Damon Segal, Co-founder of The Academy of Chief Marketers
This year was always going to prove challenging for brands. Customer expectations have been increasing rapidly for some time now, and even some of the most established brands have experienced mounting pressure when competing in today’s increasingly saturated online marketplace. This is all whilst adapting to the challenges surrounding a shift to omnichannel and the demand for a unique and personalised retail experience.
That said, at the beginning of the year, nobody could have anticipated that a global pandemic would be added to the mix. Not to mention the resulting impact it has had on consumer behaviour, including brand engagement, purchasing decisions and priorities.
For brands, the impact of the last few months has been enormous, and it is clear that some will not survive. The Governor of the Bank of England has stated that in the UK, the economy will not and should not return to its pre-pandemic state, but instead look ahead to the changing business landscape. The implication seems to be that Covid-19 has merely sped up a slew of changes that were inevitably going to happen.
For those who navigate the choppy waters of the current market and strategise a course that takes them to the safety of the new world, the potential opportunities for these brands will be huge.
Which begs the question, how do brands chart that voyage and build a stronger, bigger, more future-proof brand? To which we reply – by focusing on genuine emotional engagement with their customers.
Embedding loyalty to drive customer engagement
Because purchasing behaviours – and with them, marketing – have changed so much in the past few years along with related disciplines like consumer engagement and advertising, we already have substantial evidence of what does and does not work in 2020.
Some of this knowledge, such as the need to create personalised and novel experiences, the need to consider the customer’s experience at every touchpoint and to focus on a genuine omnichannel (rather than merely multi-channel) experience, are now well established with successful brands having been using these practices for some time.
But when non-essential retailers were forced to close during the pandemic, it swiftly became clear that even exciting shops and clever advertising can fail to keep a brand front and centre in its customers’ minds. Faced with a unique crisis, shoppers changed their priorities, their purchasing behaviours and their loyalties – with these changes now predicted to last.
This suggests that brands should now have marketing and branding strategies that focus on embedding loyalty in their customer base, to build resilience in uncertain times. That is not a new message; brands have craved loyalty for decades. But what has changed, in the light of recent research, is the way that brands should now go about securing that loyalty.
Brands must begin by appealing to their customers on an emotional level. After all, emotional messages stay in people’s minds far longer than rational information. If people like your brand, they want to believe your product messages. In fact, 70% of emotionally engaged consumers spend up to two times or more on brands they are loyal to, compared to less than half (49%) of consumers with low emotional engagement.
Making an emotional connection with customers has also been shown to drive higher per person spend, more frequent purchasing, greater and more persistent brand awareness, and more word of mouth recommendations.
Getting emotional – how does it work?
For consumers, emotions play a key role in determining which brands to favour. In other words, emotions drive loyalty. They are not the only driver – emotionally engaged customers still take note of differentiators such as price and convenience – but they are at the heart of customer loyalty, especially medium- to long-term loyalty.
In particular, customers gravitate towards brands that show integrity (e.g. give honesty, consistency, reliability and/or quality of service in return for custom) and which reflect the individual customer’s own values, such as a desire to be seen as fashionable, to stand out, or to promote green or ethical causes.
The challenge for brands lies in proving to customers that they have these qualities because this will elicit emotional responses from their audience. So, how can brands do that?
To elicit emotional engagement from customers, brands must position emotional messaging at every possible touchpoint (because when an emotional connection is at the heart of a brand, its absence becomes glaringly obvious). Perhaps even more important is the need to take a step further and makes the strategy much more effective by making sure that the customer associates emotionally resonant experiences with the brand.
Implementing an emotional branding strategy
Marketers have more data than ever before, and brands are investing in new and exciting tools, like personalisation and artificial intelligence. But even with all of this data and technology, marketers are still just scratching the surface of why their customers behave the way they do.
There is a science behind emotional branding, and it takes a keen understanding of who a brand’s audience is, and what emotion is best to elicit for a response. Through a strategic mix of mediums, marketers can convey their brand identity and vision to emotionally connect with consumers.
Emotional branding takes strategy and is often built on the ‘4 Rs’, namely respect, reciprocate, recognise and reward. Some examples include
- Reward/loyalty scheme that provides benefits that reflect the consumer’s values and interests rather than ‘standard issue’ money-off vouchers. Ideas include donations to charity, experience days or trips, the chance to feature on brand merchandise.
- Case studies/media coverage/PR that shows how a brand has changed a product/service/protocol in response to customer feedback, and case studies/media coverage/PR that demonstrates how the brand ‘lives its values’.
- Personalised offers for loyal and engaged customers. Genuine personalisation means the brand must know and understand its client base, so analytics and the appropriate use of data are a must.
These are just a few of the many tactics brands can take to build emotional connections into their marketing strategies. It is important to note, however, that top brands are already leading the way when it comes to strategising emotional connections with their audiences. Aspiring brands, therefore, must not hesitate. It’s time to act now or else risk being left behind.
It is fair to say that this year has been tougher than expected – even some of the top brands have struggled and many are not out of the woods just yet. But, despite the ongoing ramifications of Covid-19, and the associated uncertainty, a heartening new message is emerging.
Brands who engage with customers on an emotional and authentic level, will be those who sustain and build loyalty during this turbulent time.