By Lynn Manternach / Guest Editorial
It’s not your imagination: Consumers are getting harder to please. The more we do to deliver on consumer expectations, the more they expect.
Take, for example, the 2015 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, which included more than 36,000 people ages 18-65, and looked at consumer perceptions and expectations across 540 brands.
Researchers found consumer expectations for brands jumped by an average of nearly 24 percent compared to 2014 levels. And yet, consumer perceptions of how well brands met their expectations rose by only 7 percent compared to last year. That’s a 17 percent gap between brand expectations and the ability of brands to meet consumer expectations.
What does that mean for you and your brand? In a word, it means opportunity. If you can figure out what your customers expect from your brand, and if you can address those expectations with authentic, emotional values, you’ll see bottom-line results.
Brands are using technology more than ever before to connect with consumers, but this study indicates they’re not always hitting the mark. Consumers still feel that brands are talking at them rather than to them, despite the more personalized potential of social and other online media. Empowered and socially networked consumers want to interact with and buy brands that seem to understand them.
“I don’t think retailers do a very good job of understanding their consumer,” said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys. “They’ve done the demographic stuff and they understand the inventory and location-based buying, but if you talk about emotionality, you don’t see them doing anything about it.”
The benefits of emotional branding are powerful. Consumers associate with brands they feel reflect who they are, and when a close link to a brand is formed, emotions can run high. That emotional aspect makes consumers feel like the brand really understands who they are and what they need. And that’s where the true power of brand loyalty lies.
Brand loyalty means relevant differences are no longer connected only to the product itself. The brand becomes intertwined with the consumer’s identity and values.
For example, Nike took the top spot in the athletic footwear category in this year’s Loyalty Engagement Index, and for good reason. It’s a company with a long history of powerful emotional branding. Nike ads typically focus on the internal battle we all have with laziness. Whether you’re a world-class athlete or a 50-year-old struggling to get back in shape, it’s a battle to get out of bed and get those shoes laced up for a morning run. Nike knows we can all identify with that fight, but also that we become the hero of our own story when we overcome that battle and “Just do it.” That’s how the Nike brand intertwines with its customers’ identity and values, and builds powerful brand loyalty.
In the department store category, Marshalls and T.J. Maxx tied for first place. I suspect we all know a shopper whose identity is tied up in their ability to find something awesome for a really great price. Buying cool stuff at even cooler prices typically causes an emotional reaction. It’s the kind of story that gets shared with others, and it says something about who the shopper is and what they care about. It builds emotional connections and brand loyalty.
In online retail, Amazon.com came in at No. 1, followed by Zappos.com. In sporting goods, Dick’s earned the top spot, followed by Cabela’s. In the natural foods category, Whole Foods leads the way, with The Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s right behind.
All of these brands have figured out how to get into the hearts and minds of their customers. They connect with who their customer is, and have figured out how to become part of that identity.
What are you doing to connect emotionally with your targeted consumers? Do you know what they expect from your brand? Are you talking with your consumers rather than at them? Are you discussing topics they actually care about?
The answers to most of these questions start with your targeted consumers. Consider conducting research to better understand how to effectively position your brand to connect with the expectations of consumers. If you can get it right, you’ll see the difference in your bottom line.
Lynn Manternach is brand arsonist and president at MindFire Communications Inc. (mindfirecomm.com) in Cedar Rapids and Le Claire. Contact Lynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.