Over the past two decades, emotions have risen in prominence within marketing. No longer was it enough to prioritize features, run promotions or come up with clever ads. In order to thrive, brands needed to figure out the emotions of their customers. But emotions aren’t enough. The most successful brands must build a meaningful brand relationship.
The Focus on Emotions
As with any change, it was slow. First, it was about understanding why people buy so that we could manipulate them into buying more. Eventually, the industry moved toward recognizing the importance of empathy as a tool to delivering a better experience. We believed if we understood them better, we could design a better frozen dinner. Market researchers developed more emotional methodologies. Customers cried as they shared their stories about choosing a family car. Neuroscientists joined the fun and mapped the pathways in the brain when watching a TV commercial.
Make them cry, laugh, happy. Brand managers wanted to own emotions in their market place. They wanted to trigger emotions in their customers. In some cases, they simply showed people being emotional. Like the Tin-Man in Oz, they just want their customers to FEEL something. Anything.
The industry deepened its grasp of emotions within a consumer landscape but it stopped there. We identified consumer emotions and then we poked them hoping we could make them cry, laugh or smile. This strategy works to an extent. Emotions make things memorable. We seek out emotional experiences for the same reason we seek out candy: it tastes great and makes us feel good. Candy, and emotions, garner a response and brand managers measure response. But if we continue to push that button, the button stops working. Customers ask us to stop telling them how they should feel.
Relationships are King
Emotions shouldn’t be the goal. Emotions are catalysts and components to something far more profitable: a rich, meaningful brand relationship.
This sounds obvious because it is. Human beings are social animals. We live in families, tribes and communities. Creating a relationship between a human being and a product or service is less obvious. It’s also less prioritized because we can inspire and measure emotions immediately but brand relationships are a long-term play. They require trust at the most basic level and sacrifice for the consumer’s benefit. As they deepen, they become more intimate. The brand achieves intimacy when it knows them and they know the brand beyond the transaction. To be honest, it can all feel a bit unstructured and messy because relationships are a bit unstructured and messy (if you’ve ever had a roommate, you know this first hand).
Creating a Meaningful Brand Relationship
Though relationships will almost always be messy, they don’t have to be unstructured. And they don’t necessarily require “the talk” when you both decide you’re going steady. Getting there requires investment in the following components:
- Build trust by demonstrating competence, integrity and reliability
- Show empathy by listening and responding, not surveying and auto-responding.
- Show commitment by going above and beyond the sale
- Establish respect as it relates to power within the relationship
- Be transparent and communicate openly and honestly
- Work towards intimacy by taking risks that expose your vulnerabilities and demonstrating your ability to manage theirs as well.
- Live your values with authenticity and it will inspire them to do the same
Using these components and the right knowledge, guidance and experience, a brand can establish and maintain consumer relationships that last a life time.