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While the term “customer loyalty” has many broad facets, from personalization to gamification, perhaps nothing is more important to fostering long-lasting customer loyalty than an emotional connection with customers.
Emotional loyalty considers that loyalty is intrinsically bound by customers and their perceived connection to brands. This idea pushes forward the growing notion that brands should strive beyond a simple transaction with customers. After asking various Loyalty360 supplier members for their thoughts on emotional loyalty, this theory is only strengthened after their insightful responses.
Drivers of Emotional Loyalty
Emotional loyalty is a massive undertaking, but how can brands expect to drive and garner customer response?
According to Michelle Wildenauer, SVP, Strategic Services, The Lacek Group, some top drivers include “promotions and offers, earning points for rewards, surprise gifts delivered to members periodically, and a brand’s reputation and values.” Citing data from The Lacek Group’s partner Ogilvy Experience, Wildenauer’s answer shows that customer engagement is critical to cultivating an emotional relationship.
Similarly, Tom Madden, Managing Partner, Loyalty and CRM, says ICF Next has a certified list of key drivers.
“We’ve identified six key drivers of emotional loyalty,” he explains. “Trust, reliability, appreciation, empathy, investment, and shared values.”
Hitting on similar notes as Wildenauer, Madden’s response indicates that brands must be transparent and align themselves with positive values that would make any customer proud to support them.
Interestingly, Sue Frech, CEO of Vesta, points out a critical driver many brands may take for granted: identifying the consumer’s personal preferences, behaviors, and values. This focus on personalization and going deeper with the customer shows an effort to understand them beyond the transaction – something more and more customers have come to expect.
Spotting Emotionally Loyal Customers
While the nature and definition of emotional loyalty may vary from brand to brand – what are some ways marketers can identify emotionally loyal customers?
“Emotionally loyal customers are pretty similar across brands and industries – it is all about the customer feeling connected to the brand,” explains Wildenauer. “It may not even be a conscious connection with the brand, [but] that’s the type of relationship that we would look for regardless of the brand or category.”
This general feeling will apply across every industry, according to Wildenauer, and sometimes it isn’t conscious, but you know it when you see it.
Diving deeper, Madden believes that since emotional loyalty is a deep knowledge and practical understanding of customers individually, brands should look for emotionally loyal customers in data.
“This level of loyalty can be less difficult for certain brands and more difficult for others due to the nature of the products and/or services offered,” Madden says. “Regardless of the brand, it starts with your data and what your brand is (or isn’t) doing with it.”
Of course, there are similar behaviors and traits to look out for to know you’ve hooked in the perfect audience.
“There’s one universal trait of an emotionally loyal customer,” Zsuzsa Kecsmar, CMO and Head of Partnerships for Antavo, shared. “That they stick to their favorite brand no matter what, even if competing businesses are offering better prices or bigger discounts.”
Kate Atty, VP of Marketing for Clutch, also sees interest in aligning customers’ values with a brand’s mission and values.
“For example, customers who seek to uncover a brand’s position on things like sustainability, ethical business practices, and transparency are likely to be more emotionally loyal than those who do not,” she explains. “Customers who will go out of their way to patron brands who represent these ideals, whether this means traveling a further distance, paying a bit more, or even doing something that is slightly less convenient or requires more effort for them – these are all traits that indicate they are customers with a higher likelihood to be emotionally loyal.”
Measuring Emotional Loyalty
In order to create and sustain emotional loyalty with their best customers, brands need to have metrics and benchmarks in place to track and measure progress.
To do this, Wildenauer suggests looking at the total customer relationship and total customer value, and from there, taking a massive look at all measurable elements, resulting in a full view of the customer.
“The Lacek Group has built a proprietary measurement framework that considers both emotional and rational loyalty and goes beyond transactions to understand the lifetime customer value,” she explains, showing that while measurements can be complex and nuanced, a process/partner will help brands to understand the variables and data.
Vesta’s Sue Frech also has some essential methods to measure emotional loyalty.
“[It] can be measured in three ways: intensity, impact, and influence,” she starts. “Discovering brand passion and enthusiasm can be measured through customer feedback surveys and analyzing consumer content, while impact can be measured through long-term purchase behavior, average transaction value, and customer lifetime value, while influence can be measured by the advocacy, word-of-mouth, and UGC that a consumer creates.”
She raises the excellent point that if consumers are genuinely emotionally loyal, they will be eager to share their brand love with those around them, which means that brands’ jobs as marketers are to present them with as many opportunities to do so.
Clutch’s Kate Atty states that metrics can be measured via surveys of customer segments for the most part.
“For example, if you know which of your customers are acting loyal based on how frequently they interact with your brand, you could send them an online survey asking them questions related to their emotions and affinity with your brand, and whether they recommend you (or would recommend you) to others,” they state. “The results of the survey will give you an idea of what percentage of your customers who act loyal actually feel loyal.”
By finding quantifiable, easy ways to measure data, brands can expect to find their true numbers of emotionally connected advocates.
COVID’s Impact on Emotional Loyalty
As with all things business, COVID-19 has put a dent on many plans and has forced every brand across a myriad of industries to adapt, and their emotional loyalty plans are no exception.
For The Lacek Group’s Michelle Wildenauer, their approach to emotional loyalty has changed because consumers have changed – they expect more because they know what is important to them from the pandemic, and their new values carry over to brand interactions.
For Clutch, emotional loyalty is getting increased attention.
“Since much of our time the past 18 months has been spent remotely, and not 1:1, personal connections and memorable experiences have been challenging to create,” Atty admits. “However, the benefits to working on establishing emotional connections between brands and customers are clear, and we have seen many brands shifting their focus from transactional loyalty to emotional loyalty.”
Antavo has seen brands emphasize personalization and experiences – citing early access, members-only events, priority customer service, and more to reach customers in engaging and exciting ways.
“But the most important question is: how will emotional loyalty change in the future?” Antavo’s Zsuzsa Kecsmar asks, pushing brands to think further ahead in an already uncertain time. “According to our own research that’s published in the Global Customer Loyalty Report 2022, while the current market trend is dominated by rational, discount-based sentiment, in the near future, the majority of loyalty programs will follow the emotional model.”
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