We love it when research reinforces what we’ve been saying all along: it’s not enough for customers to be loyal to brands; brands must be loyal to customers.

A recent study by Wunderman contends that there is a new measurement for customer engagement called “wantedness”, or as they define it, “the degree to which a brand provides their commitment to earning a customer’s business across every touch point and throughout the entire path to purchase.”

Wunderman continues with “In an era defined by increasing transparency and decreasing trust, brands must do more than just sell. They have to prove they want you as a customer. They have to prove it at every step in the customer journey.”

According to the study, 79% of US consumers say they will only buy from brands that care. Furthermore, 63% say the best brands don’t just make great products; they exceed expectations across the entire customer journey.

We don’t believe, though, that there is a single strategy that applies to all product categories or brands. Not every brand or product category warrants a relationship. In fact, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review reports that most brand loyalty is simply habit, with inertia responsible for loyalty more than any relationship or emotional connection.

As such, there are key considerations (and hurdles) when determining whether you should focus on building customer relationships to build affinity or “wantedness” with your brand. We recommend considering these five factors:

1. Customer Identification

Simply put, customer identification is central to building that 1:1 relationship with a customer. When you are capturing customer information in an automated, scalable way (such as capturing phone number at point of sale, via an in-store beacon that recognizes your mobile phone, or behind login online), you are enabling the link between your brand and the customer.

Identification can be trickier for brands that sell to customers indirectly via through retail stores like Kroger, Best Buy or Target. Building that 1:1 relationship is made more difficult without that built-in attribution mechanism, and privacy concerns limit retailers sharing identifiable information directly with brands.

Customer identification is part of a larger trend around attribution, which is understanding the media that drive a customer’s purchase behavior. While the data and technology exist today to tie the customer to a specific product purchase, what’s missing is that implicit permission to enable that relationship. When I buy cereal from Target, I expect them to know I buy cereal regularly, and therefore send me cereal offers. When I hear from Cheerio’s directly, without that link, I’m less inclined to want to engage.

2. Real Engagement

Does your brand engage directly with consumers, either face to face or online? You don’t need to have a brick and mortar store to build relationships with customers; just a mechanism to have ongoing dialogue. Take StitchFix, the online women’s clothing curator. Each month, after you receive your “Fix”, you can provide feedback to your dedicated stylist regarding your next shipment. And, if you have a need for a more detailed conversation, you can email directly with your stylist. That’s creating a relationship.

On the flip side, the indirect model of CPG brands makes it harder to build that connection. Social helps fill the gap by giving customers a channel to reach out to the brand directly, but it’s often one sided, as it requires you to engage with the brand in order for them to engage you back. Brands like Farm Rich, makers of frozen snack foods, use social channels as an accessible channel for that 1:1 interaction.

3. Knowing your inherent limits

Sometimes, the product category dictates the level of customer engagement, as some are highly transactional, while others are more emotional. One could argue that a product that is emotional to me is transactional to someone else (true), but we’ll put that aside for right now. The bigger question is, regardless of your emotional feelings about a brand, which brands are you more likely to engage with: the brand that makes your favorite kitchen sponge, or your favorite retailer who always recommends the right thing you need?

Among commodity products (like a sponge), it’s more common for the brand to create the foundation for a relationship via larger marketing campaigns, telling the story of how the product should make you feel. Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, launched in the early 2000s, started conversations about beauty, tapping into what women were thinking and feeling about beauty, their bodies, and how others perceive them. The visibility of this campaign became a launching point for the brand to connect more personally with their customers, ultimately creating a framework for engagement – about soap.

4. Right sizing your efforts

Another factor to consider is scalability, the ability to scale relationships beyond a few hundred customers. While building relationships with a small subset of your customer base can create visibility (see WestJet Christmas and their millions of YouTube views), it doesn’t enable direct relationships with a meaningful number of customers. In October 2016, Icelandair launched a free program called Icelandair’s Stopover Buddy Service that pairs airline employees with passengers who want a local guide for a day. As of December, Icelandair received more than 1400 requests, yet they were only able to fulfill 200 to date.

5. Common Sense

Ask yourself: do consumers want a relationship with my product or brand? Does it make sense to invest in relationship as a marketing strategy? Take my simple social media litmus test: if your customers want to see posts from you on Facebook or Instagram, they’re more likely to want a relationship with the brand. Otherwise, maybe, just maybe, there is another, more efficient, path to market your product or brand.

The idea behind “Wantedness” is the right one: show your customers that you want them and appreciate them, at every step of the customer lifecycle. But, it’s just not that simple. In addition to the key factors that we reviewed above, you also need to consider the characteristics and personality of your brand, the infrastructure that you have to deliver “the love” consistently, and how this integrates into the full objectives of your marketing plan. As with life, “wantedness” is a serious commitment and the foundation of a new standards in customer relationships.

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