photo of three girls held up against location where it was originally taken
PHOTO: Anita Jankovic

The average person is estimated to meet upwards of 80,000 people in their lifetime. But of those 80,000 people, how many do you remember? More importantly, how many do you really feel connected to, or loyal towards? Fifty? Ten? One?

By definition, loyalty can only go so far. To be loyal to everyone is to be loyal to no one. So why do we remember certain people more than others, and how do we decide who merits our loyalty?

Related Article: Mastering the Art of Emotional Customer Experience

Emotion Trumps Cost, Ease and Effectiveness

If you’re like most people, you’ll remember those with whom you have the deepest emotional connection, those with whom you share a collective history or experience. The people we’ve built an emotional connection with stay in our memories far longer than any of the other 80,000 people we meet — and the exact same thing is true of brands.

When researchers at Forrester analyzed whether ease, effectiveness or emotion had the biggest impact on customer decision making and brand loyalty, they found that emotive connections won hands down.

Both long-term loyalty and memorability are built through experiences that drive positive emotions — even when that long-term loyalty is misplaced or fundamentally irrational. In fact, my company Clicktale’s research with data professionals suggests that as many as three quarters consider consumers to be “fundamentally irrational” in the way they shop. Clearly, feelings, not facts, are what drive our decisions — a factor that needs to influence the way that brands think about customer loyalty.

As just one example, take supermarket "own-brands." In many cases, we as consumers will pay more for a branded product than a supermarket’s own-brand alternative — even if the own brand is cheaper. What’s even stranger, is in many cases the product being sold is identical, coming from the exact same manufacturer. Despite the identical nature of these products, consumers refuse to shift from their favorite brand. The emotional connection they’ve built with that brand is simply too strong to give up — even if it goes against their better logic and reason.

So what does this mean for marketing professionals? Consumers are irrational so brands should take advantage of them? No.

Related Article: Your Site Visitors Are Completely Irrational: Here's What to Do About It

Reaching an Understanding of Customer Behavior

The key lesson for marketers is that brands need to incorporate emotion-led decisions into the variety of factors that drive customer behavior. Even more importantly, they need to find ways to understand that behavior in order to tweak their approach and build the most memorable experiences in future.

When approaching customers face-to-face, this was far easier for brands to achieve. Whether a retail shop assistant or a sales team closing a deal, the opportunity to interact in person meant that behavioral cues could be identified and incorporated into the process.

Online, this understanding has proved far harder to achieve. Now, brands must examine the behavior of their customers without personal interaction and through the distanced lens of digital platforms.

It’s here that new data sources and analytics technologies have proved important. Through the development of advanced behavioral analytics, marketers and brands are now recapturing the emotive connection they once had with customers. By seeing exactly how customers are browsing and buying online, marketers can tailor their approach to provide experiences that stimulate positive emotions. In some cases, this means making minor tweaks to a customer journey, in others it can mean redesigning a brand’s entire website or mobile app from scratch.

Whatever the changes made, the most important thing is that brands find a way to understand their customers and reconnect with them on an emotional level. This will be the key to creating memorable digital experiences and — by extension — guaranteeing brand loyalty in the long run.