Building Loyalty Through Emotion

Why do many loyalty initiatives fall short of expectations? What makes the difference between stunning success and mediocrity?


The effective use of emotion in marketing communication is the key to driving consumer behavior and building lasting customer loyalty.

Traditional direct marketing has focused on offers and discounts to provide an incentive for a behavior. While this approach may generate short-term results, it attracts deal seekers, decreases margins and is easily replicated by competitors.

Conversely, creating an emotional connection between the customer and brand develops long-term loyalty, which drives sustainable financial performance and cannot be copied by competitors. Companies need to win loyalty, not buy it.

Research has uncovered a paradox: Consumers want to be loyal, but loyalty is declining across most industries. The reason is that companies are not earning their customers’ loyalty. Consumers feel neglected by their product and service providers.

Too many consumers see too many companies treating new customers better than long-term ones. Examples include new magazine subscriptions offered at rates lower than renewals; credit card issuers trumpeting low introductory APRs; and telecommunications providers extending incentives to those who switch services but offering nothing for existing customers. Aggressive acquisition methods such as these have created an entitlement mentality and attract deal seekers but do not create a sustainable, loyal customer base.

Customer retention is driven by how strongly people feel a company cares about them. Companies that use emotion in their marketing communications differentiate themselves in the marketplace and reap the financial rewards of loyal customers. Current emotion-marketing success stories are making a big impact in the marketplace. They often come from mass marketing efforts that make deft use of empathy and insight.

One of the best examples of this is MasterCard’s “Priceless” ad campaign, which extols the experiences and memories that credit cards can foster rather than focusing on APR or other card features. A classic Michelin campaign, depicting a baby floating in a tire and the tag line, “Because so much is riding on your tires,” pulls on the heartstrings as much as on the wallet.

Direct marketing, which by its nature has more potential to be personal, typically lacks this emotional punch. So much of direct mail is undifferentiated and irrelevant to the recipient that it has earned the moniker “junk mail.” Routine e-mail solicitations are simply an electronic extension of that. Telemarketing, meanwhile, is often viewed as annoying and intrusive. For maximum effect — and maximum results — direct marketing needs to appeal to consumers’ hearts, not just their heads.

So how does a company make successful emotional appeals? In addition to traditional direct marketing success factors, creative solutions must contain emotional elements that resonate with the consumer. Meaningful copy and eye-catching designs must complement each other and be tailored to evoke a unique emotional response from each customer. Personalization techniques can position the communication as unique to the individual and can further enhance the emotional connection.

Marketers should assess their technical attributes, such as database design and customer segmentation, but only after determining an even more fundamental factor: the emotional intent of a piece. Once the goal of the contact is established, rate the following five areas:

Relevance. Is this something the recipient would expect to receive from the sender? Will it be welcome? Does it address a problem or need of the recipient?

Clarity. Is the purpose of the contact obvious? Is there a single, focused message? Are the expectations clear?

Consistency. Does the piece reflect brand identity? Does the design match the tone?

Mutual benefit. Does it offer value to the recipient as well as the sender?

Creative concept. Is it unique and engaging? Is the content compelling?

When analyzing a single contact, the strength of the individual piece can be assessed. A low score indicates a sacrificed opportunity for an emotional exchange.

When analyzing a stream of contacts, patterns can emerge that indicate areas of strength and weakness for the overarching marketing communication plan.

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