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.
In what follows we’ll describe our research and our work with companies—to our knowledge, the first to show direct, robust links among specific emotional motivators, a firm’s actions to leverage them, consumer behavior, and business outcomes.
Defining Emotional Motivators
Our research stemmed from our frustration that companies we worked with knew customers’ emotions were important but couldn’t figure out a consistent way to define them, connect with them, and link them to results. We soon discovered that there was no standard lexicon of emotions, and so eight years ago we set out to create one, working with experts and surveying anthropological and social science research. We ultimately assembled a list of more than 300 emotional motivators. We consider customers to be emotionally connected with a brand when it aligns with their motivations and helps them fulfill deep, often unconscious, desires. Important emotional motivators include desires to “stand out from the crowd,” “have confidence in the future,” and “enjoy a sense of well-being,” to name just a few.
Identifying and measuring emotional motivators is complicated, because customers themselves may not even be aware of them. These sentiments are typically different from what customers say are the reasons they make brand choices and from the terms they use to describe their emotional responses to particular brands. What’s more, as we’ll discuss, emotional connections with products are neither uniform nor constant; they vary by industry, brand, touchpoint, and the customer’s position in the decision journey….
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