“Personalised and empathetic engagement with customers – that genuinely addresses their needs – leads to increased brand loyalty and ultimately improved business performance”, says Wulfric Light-Wilkinson, GM EMEA at Wunderkind.
That consumers increasingly expect sensitive, emotionally intelligent communication from brands is certainly not news – it’s been the direction of travel for quite some time now. But the onset of the COVID pandemic has shined a renewed spotlight on the issue, as the brains behind the government’s CyberFirst campaign found out, to their peril, last year.
A landmark report from Harvard Business Review identified hundreds of ‘emotional motivators’ that drive consumer behaviour, ranging from notions of safety and collectivism – a desire to feel secure or a sense of belonging – to ideas of energy and dynamism – a need to ‘stand out from the crowd’ or to create a ‘sense of freedom/thrill’. According to the research, while many brands may be liked or admired, the majority fail to align themselves with consumers’ emotional motivators – and a highly emotionally connected consumer is +52% more valuable, on average, in customer lifetime value (CLV) terms, than one who is just highly satisfied.
A further study by Deloitte Digital in 2019, revealed that consumers put considerable weight behind trustworthiness when it comes to viewing brands favourably (with 83% choosing this as a top ranking factor), followed by integrity and honesty – 79% and 77%, respectively.
These factors, alongside rational considerations, such as price and quality, help to build an emotional connection – in turn, making consumers more likely to make a recommendation to their peers. 44% of those surveyed said they would endorse a product based on emotional criteria. And, in these recommendations, 60% of customers tend to use emotive, personal language such as “love,” “happy” or “adore”.
Interestingly, the report also indicated that consumers have a relatively high tolerance for mistakes, with 77% stating that they’ll stay with a brand following a mistake as long as they receive a ‘genuinely empathetic apology’. As The Drum explains, consumers don’t expect total perfection – but rather crave “a human element that signifies that they are being listened to and are valued as a customer, rather than just being another number or statistic”.
So, how can brands go about treating their customers more like valued individuals and less like homogenous cohorts or segments? Here are three thought-starters on how to tap into those critical emotional drivers for ecommerce success.
1. Sensitive seasonality
Each year, leading brands deploy above the line (ATL) Christmas campaigns as a shorthand for emotional connection. And whilst well-executed TV ads may prompt an emotional reaction – think John Lewis’ Man on the Moon tie-up with Age UK or Sainsbury’s creative that showed the Christmas truce of WW1 – there are other ways for brands to show meaningful consideration for their customers.
Online flower company Bloom & Wild provides one great example. In 2019, the brand recognised that, for some customers, Mother’s Day was a difficult time, giving them the opportunity to opt out of marketing over the period. The move was widely praised, even leading to a mention in Parliament, with Mark Warman MP suggesting that “if other companies were to follow suit, the dread … around this day might be mitigated for many people”.
This same sensitivity can be applied to other notable times of year, such as Fathers’ Day, or Valentine’s Day, as well as religious holidays, to provide a more considerate and personally tailored communications experience for consumers.
2. Proper personalisation
There is a wealth of research to support consumers’ appetite for personalised experiences with brands. Accenture found that 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands that recognise them, remember their preferences, and provide them with relevant offers and recommendations. In a similar vein, research by SmarterHQ found that 72% of consumers say they only engage with personalised messaging.
Therefore, when it comes to email, generic, mass ‘batch and blast’ campaigns undoubtedly have an important marketing function to fulfil – but they should be combined with more personalised, 1-1 email communications to make customers feel individually acknowledged, and to really maximise the conversion potential of this valuable channel.
To get the most out of email activity, brands need to be able to recognise their site visitors, understand their on-site behaviour and purchase intent – and then send genuinely helpful, behaviourally triggered messages that bring the consumer back to site, nudging them toward conversion. Such triggers might include basket, cart or product abandonment, as well as price drops, and when items of interest drop to low stock, or come back in stock.
The results from this type of granular personalisation can be phenomenal. Take for example iconic fashion retailer Rag & Bone, which improved identification of its web traffic to enhance personalisation on-site, and consequently was able to drive 10.5% of all its digital revenue through triggered email. The brand’s VP of Digital, Aaron Detrick, puts this down to being able to bring consumers back to site to “complete their marketing journey with thoughtful experiences, based on key actions the consumers have taken that show intent on the website”.
3. Be ready to chat
Reflecting on the past year and its unprecedented challenges, it’s clear that the impact on consumer behaviour, habits and relationships with companies has been profound. The qualities of being reliable, responsive and convenient took on a whole new level of importance against a backdrop of anxiety, lockdowns and restrictions on daily life.
A 2020 study by AI-powered customer service specialist, Aivo, found that WhatsApp chats between users and brands grew 500% last April alone, with a 51% increase in the overall volume of conversations, across all channels, between companies and users in the month prior. Aivo’s research also reveals that, before the pandemic, many companies had a channel strategy consisting of 70% phone and 30% instant messaging – yet a fifth of these actually inverted these values at the start of the crisis.
Even as the UK starts to tentatively emerge from lockdown, it seems likely that new models of engagement – including through chat, WhatsApp and text message – are likely to remain important for the foreseeable future.
As well as being an ideal channel for solving problems, giving immediate support and answering burning questions, text messaging has the potential to be a highly effective marketing channel. It’s under-utilised and less saturated when compared to email, benefits from near-100% open rates and 10%+ click-through rates (CTRs) and can just as easily be personalised to provide tailored offers, with a direct ‘tap to buy’ conversion route.
Whilst this is by no means an exhaustive list, ultimately, it’s brands that are able to tie together all the strands above – sensitive communications, tailored to the individual, personalised according to their preferences and behaviour, and delivered via convenient channels – that will emerge as the real ecommerce winners in the ‘next normal’.
As Tim Gruelich, Managing Director at Deloitte, puts it: “The ability to understand what creates, cultivates, and ultimately sustains loyal customers beyond the initial marketing interaction is going to be tremendously important… Building emotionally intelligent platforms to recognise and use emotional data at scale is one of the biggest, most important opportunities, if not imperatives, for organisations going forward”.
Holly brings a wealth of experience in both print and digital publishing. As Modern Retail’s Content Editor, Holly is passionate about helping independent retailers to thrive in today’s ever-changing market.