It’s no secret that for years salespeople and marketers have been stirring up emotions to encourage customers to donate to good causes or buy from them. Research has even shown that consumers buy on emotion and justify with logic. Instead of building a close, emotional connection, businesses have ignited customer emotions such as fear/FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), sadness, frustration, excitement and hope to make sales. And it works. By pointing out the faults in a customer's current way of doing things, creating a new alternative to make their lives easier or offering something like time-sensitive discounts, the rational decision-making part of a consumer's mind can easily succumb to emotionally charged decisions.
But, with consumers now savvier than ever before, emotional connections and brand intimacy are not only encouraged, they’re expected. Let’s explore what brand intimacy is, the benefits of it and how to create an emotional connection with your customers.
Brand intimacy is a phrase used to describe a deep emotional connection between a business and its customers. The aim of brand intimacy is to create a reciprocal bond with emotions behind it. It’s rarely obtained after one experience and is likely to occur only after several positive and meaningful interactions and engagements with a brand.
While this might sound odd or confusing, think about brands that make you feel happy. Whether it’s your friend’s local business, your favourite restaurant or an organisation that produces social media content which seems to really understand you and your needs. Trust is a key component of brand intimacy, and businesses should regularly exceed expectations when it comes to customer service, product or service delivery.
Building and maintaining brand intimacy with your customers has a range of business benefits.
According to research by MBLM, a US marketing agency that specialises in building emotional bonds between businesses and customers, brands with high ‘brand intimacy’ scores grew 9.5% faster than the S&P Global and Fortune 500 companies between 2007–2016. Profit growth was similarly significant, with 19.14% average profit growth throughout the period compared to 4.59% of S&P Global and 15.6% of the Fortune 500. So, not only do businesses that focus on brand intimacy grow quicker, but they also generate profit at a much faster rate.
It’s easy to confuse ‘brand intimacy’ and ‘brand loyalty’, but brand loyalty is often a happy side-effect of doing brand intimacy well. Customers who have a deep emotional bond with your brand are more likely to be loyal to your brand and are unlikely to use a competitor brand. The other benefits of loyal customers are that customers are:
- More likely to refer you organically to their friends, family and colleagues
- Likely to leave positive customer reviews
- Are less price-sensitive and willing to spend more for a premium service
- More likely to purchase additional and repeat products from your brand
- More resilient — less likely to leave after one poor experience.
Not only do brand-loyal customers have plenty of positive attributes in terms of sticking around, but research has also shown that the profitability of selling to an existing or previous customer is 60-70%, while the likelihood of selling to a brand new customer is as low as 5%.
Interestingly, many of these benefits can also influence the purchase decisions of new customers. Organic referrals are an undeniable ‘gold mine’ of leads, costing your company very little to obtain and reducing marketing costs overall. Our research from 2020 has shown that 64% of consumers trust review websites, making the gathering and publishing of reviews, feedback and insights from your customers a simple and effective way to drive future business.
The brand intimacy model was created by the aforementioned MBLM, who created a model that explains the six patterns or markers that help create an emotional connection between a business and its consumers.
The business regularly/always exceeds expectations — superior service, quality and efficacy.
The business reflects an aspirational image, values and beliefs that resonate deeply with the customer. [Side note: our previous research has shown that 55% of consumers are influenced by a business’s brand values when deciding whether to buy from them.]
The customer ‘becomes better’ through the use of the brand — smarter, more capable, more connected.
The customer ingrains the brand into their daily actions, becoming a vitally important part of daily existence.
A brand that the customer has perhaps grown up with — the customer has warm, poignant feelings associated with the brand.
A close relationship centred around moments of gratification that can be either occasional or frequent.
The model goes on to suggest that there are three stages of bonding between an organisation and its customers:
This stage describes instances when the brand and the consumer engage and interact. Knowledge is shared and the person is informed about what the brand is about, and sometimes vice versa. At this stage, reciprocity and assurance are key.
The next step is bonding. This is when an attachment is created and the relationship between a consumer and a brand becomes more significant and committed. This is a stage of acceptance, where trust is established.
Finally, fusing. This is when a person and a brand are linked and co-identify. In this stage, the identities of the person and the brand begin to merge and become a mutual realisation and expression.
Now we understand the benefits and stages of creating an emotional connection with your customers, let’s look at some real-world examples of how you can put this into practice. If you’re stuck, think about the ways in which you, as an individual, create and build relationships with others — this is often through listening, bonding, communication and kindness. Building a relationship between your customers and your business should be built on the same foundation as this.
Hopefully, this is already a part of your business practice, but kindness, empathy and compassion go a long way when building a relationship. Lend a listening ear, lead with kindness and understanding with all of your customer service efforts and create simple and helpful solutions. You need to ensure that your customer service team is genuinely invested in the happiness of your customers to make this happen.
A great example of this is both Amazon and Slack with their ‘customer-obsessed’ approach to business. Amazon has been rated time and time again for its world-leading customer service and shopper satisfaction, and Slack actively encourages all of its employees to create added customer value at all times.
Instead of creating blanket email blasts, catch-all advertisements and obscure social media posts, communicate authentically. If something goes wrong, be honest, open and transparent with your customers. A great example of this is in June 2021 where an intern accidentally sent out a blank email that said ‘Integration Test Email #1’ to most of their email subscribers by mistake. HBO Max put out an honest statement on Twitter to apologise and explain what happened:
Their honest, humble and supportive reply meant that customer outrage was at a minimum. The incident even started the heartfelt ‘Dear Intern’ trend, where thousands of people shared their own ‘oops’ moments on Twitter.
Similar to the way we maintain friendships in our own lives, regular connections are key. Whether through personalised email marketing, social channel support or being available on the platforms that work for them, give plenty of opportunities for your customers to reach out, and for you to engage back with them.
Easy solutions for this include segmenting your email marketing groups, posting regularly on social media and sharing things like user-generated content (UGC) about your brand on your channels and platforms. This works especially well if your product or service is a one-off or does not need regular re-purchasing, giving you ample opportunities to connect without harassing.
In the same vein as UGC, storytelling is key. Almost all of the six stages of building an emotional bond with your customer involve sharing, reciprocal interactions, storytelling and nostalgia. The best way to create these engagements and deepen the emotional bond is by sharing aspirational and inspirational customer stories regularly.
Finally, use a dedicated CRM (customer relationship manager). A good CRM will keep all customer data in one place, monitor all online interactions, predict shopping habits and help automate much of the bond-building process. As you grow, one-on-one customer interactions will be more difficult to obtain, so using a CRM will help your team to deliver personalised services and unique interactions with each and every customer.
The benefits of creating an emotional connection with your customers can’t be understated. Ultimately, brand intimacy drives sales and referrals, improves your overall brand perception and keeps your customers happy for the long term.
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