Branding, and more specifically brand loyalty, are key buzzwords in the business world – whether you are a start-up entrepreneur or the head of a Fortune 500 company. With global ad spending at a record high of half a trillion USD annually, it is important to ask what it is exactly that creates brand loyalty. What drives the often inexplicable love between consumers and a brand (or product)? Human emotion.
The concept of brand loyalty is rooted in a simple principle – repeat customers are more profitable than newly-acquired ones. While the latter will always be key to a business, repeat customers are equated with higher margins, stronger recommendations, and the need for fewer deals and/or offers. This still holds true in 2016, whether you’re helming a start-up or a billion dollar empire – returnees and recommenders will always be your most valuable customers.
However, there have been a lot of changes in the world of branding. Both marketers and consumers are more sophisticated, tech savvy, and conscientious than ever. Customer expectations are at an all-time high, as they wait for brands to earn their loyalty through everything from traditional offers and rewards to unique experiences. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity, and leads to the ultimate question – how do you reach equilibrium between retention and acquisition in the digital age? The answer? Emotional connection, a well captured notion by the Saatchi & Saatchi CEO “Kevin Roberts”.
Everywhere you look, you are bombarded with articles about the digital age. Images of a society over-run with mobile-clenching millennials, devoid of human connection. However, others posit a different theory – in a “post-automated” world, we are actually in need of emotional connections now more than ever. And herein lies unprecedented opportunities for brand loyalty.
Loved brands all have one thing in common – they are emotionally attuned, capable of creating a connection with their consumers, and are premised on the fact that they stand for more than “selling”. Coca-Cola, a marketing and branding giant in its own right, has cemented its brand as the beacon of “happiness” – not sugar-laden carbonated caffeine.
By leveraging on key human emotions such as sensuality, intimacy, and happiness, brands have an opportunity to drive repeat customers – and businesses are taking note. A US survey found that 88% of digital marketers would increase their ad spending on digital campaigns¹ if they believed it would create emotional connections with users (Millward Brown). Entrepreneurs are also heeding this advice, regardless of their product/service. Tony Fadell of Google-acquired Nest Labs is seeking human connection to smart appliances. With brand experience leading the teams that created the first 18 generations of the iPod and first three generations of the iPhone, Fadell is now conquering an entire new domain and has expressed his desire to “create an emotional connection to the smoke detector” – underlying the importance of human emotion, irrespective of the line of business.
Connecting emotionally is even more important in the age of virality. In order for digital campaigns to reach internet fame, they must convey positive emotions. Your consumers must feel something deeper and, more importantly, feel involved in the story.
The desire to emotionally connect seems to be universal, with a 2013 study of consumer behavior in China attesting to that. The study, which involved 22 product categories, found that “emotional factors” were the primary determinant of consumer purchases for over half of the categories presented. The reason is quite simple. While logic leads to conclusions, emotions lead to action – and you want that “action” to close the deal.
Keys to Branding Success
With all the above in mind, there are several keys to achieving branding success in the current marketing landscape.
INSPIRATION: brands must be rooted in creativity and diversity, both of which thrive in an environment that can physically and emotionally inspire all those around it. Creativity and innovation should be embedded not only in the brand, but in the corporate culture that surrounds it. Even more important – make sure your creatives have a seat at the decision-making table.
PARTICIPATION: take a look at brands that are currently thriving and you will notice how participatory their processes are. As connectivity and collaboration become the norm in an increasingly digital age, customers enjoy a participatory environment where they have a front seat to all things related to your brand. Don’t be afraid to bring them into the kitchen!
VISUALIZATION: anywhere you look, you are bombarded by images. From Instagram to infographics, people are increasingly aesthetically-geared, and often process images at rates far faster than text. This is both rooted in biology and exacerbated by social media. With over 50% of the brain’s cortex dedicated to processing images, visualization is key to social media virality.
SPEED: despite the efficiencies of the 21st century, people often feel stretched for time, and appreciate timeliness above all else. This reflects on businesses, as consumers expect speed in everything from production and distribution, to communication.
INTIMACY: brands are simply human relationships – and the strongest relationships are those built on mutual trust and intimacy. The more social your brand is, the more “friends” it has, and the more it cultivates these key relationships, the better it will do. The more empathy, trust, and love that emanates, the greater your return on investment
Remember: for an age that almost always gets criticized for its dependence on technology, it is clear that the human pursuit of emotional connection is still paramount to all.
1 “Emotional Connections Attract Digital Marketers’ Branding Dollars, ” Millward Brown Digital, May 30, 2014.