Can you feel it? Why brands must focus on emotional connection

Key takeaways

  • With multiple touchpoints, it’s easier than ever to mix up your brand message and confuse customers.
  • Responding to an emotional need is key to building customer loyalty.
  • Brands can use data to discover customer needs, then refine their target and be disciplined in the approach.

When you think about the amount of branded content available to us now, how the number of channels through which we reach it proliferates while the forms of content we use to connect are becoming more diverse… how can marketers know where to aim their fire? Importantly, what to stop doing and where to dial up efforts?

It’s not just other marketing departments that brands are competing against for the attention of the consumer. From citizen journalists to fashion and beauty bloggers to lucrative podcast empires run from a spare bedroom, everyone’s creating content and they’re doing it at exponentially higher rates.

‘Branded content’ has emerged from this seedbed. It’s when businesses create their own types of content to entertain and engage an audience, breed familiarity with their brand, perhaps pull consumers towards further content in order to engage them more and eventually, having gathered all this attention, convert them to customers. But feeding your brand to the masses in this way just won’t satisfy them. Especially not when, after a steady barrage from competitors, they’ve grown wiser and more indifferent to ‘me too’ content.

Emotional connection to branded content is a must

Brands are not only driven by logical considerations – they’re also playing a part in an emotional experience (something I covered in a broader discussion on The CMO Show podcast.)

There’s been much talk around creating an emotional connection with your customer. This doesn’t merely mean to make them ‘like’ your content. It means tapping into an underlying emotional need state that may not be immediately obvious.

Customers who feel a genuine emotional connection with a particular brand generate disproportionate value for that brand. Those who are ‘fully connected’ emotionally are 52% more valuable to brands than customers who are ‘highly satisfied’, reports Harvard Business Review.

We see this proven across categories. Andrex, for example, is one of the UK’s most famous brands. We know it better here as Cottonelle Kleenex, which made its toilet paper famous through advertising and marketing that featured bounding Labradors. It played into the underlying emotion of happiness – who wouldn’t be overjoyed at the sight of a puppy? – and led Andrex to become the UK’s biggest non-food selling brand in a grocery category worth more than £1 billion. Would you ever have thought consumers would be so loyal to toilet paper? I’m regularly surprised by the value to be captured in tapping into the underlying emotional possibilities in what might be thought of as ‘hygiene’ categories… from toilet paper to washing powder (Ariel’s recent ‘Share the Load’ campaign is another winner.)

Brands: refine your target

Emotions can exert a more powerful behavioral effect than purely rational decision-making. If you have a great experience with a brand that activates a core emotional response (make me feel secure, make me feel part of the group, etc) then that will play into building loyalty. When you’re really, truly engaged with a brand and its values then you become an advocate, amplifying the message (through social media, for example). However, with multiple touchpoints it’s easier than ever to mix up your message and confuse customers – thereby dropping the opportunity to connect.

How can brands satiate the range of emotions? They can’t. A gourmet approach is the order of the day. With so many touchpoints to focus on (not just content), marketers have to exercise discipline in the emotional bonds that they pursue.

Content as a tool is, of course, still vitally important. But the focus must be on the connection that’s being sought. For consistency, forget about aiming for a vast pool of customers; instead target a smaller and more defined audience. Discover their underlying motivators (which is where the data play comes in) and select the emotional levers that you want to pull – focusing on just one or two.

When you’ve chosen the emotion your brand is aiming for, the whole organisation can then anchor on it. From content, to customer service, to branding. When your customer’s experience ties in with the emotion that your brand has promised, that’s when you’re well on the way to earning a loyal customer.

Listen to the full podcast of The CMO Show: Philip Otley on the customer experience reel via the player below: