Customers are more likely to be loyal to a brand if they’ve had a positive emotional connection with it.

According to a Forrester report, emotion is the most important driver behind the customer experience. Additionally, the results of Iterable’s Holiday Shopping Trends survey revealed that 83% of those polled were more likely to purchase from a brand they had an emotional connection with.

Many brands are finding that positive emotional connections are more important to customers than satisfaction. And such connections help brands build relationships with customers — and even allow for the occasional mistake. This article seeks to discover how brands are successfully building those emotional connections with customers.

Claudia Gorelick, associate partner of experience strategy at VSA Partners, told CMSWire that digital strategists and researchers have spent a lot of time mapping out the cognitive experience of the decision-making process online. But they’ve often overlooked the emotional drivers of decision-making, which are as much about emotional connection as they are about rational cognitive criteria.

What Type of Emotional Experiences Do Customers Have?

When people talk about emotions, they’re referring to feelings generated by our brains through a combination of cognitive appraisal and bodily perception. Though there are many feelings most of us consider to be emotions, scientists and psychologists believe there are actually only four basic emotions:

  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Afraid
  • Angry

All other so-called “emotions” are simply variations of these four true emotions.

Some of these emotions and variations are considered positive, such as joy, satisfaction, belonging, security, happiness and contentedness. Others we view as negative, such as anger, fear, contempt, irritation, disgust, sadness, loathing, annoyance. Then there are those that can qualify as either, such as excitement and surprise.

Affinity itself is not an emotion, but rather it’s the emotional connection between a consumer and a brand. It forms the basis of loyalty and comes from a deep understanding of why customers buy from a brand and, more importantly, why they like buying from a brand.

Dmitry Sokhach, founder and digital entrepreneur at Shared Domains, said that the drivers of positive emotion are actually within the customers themselves.

“If a person is looking to make a hedonistic, self-centered purchase, it makes it easier to solicit an emotional response within them,” Sokhach said. “If the purchase is utilitarian, then they probably won't be as susceptible to emotional branding. They are looking for features, instead.”

Emotions can be tricky because they must genuinely reflect the nature of the brand. Sokhach said that when creating an emotional experience, brands must ensure that it’s authentic and aligns with the brand, giving the example of a non-profit soliciting donations.

“To do that in a way that solicits happiness is going to look inauthentic,” he said. “It might even look creepy, and you've turned your branding into something negative for the customer.”

Often, affinity can even be based on negative emotions that resonate because of the nature of the experience. Consider a brand getting donations for displaced families in Ukraine. Although being able to help generally makes a person happy, happiness is not the emotion that such a brand is trying to create.

“In this case, emotional responses of social justice work better,” said Sokhach.

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Emotional Connection Is More Important Than Satisfaction

As far back as 2016, research from the Harvard Business Review indicated that overall customer satisfaction tends to already be high, and is rarely a competitive differentiator. However, the most effective way to reach customers is to move past customer satisfaction and connect with customers on an emotional level, which plays a larger role in fulfilling deeper emotional needs.

Sitecore's recent Brand Authenticity Report similarly revealed that Americans seek deeper, more personal connections with brands. Eighty-six percent of those polled indicated that showing empathy and understanding of what they need in the moment is powerful in building a stronger relationship with a brand.

Art Shaikh, CEO and founder of CircleIt, is in a unique position to discuss his customers’ emotional connections with his brand because his company is built around providing positive emotional connections.

CircleIt is a service that allows people to send cards and videos to their loved ones at a future date — even after the persons who created the card or videos are no longer alive.

According to Shaikh, an emotional connection between brands and customers is much harder to break than a customer’s satisfaction with a product.

“For example, I love my iPhone. But if I stop being satisfied with it, I will happily begin to search for a different phone,” Shaikh said, adding that because he is not emotionally connected to Apple or the iPhone brand, the relationship is solely functional. “However, if you can build a bond with your customer on an emotional level, that is something that will last long term.”

He explained that when he sees members sharing videos of their now-deceased loved ones with their future generations, it’s easy to see the joy connected with that moment. “We get thanked all the time for these types of emotional moments that members associate with our brand.”

How Are Brands Creating Positive Emotional Experiences

According to another Harvard Business Review report entitled The New Science of Customer Emotions, customers are emotionally connected with a brand when the brand aligns with their personal motivations and allows them to fulfill deep desires.

Learning Opportunities

Often, customers don’t know they have these deep desires until they discover a brand's products or services. Shaikh’s CircleIt brand provides this type of experience to customers by offering a way for people to show their love, even after they’ve passed away.

It’s more than solving a problem in customers’ lives, said Shaikh. “When we look at our members, we try to connect with them based on how they view themselves and how they might personally use the technology we have built.”

His brand then amplifies what its members are already doing with the technology, helping others achieve the same outcome — connecting to their loved ones in a more meaningful way.

The methodology of building such an emotional connection, explained Gorelick, is to provide an experience that meets the cognitive and emotional needs of the customer while also providing a sense of belonging, understanding and provocation — done in the right ways.

“We are aware of companies that do this phenomenally well: McDonald’s, Nike, Coca-Cola,” said Gorelick. “They are not selling products; they are selling the emotions those products provide. Nike sells confidence and ambition; McDonald’s is selling community and family.”

Related Article: How AI Is Shaping the Future of Customer Interactions

What Challenges Do Brands Face When Building Emotional Connections?

It’s very challenging for brands to create positive emotional connections with their customers, which, in turn, affect customers’ loyalty to a brand.

Sitecore's report indicated that loyalty is dipping as two-thirds of polled consumers vowed never to shop with a brand again after one poor experience. And only one-third of US consumers describe themselves as "very loyal" to their favorite brand. As such, it’s never been more important to connect deeply with customers.

For some brands, their challenges are more related to their products and services. Shaikh provided the example of life insurance companies that attempt to make an emotional appeal. However, the very nature of needing life insurance is negative, as it’s based on the idea that one will eventually die, which is something everyone is aware of but doesn’t want to think about.

The same issue can occur with technology brands where the messaging has always been centered around ‘problem-solution,’ Shaikh said. “There isn’t a whole lot of emotion you can derive from a ridesharing app, for example, that is easily communicated and relatable.”

Other brands face the challenges they brought upon themselves by losing the trust of their customers — something that is easy to lose and incredibly difficult to win back.

“Social media companies are the best example of trying to build a positive emotional experience, but completely betraying their users’ trust by selling their data to advertisers,” Shaikh said, philosophically adding that without trust, there is no emotional connection, and that is one challenge that exists not just in business, but in life in general.

From Gorelick’s perspective, if brands wish to avoid these negative connections, there are four key steps they should keep in mind:

  1. “Create a consistent message across all channels. Although the approach can be complementary, there needs to be a common underlying experience that drives to the same emotional drivers.”
  2. “Determine the context and place the user at the center of all decisions. The way to create an emotional connection with users is based on multiple factors: the business model of the company, the type of product or service and the type of audience it attracts.”
  3. “Focus on benefits and outcomes over statistics or straight facts.”
  4. “Ensure an integrated approach internally to create a consistent and seamless approach for the user; a lack of coordination internally is visible to the user and creates a fragmented experience.”

Final Thoughts: It’s All About the Emotional Connection

Many brands today understand that positive emotional connections are often more important to customers than satisfaction. Emotional connections help brands build relationships with customers — which in turn create brand loyalty and even allow forgiveness when brands make mistakes.

While some brands can easily build positive emotional connections because of the nature of their business (a toy store), others may find it more challenging to turn a negative (life insurance) into a positive (ensuring that their family will not struggle after they are gone).