Brands have the power to inspire, build confidence, make customers feel free or nostalgic - but only if they build sustained and genuine connections. A brand that pops up once or twice, pushing only its agenda, without considering customer needs, isn’t going to have the same impact as a brand that consistently delivers authentic content and understands its audience and what they want.
Customers want to engage with brands who do good, or make them feel good, feel heard — make them feel something. When customers are emotionally invested in a brand, they’re less likely to saunter over to a competing brand. You’ve earned their loyalty and are rewarded with better customer retention.
Don’t believe us? In a 2019 report by Deloitte Digital [PDF], 76% of consumers who consider themselves ‘brand loyal’ said they’ve used the brand for more than four years because of the trust they have in it. So there you have it, investing in building long-term customer relationships is wholly and solely worth it. But the real question is, how are brands building these connections? And what kind of emotional engagement strategies are they employing?
Discovering How Your Customers Feel
Just as with anything brand-related, building emotional connections with customers can be challenging. Finding common ground with the audience and understanding their honest thoughts about your brand can be overwhelming. With so many brands vying for your customers’ attention, how can you ensure you’re able to pinpoint what’s important to them and start building these bonds?
By actively listening.
Listening sounds simple, and it is, but there are a few different ways you’ll want to listen.
1. Social Media
Brands can use social media listening tools to listen to audience conversations. Listening to audience conversations and keeping tabs on keywords surrounding your brand and industry will help you pick up on any questions or issues your audience has around your product.
Social listening can also help brands refine their understanding of the language used by their audience. From there you can figure out how you can connect with them and solve these issues using their language to build a stronger bond.
However, social listening is not the ultimate way to understand consumer thoughts thanks to the 90-9-1 rule. The 90-9-1 rule means we don’t hear from everyone that uses an online platform. 90% of online communities simply lurk and observe and 9% of these people might comment from time to time. The insights that social listening gathers? That comes from just 1% of the total online users.
2. Brand Tracking
The best way to understand how your target audience is reacting to your brand is by getting the answer straight from the horse’s mouth. Brand tracking software enables you to discover if your campaigns have positively or negatively impacted your target audience, and if their associations with your brand match what you are trying to portray.
Brand tracking software provides the ability to zoom in on the audiences that drive your business, meaning you are getting more exact information than just the general population. In addition, you can analyze how your target audience is reacting to competing brands, so you can learn from what they are doing right - and wrong.
3. Google Alerts
Another way to measure brand sentiment is by setting up Google Alerts). You can set up as many alerts as you like around your core product, service, and brand name. You’ll get notified every time someone writes content about you online. This is an easy way to keep on top of news articles written about your brand without scouring the web for results.
Why Do Consumers Crave This Emotional Bond?
We spoke with Dr. Gareth Harvey an Associate Professor of Consumer Psychology at Haute École De Gestion De Genève to get the answer to this question. Harvey says, “there is an evolutionary argument as to why consumers want to form an emotional connection, even with a brand."
“Virtually every model of human motivation, ranging from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to Self Determination Theory, highlights our need for human connection. This is because humans have evolved living in groups, or at least people who lived in a group or society had an evolutionary advantage when it comes to survival. This means that thousands of years later, we still have this innate need to belong to a group, and brands are able to exploit this.”
Brands are more likely to exploit this because consumers actually want it. A study conducted by Forrester reported by The Drum found that human communication increases brand loyalty for 57% of consumers, and 58% of consumers said human communication would increase their likelihood of spending money with a given brand. So brands have an opportunity to expose their personality, build genuine, relatable connections with their audience to increase engagement through human-like communication.
Building Bonds With Authenticity
Authenticity speaks volumes. Consumers are savvy — they can see straight through disingenuous campaigns — your values have got to be aligned with theirs. Your values also have to run deep through your brand, so put surface values in the bin and dig deeper. You can’t just do one campaign and expect emotional engagement for years to come.
It’s the long game with this strategy for sure.
Staying true to your roots, relentlessly and repetitively, helps customers remember a brand and build a personal relationship with it. Guinness has done this well.
Guinness’s slogan is “good things come to those who wait”. The brand’s strongest asset is the aesthetics of the Irish dry stout itself. It’s recognizable from a mile away and their latest advert exploits this.
The advert is in honor of the grand re-opening of pubs in the UK after the latest (and hopefully final!) lockdown period. The advert is simple and true to the brand’s slogan; it’s emotional, well-balanced, genuine, warm, familiar — everything you’d want as a customer of a much-loved brand. The track playing in the background is a modern take on the classic “Always on my mind” and is a sheer joy to watch. It fills viewers with hope, excitement, and nostalgia. They round the ad off nicely with a hefty pledge of £30 million to give pubs a helping hand through the financial turmoil of the last 12 months. Hats off to Guinness, who, in just 40 seconds, made an impactful, emotional return to our lives.
“The Foundation of Emotional Connection is Trust, and the Foundation of Trust is Consistency”
The same 2019 study by Deloitte Digital discovered that the foundation of emotional connection is trust, and the foundation of trust is consistency. The study continues to state that if brands can remain consistently trusted, they stand a better chance of:
✓ Deepening their connections ✓ Gaining forgiveness when they do wrong ✓ Build stronger loyalty
Let’s look at an example of building trust through real-world issues to gain perspective.
Aldi started out as a family-owned supermarket in Germany back in the 90s. It’s now a worldwide brand known for its bargain prices — but it wants to become known for something else: sustainability.
Sustainability is something that Aldi hasn’t just said it will support; the brand has actively taken steps to eliminate plastic packaging. In April 2021, as part of their “greener Easter” campaign, Aldi removed all plastic from their Easter eggs and other confectionery ranges. The plastic-free move saw two million pieces of plastic – or 29 tonnes, removed from the seasonal lines.
Source: The Grocer
They pledge to go further by reducing plastic packaging by 50% by 2025, and the supermarket has already removed plastic over lids from fresh cream, big pot yogurts, and ready-to-drink coffee, which has saved an incredible 34 million pieces of plastic.
Research conducted by IBM and the National Retail Federation [PDF] found almost six in 10 consumers surveyed are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact. The research also highlighted that most consumers fall into two categories, value-driven customers or purpose-driven. With Aldi making a stance on sustainability, this brand falls into both consumer categories, so their sustainability focus is a winning strategy, helping them build cause-related and emotional connections to their audience.
Download the Sustainability Perception Index to discover the brands consumers find most sustainable.
Harvey says that for consumers to remember your brand, it needs to be woven into the most emotive part of your campaign or story “otherwise, there is the risk that consumers might remember the advert and the story – but forget the brand.”
If you want a marketing strategy that builds on emotional connection, there are certain things you have to remember:
Focus on building authentic connections with your audience through your shared values
Take time to listen to your customers and let what they say inform future strategy
Don’t forget, this is a long-term strategy and should be consistent throughout your branding and marketing
There’s no space in the marketplace anymore for a mediocre emotionless brand.