Shared Values and Beliefs: ICF Next’s Insights into Emotional Connection with Customers

In today’s competitive business environment, brands realize that traditional marketing tactics such as discounts and loyalty programs based on spend will only get them so far. Many customers have a desire to connect with brands on a deeper level, aligning through values and beliefs and connecting on an emotional level.
ICF Next helps its brand clients create moments that matter, inspire customer advocacy, and build long-lasting customer loyalty. The company recently engaged in new proprietary research and released a report titled “Sparking Consumer Participation Through Shared Values and Beliefs,” detailing insights on driving customer loyalty through emotional connections. 81% of consumers claim a brand’s beliefs and values are important, according to the ICF Next’s research. Additionally, a lack of shared values and beliefs is the #1 reason consumers stop engaging with a brand.
Mark Johnson, CEO of Loyalty360, spoke with Bindu Gupta, Senior Director of Customer Strategy Insights, and Connie Sisco, Senior Connection Strategist, with ICF Next about its recent report on shared values between brands and their customers, why brands should reflect on their values and beliefs, and how they should integrate values and beliefs into their loyalty strategies.

Growing Interest in Emotional Loyalty
As emotional loyalty gains momentum, more brands are looking for actionable steps to build emotional connections with their customers. ICF Next had previously uncovered six key drivers of emotional loyalty and this latest report is the result of a deep dive into one of those drivers: shared values.
“We want to uncover how shared values and beliefs impact the way consumers are interacting with the brand, what they expect from brands, and what kinds of actions they’re taking if they don’t have shared values and beliefs,” says Gupta.
As the name implies, brands need to understand their own values and beliefs. Often, brands are focused solely on transactions, with marketing and loyalty program communications all about earning points and providing discounts. However, this fails to provide the emotional connection that 81% of consumers say they want to feel with a brand.
“The bottom line is that brands need to give values and beliefs the attention they deserve for connecting with their members at a human and emotional level,” says Gupta.
To achieve this connection, brands need to shift focus and gradually integrate their beliefs in communications and initiatives, ultimately leading to consumers viewing the brand as a part of their identity. From a loyalty program perspective, this can mean creating more soft benefits that provide emotional value beyond the purchase.
Key Drivers in Emotional Loyalty
According to ICF Next’s previous research Humanizing Loyalty, the six key drivers of emotional loyalty are trust, reliability, appreciation, investment, empathy, and shared values. All these drivers help build a one-to-one emotional connection between consumers and the brands they choose. Consumers expect personalization, where brands show they understand their members and how they engage with the loyalty program.
“Consumers want to see this personalization in action,” says Sisco. “Thinking about all the different ways to build this connection, brands need to build trust and ensure that customers feel like they can rely on the brand, that the brand has empathy for their experience.”
Integrating these key drivers of emotional loyalty improves the customer experience with the loyalty program and builds a stronger program overall. And leaning into strategies around these drivers helps brands increase engagement and participation with customers—within their loyalty programs and beyond.
“Digging into shared values and beliefs gives us a clearer view of the consumer mindset in order to build deeper connections,” says Sisco. “That helps with the reciprocity of the loyalty program, creating a two-way relationship between the brand and consumer.”
The opportunity in building this relationship is both understanding the brand’s target audience — who will respond positively to the emotional connection — and creating messages and initiatives which will authentically engage through values and beliefs to help brands be relevant in consumers lives.
“It’s not necessarily about trying to make everybody happy or aligning with every value that they have. It’s more about being authentic in reflecting internally the values and beliefs that resonate with the brand and then demonstrating those authentically to the customer,” says Sisco.
According to the report, consumers define values and beliefs differently, although both are important. To ICF Next, values are timeless and core to the business while beliefs are timely and culturally relevant expressions of those values. As brands look to humanize connections with their target audiences, they can consider values as more universal and not ownable by any one brand, but beliefs as how the brand can differentiate its offerings in the market.
“We say that beliefs are how values go to market,” says Gupta. “Brands should understand what their own values and beliefs are and use that knowledge to build better connections with their customers.”


The Generational Difference
As brands look to better understand their target audiences, they must also understand the life stages those consumers are in. Beliefs and values can vary greatly between each generation, especially when considering their age ranges and development. Younger generations, especially Gen Z, are more impressionable and are still establishing their values, where older generations are more set in their ways. Additionally, younger generations are more tech savvy and willing to engage with brands digitally.
Understanding generational differences helps brands connect more authentically. For example, younger generations are more digitally savvy and are able to feel very connected to brands through digital engagement.
“Younger generations live in this digital world. They’re communicating online and they see online interaction as a community,” says Sisco.
Creating Value Beyond Transactions
During the pandemic, brands set new expectations in the loyalty experience that extended beyond the purchase. They created a space to be more human in their interactions and create meaningful value for their customers. Now, online ordering and curbside pickup have switched from a necessity during the pandemic to an expectation of convenience for consumers. These kinds of services create a new baseline for customer engagement and higher customer expectations.
“The reason values and beliefs are so important now is because it’s critical for brands to stand out when everyone is doing the same thing,” says Gupta. “Brands need to be asking themselves, how can I differentiate myself from my competitors and make sure I’m connecting with my audience at a deeper level?”
But to differentiate brands must think beyond meeting a certain price point or level of convenience. The current market is often oversaturated with consumer choices. With this increased choice and availability, consumers look beyond the product to determine which brands to purchase from.
“Shared values can play a role in helping a consumer choose between Brand A or Brand B,” says Sisco. “A lot of consumers will say, ‘I’m going to switch from this brand to that brand because — while the products are similar — I’m seeing shared values come to life from one brand over the other.’”
As a result, brands cannot ignore the importance of connecting through the values and beliefs they share with their customers if they want to build deeper emotional bonds and more long-term loyalty with them. Brands need to reflect internally, identify their own values and beliefs, and determine authentic ways to communicate those in ways that resonate with consumers.
“It’s important to assess your current loyalty strategy against your own values and beliefs and find ways to weave them into your program benefits, the ways you communicate with members, and the ways consumers will engage with your brand,” says Sisco.

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