Why should a brand seek to emotionally engage its customers?Written by Guy Hepplewhite
In a recent report from business outsourcing company CCI Global, it was claimed that a consumer’s interest in a specific brand is driven by affinity and an emotional connection. However, as a study by Forbes found that just seven per cent of millennial consumers identify themselves as being loyal to the brands they buy from, it seems that many companies could benefit from doing more to strike a connection with their target audiences, especially our younger ones.
What is customer engagement?
Customer engagement refers to a company's interaction with customers through all channels. Effective engagement often relies on brands establishing a strong theme and tone that resonates with their target audience.
Brands can reach out to consumers through a variety of channels to help build a strong connection that extends beyond transactional relationships and helps them to connect with their customer base. Ultimately, this can make the difference between stimulating loyalty to one’s own brand or seeing your consumers develop preference for the competition. In short, it's well worth making the effort.
What factors drive and influence customer engagement?
Establishing a connection with your target audience isn’t a one size fits all process. Instead, a variety of factors can encourage a natural sense of engagement between brand and customer. Even if you're successful in reaching out to your audience, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll need to adapt and hone your approach to ensure it’s just as effective later down the line.
For customer engagement to be successful, you should consider:
- The value of emotion
It’s easy to disregard the impact of a customer’s emotional attachment to a brand, but an emotionally engaged consumer is more likely to stay loyal and return for future purchases. If they’ve been loyal to your brand for a long time and have friends or family members with similar views, tastes and interests, the power of advocacy and word of mouth amongst those one trusts may well lead others in their social circle to your business.
A study by the Harvard Business Review found value in an emotional connection between a consumer and the brands they’re interested in. Its findings suggested that 52 per cent of customers that were highly satisfied with the experience of a brand were also fully connected with the brand and could easily differentiate what made it superior to other competitor brands of a similar nature.
- The customer journey
It’s important for brands to map the journey of their customers at a selection of relevant touchpoints, and to bear in mind how customers feel throughout the process. In the 2018 Paypers Payment Methods Report, it was suggested that nearly 70 per cent of millennials enjoy a feeling of excitement when adding an item to their online shopping basket. The introduction of saved items or watch lists on ecommerce websites like Amazon capitalised on this feeling, as it meant that customers could put items to one side and feel a similar level of joy if they choose to buy them later.
Additionally, some online shops have looked at the potential drop in excitement that could come from the frustration created when they see their total bill and having postage charges added on, with the Paypers Payment Methods Report stating that one in five millennials cancel orders due to a sudden feeling of guilt. However, what could be perceived as a negative can be turned into a positive by a clever brand. The report suggests that 20 per cent of millennials will lose this potential feeling of guilt if they’re given an alternative payment method, so services like PayPal Credit and Klarna have found an opportunity to capitalise.
- Your brand's truth and meaning
As specialists in brand communications, it’s our job to unearth the brand truth, use that to define a brand’s meaning, and have that inspire a truly compelling story - before finding the most effective channels to tell that story through.
For best results, a brand story must stay relevant over the long term – so, it’s important for businesses to focus on creating a futureproof narrative that retains the trust of consumers. A brand story must also be creatively and operationally consistent at every level. When done correctly, a brand with longevity will promote trust, positivity and reassurance among the people that matter. Why? Because the brand stands for something and, over time, that something resonates and connects at a deeper level.
- New and innovative ways to appeal to customers
Finding new and different ways to appeal to customers can be crucial when it comes to forming a strong connection. For example, in the case of clothing companies like ASOS and Very, a variety of payment methods such as buy now, pay later payment plans helped consumers that couldn’t afford the products they wanted from being deterred from buying them.
Another way to engage consumers is to arrange exclusive events to build the excitement around the release of a new product. You could also carry out employee engagement training to check that staff members are handling the needs of their customers in a correct way and, in the case of Apple’s Genius programme, in ways that (a) reflect and amplify their own brand values whilst (b) further differentiating themselves from others. Engagement comes from within.
- Be responsive, not invasive
There’s a fine line between responding to the wants and needs of your customers and overstepping the mark by coming across as being too pushy or invasive. Offering the option of speedy communication and having access to information regarding a customer’s past purchases and likely interests will help to improve the customer experience and strengthen the emotional bond between them and your brand. However, this emotional connection and the trust between both parties is likely to be damaged, if not entirely destroyed, if a customer feels like your business knows too much about them and is under the impression that their privacy has been invaded.
Privacy policies on a vast number of established websites make it clear that some information may be kept to enhance the customer experience. Internet users today typically accept that this will happen. And with Segment’s 2017 Personalisation Report claiming that 71 per cent of consumers are frustrated by a lack of personalisation when it comes to online shopping, this information gathering is something that many customers may welcome with open arms.
It’s also important that data collection works effectively, as the Personalisation Report suggests that an incorrect assessment of a customer’s interests could spark distrust. Among the people polled in the study, 11 per cent said this could lead to them unfollowing a brand on social media platforms, 20 per cent said it may cause them to deter family and friends from using the brand, 23 per cent revealed they would unsubscribe from the brand’s mailing list and 37 per cent said they would be less likely to return to the brand in the future.
So, whilst a brand like Amazon can get it right so often as they use purchase histories to nudge and steer shoppers from one purchase to the next, they can also get it wrong as they take predictive technology to a level that leaves shoppers feeling unnerved and uncomfortable about just how much a retailer knows about them. In short, big brother is getting bigger and, in spite of the convenience, not all consumers feel particularly reassured by that.
How to create engagement
To engage with consumers, you will need to establish what makes your brand unique both in its own style, in a way that’s absolutely reflective of your brand’s values and reason-to-be, and the service or product you provide. It also demands a clear understanding of who your intended audience is – not just when it comes to cold demographics but also their behaviours, influences, opinions, motivations and desires. Once you have reached this point, you can begin to formulate methods of engaging with them on an emotional level.
Ways to do this include:
- define the areas that set your brand apart from competitors
- be clear about what your brand stands for and allow that to inform how it acts, behaves and communicates at every level
- create visually interesting, humorous or distinctive promotions
- conduct surveys and opportunities for customer feedback to gauge what works and what doesn’t
- build a reputation for instant, reliable communication via email and social media platforms
- monitor bounce rate, click through rate, session time and statistics on all relevant areas of your website to identify the best performing areas and areas to improve
- calculate the typical journey of your target audience and work out how you can point them in the direction of your brand
How you drive customer engagement is partly based on the service or product you provide and the most appropriate ways of interacting with your customers. For instance, if your business is an online shop, you could advertise, promote and contact customers directly over social media, but if your target audience is less likely to be on social media platforms, you may need to use more traditional routes to reach out to them, such as physical signage, TV or radio advertising. Every brand is different. So, it follows that the way each brand looks to emotionally connect with their audience needs to be different too. One size most certainly does not fit all.