Customer engagement

Customer loyalty: how emotions build engagement and relationships

Building lasting and emotional connections with customers and consumers: is there any brand that doesn’t strive to achieve it? And it shows: it’s amazing to see how the recognition of emotional value is gaining attention across virtually all customer-facing business activities and in marketing.

This growing attention for emotional value exchanges, the topic of our previous blog post on customer engagement, might seem like a paradox in this data-driven age and makes the growing attention for the emotional dimension all the more amazing. After all, isn’t data about cold science, facts, measurement, hyper-targeting and anything but emotions? We clearly say no: data and emotions are not opposites, well on the contrary!

Data derives its value from the way it is used in an emotional context

That’s the whole beauty of the story. Brands that build lasting emotional connections with consumers know how to use data and combine it with creative so it becomes a true emotional value exchange.

Data derives its value from the way it is used in this emotional context. Here is an example: we are more able to personalize interactions than ever before. And by personalizing the right way we can truly engage consumers in manners that resonate with them. However, data is about much more than personalization and you can also use personalization in an intrusive fashion that misses the consumer context and is more about an inside-out approach than about a deep understanding of what customers like. Data needs understanding. As Wunderman Global Chief Creative Officer, Lincoln Bjorkman, says: data talks, great creative listens.

Data talks great creative listens

Data becomes relevance when it leads to – often unexpected – insights that enable creatives and customer-focused marketers to engage consumers in innovative and authentic ways. Data becomes emotion when it is used to understand emotions and appeals to them. Data becomes loyalty and engagement when emotional connections are built.

Trust and the decline of customer loyalty

Customer loyalty started massively declining during and after the recession of 2008. Trust was broken and, along with the changing behaviour of an increasingly empowered, ‘digital’ and distrusting consumer who lives in an ocean of content and information, customer loyalty kept declining.

Customer loyalty and trust are closely related. As a study (PDF opens) by the ESCP Europe Business School in 2010 stated “The main benefit of trust is customer loyalty, which in turn leads to a longer term relationship, greater share of wallet, and higher advocacy or word-of-mouth”.

When we look at customer engagement, we see those same emotional components. Trust is also one of them. Authenticity is another. At the Advertising Week 2015 debate, moderated by Wunderman’s Julie Rezek and tackled in a previous post, trust and authenticity were often mentioned, among other emotions.

How to deserve trust again

Microsoft’s Marie Huwe was very clear about the role of trust when she asked who has a relationship with somebody they don’t trust?

You have to put the customer in charge of their own information, be transparent and realize that trust is critical when we talk about engagement and building relationships.

he Advertising Week Panel Debate

The Advertising Week Panel Debate

While for Marie Huwe, trust has a lot to do with, among others, respect for data and privacy, she and the other participants emphasized the importance of listening in the trust equation as mentioned in the previous post in this series. Andrew Sherrard said one of the most important ways to build trust and engagement is taking into account the feedback of customers in order to act upon and respond to that feedback.

If people know you really listen and care it adds to trust as there is a sense of empathy, another emotional given that is known to drive engagement.

Paul Berry took trust to the level of advertising and content, wondering how much consumers trust information and communications from brands. On a content level one of the best ways to gauge it is by analyzing how people engage with the content of course. But the question remains: how can you overcome the distrust regarding brand messages and content?

Andrew Sherrard stressed the importance of having a point of view. If consumers know your point of view and what you stand for they also know what to expect which creates a degree of brand personality and aren’t relationships personal to begin with? It’s a topic we covered in a previous blog post on the importance of finding your voice in content marketing.

Engagement, experiences and authenticity

So, we have personality, trust, transparency, empathy and a range of other emotional factors that matter in customer engagement, the ‘new’ customer loyalty and (the) customer experience.

It’s not a coincidence that since customer loyalty started to decline, the attention for engagement and for the customer experience, a ‘practice’ that is even more about emotions, has been rising. The panelists recognized this role of customer experience in the context of trust and transparency. If there are times when, as a brand, you mess up or ‘deliver’ poor customer experience, the role of listening, admitting mistakes and responding in an authentic voice becomes even more important.

Authenticity. It’s the one word we haven’t covered yet. This is what Wikipedia says about the term: authenticity concerns the truthfulness of origins, attributes, commitments, sincerity, devotion, and intentions. Truthful or trustworthy, sincere or transparent, committed or having a voice, devoted or being open for feedback: it’s all highly recognizable looking at what we tackled in this blog post.

At the end of the debate someone from the audience asked how you can set yourself apart if consumers might start becoming a little immune to authenticity. The panelists answered by sharing their views on differentiation, personality, affinity, truly connecting with your customers and a unique value proposition.

Julie Rezek said something important in that regard: you can’t fake authenticity. You can’t indeed. Authenticity is unique, it requires transparency and it’s…authentic.

Still, there are more ways to set yourself apart in the eyes of the consumer and gain trust and loyalty. But that’s for  next blog posts in this customer engagement and loyalty series where the reality of authentic engagement, values, experiences, real-time context, service design, innovation, dynamic content, agility, storytelling and storyliving (not a typo) will enter the scene. So, there’s quite a lot to come your way!

Watch a recording of the panel debate.