Listen to Your Customer: Brand Keys’ Research on Building Customer Loyalty Through Email

The pandemic changed the paradigm of brand engagement. Post-pandemic, Brand Keys set out to determine what the new marketplace normal looks like and found a simple solution to winning consumer attention: listen to your customers.

As one of the first research groups to focus on customer loyalty, Brand Keys is a global research consultancy that specializes in loyalty. Brand Keys provides analytics and support for brands who want to develop loyalty programs and increase interaction with their product or service.

Mark Johnson, Loyalty360 CEO, spoke with Robert Passikoff, Founder and CEO of Brand Keys, about the company’s recent study on trends in customer loyalty, email marketing, and how to bridge the gap between customer desire and brand delivery.

Effective Engagement Over Email
Brand Keys looks at the ways brands engage with various consumers. To learn more about this engagement, they conducted a study on consumers and company emails. Post-pandemic, companies reevaluated their email marketing campaigns and looked to Brand Keys for analytics.

 “They [brands] were concerned that—since the raison d'être for email is to build relationships—too many emails were destroying relationships,” says Passikoff.

While Brand Keys initially investigated this issue in 2018, the pandemic changed how brands used email marketing, with many drastically increasing the number of emails sent. Knowing a social and economic crisis would drastically shape results, the research company decided to wait until the pandemic ended and the market had time to return to normal before resuming the study.

Brand Keys found that, while the market stabilized, it did not return to the normal from pre-pandemic. “The market normalizing is a different normal, it’s not even a new normal. It’s a weird new normal,” says Passikoff.

What the Research Showed
Brand Keys hoped to determine whether too many emails would negatively affect loyalty toward the brand. Interestingly—while the bulk of brands were negatively impacted—there were a few brands that increased loyalty by sending a lot of emails.

This outcome reinforced Brand Keys’ notion that there is no set number of emails to send. Instead, businesses looking to increase customer experience and engagement need to focus on sending the right kind and number of emails their audience needs. In order to accomplish this goal, Passikoff tells businesses to “listen to your customer.”

What is the Right Kind of Email?
While there is no perfect number of emails to send, Brand Keys’ study did find there are specific kinds of emails that result in positive reactions or negative reactions. The company determined there are three kinds of positive email—Replies, Good News, and New News—and one kind of negative—No News.

  • Replies
    • These emails are the result of a business responding to a message sent by the customer.
    • Consumers react positively when a business responds to their inquiries.
  • Good News
    • These emails offer consumers good news about purchases they made.
    • Companies like Amazon use this kind of email to improve customer experience, offering messages like “You bought this for $19.95, but because the price went down, we saved you $1.95.”
  • New News
    • These emails offer information about new products or services tailored to the consumer’s interests or needs.
    • Companies like Groupon use these emails to show consumers products and services like those they use often, providing new experiences the consumer is interested in.
  • No News
    • These emails are spam. They don’t offer information, products, or services the consumer wants.
The ideal number and kind of email for a brand depends on how many times a consumer wants that brand to reach out and interact with them. Brand Keys’ study found that the consumer is in control. It is easy to press the delete button and remove the email from view.

“But [deleting an email] doesn’t erase it from consumers’ psyche that you were there,” says Passikoff. The email becomes something that continues to affect customer engagement and whether the brand meet consumer expectations for email or fails to meet them.

Customer Loyalty is Emotional
Aside from commodities, how consumers view and behave toward a brand is more emotional than it is rational. Being rational is the price of entry to customer loyalty, but involving and engaging consumers is more than just awareness.

Based on their 2023 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, Brand Keys found that 70% of the values that leverage people to a loyalty perspective are emotional. Satisfaction is about what happened at the last purchase, and consumers have options. If a product or service did not satisfy them, they will find a new one.

Aside from the pandemic upsetting supply chains, emotional decision-making is more important, leverageable, and prevalent than the rational when it comes to brand loyalty. A consumer may be willing to purchase from a different brand when their preferred brand is unavailable, but they will return to their product when it returns to the shelves.

How Personalization Fits into the Customer Experience
From surveying consumers, Brand Keys determined that what brands determine is an important value and what a consumer determines is important do not always line up. Brands must look into what their consumers expect from the values and how well the brand meets those expectations.

Brand Keys calls this the gap between desire and delivery. Brands who research how to fill this gap can calibrate the best way to address their customers’ needs. Effective personalization allows brands to identify the areas of personal concern to the consumer, leading to an increase in customer loyalty.

Brands who effectively engage 95% of their customer base with personalized efforts are awarded with the customer giving them the benefit of the doubt. Loyal customers are six times more likely to give brands space to discover the right kind and number of emails they need to send.

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