Managing Customer Emotions21st November 2020
When companies connect with customers’ emotions, the payoff can be huge. Consider these examples: After a major bank introduced a credit card for Millennials that was designed to inspire emotional connection, use among the segment increased by 70% and new account growth rose by 40%. Within a year of launching products and messaging to maximize emotional connection, a leading household cleaner turned market share losses into double-digit growth. And when a nationwide apparel retailer reoriented its merchandising and customer experience to its most emotionally connected customer segments, same-store sales growth accelerated more than threefold.
Given the enormous opportunity to create new value, companies should pursue emotional connections as a science and a strategy. But for most, building these connections is more guesswork than science. At the end of the day they have little idea what really works and whether their efforts have produced the desired results.
Our research across hundreds of brands in dozens of categories shows that it’s possible to rigorously measure and strategically target the feelings that drive customers’ behavior. We call them “emotional motivators.” They provide a better gauge of customers’ future value to a firm than any other metric, including brand awareness and customer satisfaction, and can be an important new source of growth and profitability.
At the most basic level, any company can begin a structured process of learning about its customers’ emotional motivators and conducting experiments to leverage them, later scaling up from there. At the other end of the spectrum, firms can invest in deep research and big data analytics or engage consultancies with specific expertise. Companies in financial services, retail, health care, and technology are now using a detailed understanding of emotional connection to attract and retain the most valuable customers. The most sophisticated firms are making emotional connection part of a broad strategy that involves every function in the value chain, from product development and marketing to sales and service.
Although brands may be liked or trusted, most fail to align themselves with the emotions that drive their customers’ most profitable behaviors. Some brands by nature have an easier time making such connections, but a company doesn’t have to be born with the emotional DNA of Disney or Apple to succeed. Even a cleaning product or a canned food can forge powerful connections.
The process, in brief, looks like this: Applying big data analytics to detailed customer-data sets, we first identify the emotional motivators for a category’s most valuable customers. High-value automobile customers, for example, might want to “feel a sense of belonging” and “feel a sense of freedom.” Next we use statistical modeling to look at a large number of customers and brands, comparing survey results about people’s emotional motivators with their purchase behavior and identifying spikes in buying that are associated with specific motivators. This reveals which motivators generate the most-profitable customer behaviors in the category. We then quantify the current and potential value of motivators for a given brand and help identify strategies to leverage them.
The model also allows us to compare the value of making strong emotional connections with that of scoring well on standard customer metrics such as satisfaction and brand differentiation, thus highlighting the potential gains from looking beyond traditional measures. We find that customers become more valuable at each step of a predictable “emotional connection pathway” as they transition from (1) being unconnected to (2) being highly satisfied to (3) perceiving brand differentiation to (4) being fully connected.
Although customers exhibit increasing connection at each step, their value increases dramatically when they reach the fourth step: Fully connected customers are 52% more valuable, on average, than those who are just highly satisfied. In fact, their relative value is striking across a variety of metrics, such as purchases and frequency of use.
Emotional motivators for a given brand or industry vary with a person’s position in the customer journey.
In banking, the desire to “feel secure” is a critical motivator when attracting and retaining customers early on. When cross-selling products later, the wish to “succeed in life” becomes more important. To maximize results, companies must align their emotional-connection strategies with their specific customer-engagement objectives acquisition, retention, cross-selling, and so on.
- Target connected customers.
We set out to answer two basic questions: How valuable were the retailer’s fully connected customers, and could the company attract more of them? We used statistical techniques to measure the strength of customers’ emotional connections with the retailer and with its competitors. The process began with surveys to discern how consumers related to key motivators in the category and with analysis to see which motivators best predicted purchase behavior. We then modeled the financial impact of building emotional connections with customers at each step on the pathway from unconnected to fully connected.
Our analysis showed that although fully connected customers constituted just 22% of customers in the category, they accounted for 37% of revenue and they spent, on average, twice as much annually ($400) as highly satisfied customers. Enhancing emotional connection could be a viable growth strategy if the retailer could attract fully connected customers from competitors, transform satisfied customers into fully connected ones, or both.
- Quantify key motivators.
Next, by analyzing tens of thousands of Flourishers across the category, we quantified the impact of more than 40 motivators on the group’s purchasing, spending, loyalty, and advocacy. We identified the most important category motivators—the ones that bore the strongest relationship to purchases and assessed the retailer’s competitive position in each. The financial analysis and modeling showed that further investments to strengthen the customer experience around the desires to “feel a sense of belonging,” “feel a sense of thrill,” and “feel a sense of freedom” the motivators driving category purchase behavior and for which the retailer already had the strongest position were likely to yield the highest ROI. Those motivators therefore became the focus of specific customer-experience investments.
- Optimize investments across functions.
To maximize opportunities from emotional connection, companies must look beyond the marketing department. The retailer examined every function and customer touchpoint to find ways to enhance high-ROI emotional motivators. This brought four major investment areas into focus: stores, online and omnichannel experiences, merchandising, and message targeting.
Merchandise selection, from the broad category level to specific labels, can be optimized to drive emotional connection. The retailer now tracks the purchasing habits of Flourishers nationwide through point-of-sale data collected from hundreds of retailers by independent research companies. By applying the Flourisher segmentation to these POS databases, it has modeled the segment’s purchase behavior across more than 20 product categories and 100 labels and learned which of the approximately 10 competitive retailers these consumers buy from. The resulting insights have exposed gaps in merchandise important to Flourishers, and the retailer is working with its manufacturers to rebalance its mix.
Having identified its Flourisher customers, the retailer can now send them personalized messages designed to resonate with the emotional motivators that drive behavior at each stage of the customer journey. For example, when Flourishers are initially considering the retailer, “having fun” while shopping is paramount. At the point of purchase, “helps me feel creative” emerges as key. Working from such insights, the retailer has developed a series of messages targeting Flourishers and timed according to their position in the journey: A rules engine sends out e-mails tailored to browsing, transacting, and servicing interactions. Response rates to this direct-marketing campaign are 40% to 210% higher than historical averages.
The Management Imperative
Embracing an emotional-connection strategy across the organization requires deep customer insights, analytical capabilities, and, above all, a managerial commitment to align the organization with the new way of thinking. It’s important that marketing not hoard the strategy as “its” domain (although the function can and should use emotional connection to demonstrate the direct financial impact of its spending). Instead, marketing must partner with other functions, teaching and socializing emotional connection. The retailer we profiled now uses emotional connection to drive alignment across the operations management team, the C-suite, and the boardroom. At the outset the CEO identified emotional connection as a strategy to restore profitable growth. The CFO and the chief strategy officer then “sized the financial prize,” leading the heads of marketing, stores, customer experience, and merchandising to collaborate on an integrated strategy.
The advent of big data analytics brings clarity, discipline, and rigor to companies’ long-held desire to connect with the customer emotions that truly matter. Emotional connections no longer have to be a mystery they can be a new source of real competitive advantage and growth.