected in the brand is a lifelong commitment and needs continuous re-evaluation.