Emotion-Based E-Marketing Boosts Chances of Success

Many e-marketers are making a fatal mistake: They're marketing products instead of call-to-action, emotion-triggering cues.

The failure to bond emotionally with e-shoppers helps explain why so many of them flit from one e-commerce site to another and rarely become loyal e-customers. A recent Bristol Group Inc. study concluded that consumers are less loyal online than in-store because Internet businesses lack human interaction. Bristol's survey of 1,600 U.S. and Canadian Internet customers found that only 40 percent said they planned to stick with their current e-tailers.

The very nature of e-commerce would appear to present e-marketers with an intractable problem: how to add a human touch to the Internet. The dilemma, however, does have a solution: Trigger an emotional response to create the sense of personal contact. E-marketing simply must incorporate an appeal to human desires and emotions, and therein lies the fundamental truth upon which all successful e-marketing will depend.

Too many e-marketers are trying to sell their products and services by highlighting features — what the product or service is. This approach puts the proverbial cart before the horse. Think, for example, about what prompts readers to buy a particular book. Is it the table of contents or the dust-jacket blurb? People don't so much buy products or services; they buy benefits — what the product or service will do for them. In other words, it is not the product itself that sells; it's the emotional response to the product that motivates the sale. And that's why e-marketers must strive to get in touch with the emotions of prospective customers.

This means creating a “brand personality.” As the leading expert on branding, David Aaker of the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business explains in his book Building Strong Brands (The Free Press, 1996), “A company's brand is the primary source of its competitive advantage and a valuable strategic asset. Yet, too often, the brand message to customers is weak, confused, irrelevant or, worst of all, indistinguishable from competitor offerings. The challenge for all brands is to create a distinct, clear image that matters to customers and truly differentiates them from the rest.”

The key step, he says, is to create a broad vision or identity that recognizes a brand as something greater than a set of attributes that can be imitated or surpassed. Aaker suggests a company consider its brand not just as a product or service but as an organization, a person and a symbol. A brand-as-organization or brand-personality approach demands an inward focus on a company's people and its corporate culture, programs and values, with a stress on innovation, product and service quality, customer care and leadership.

Not only does the creation of a brand personality help to grow a business, it also stymies the competition. Says Aaker, “It is much easier to copy a product than to duplicate an organization with unique values, people and programs.”

Nowadays, emotion-based branding and response-oriented marketing are taking on new meaning on the Internet. Information technology is supplying more direct and selective targeting capabilities. In time, intelligent agents will be able to provide enhanced profiling, with an ability to cross-reference buying habits and spot new cohort groups for whom particular products may hold special appeal.

E-marketers need to identify the emotions that most often induce customers to purchase particular products or services. While traditional surveys and group sessions remain helpful tools, IT offers an added dimension: real-time data collection and analysis. This allows for inexpensive experimentation in marketing strategies and tactics and the ability to turn on a dime when something works especially well or doesn't.

Here are a few examples of emotional benefits for which consumers long:

* An easier life, with someone or something to lighten the load;

* Pocketbook peace of mind as a result of more riches and less expense;

* Career success in the form of personal recognition and promotion;

* Personal gratification in finding a richer and more rewarding life;

* Problem-solving using fast and easy resources to tackle difficult tasks.

Regardless of the particulars, all these emotional benefits share a common trait — personal satisfaction. And that's becoming the key to Internet marketing success: providing consumers with a sense of emotional satisfaction as opposed to providing merely products and services.

While this in itself could be considered a remarkable achievement, the new e-horizon doesn't end there. E-marketing's use of “external information” and data collection apart from one's own business is becoming increasingly important within management structures.

Peter F. Drucker stresses this point in his latest book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, in which he says that data systems for top management need to collect and organize outside-focused information. “All the data we have so far, including those provided by the new tools, focus inward,” he says. “But inside an enterprise — indeed, even inside the entire economic chain — there are only costs. Results are only on the outside. The only profit center is a customer whose check hasn't bounced.”

Instead of focusing on its own enterprise's costs, businesses will be looking outward for new opportunities. Data on demographics, markets, competitors and even noncompetitors are being demanded in order to map business strategy and plan development. According to Drucker, “The top management information that the new revolution is beginning to provide will make information about the outside even more important and even more urgent.” Within the next 10 to 15 years, he predicts, this will become “the next information frontier.”

Marketing executives should expect to become the pioneers in this new information frontier. Their corporate roles will enlarge as the real-time, online global economy expands and as more businesses look beyond themselves and think globally. Marketers will be charged with identifying areas of market expansion and contraction worldwide, thus becoming an even more integral part of the corporate decision-making process, with responsibilities that will extend to new direct investment and operational funding. Marketing executives also will be tasked with supplying more timely and precise order-trend information as part of value networks aimed at reducing costly inventories and facilitating on-demand manufacturing and service delivery.

In short, marketing executives are destined for stardom in the 21st century business world. They have an exceptional opportunity to create brand vision at the early stages of an enterprise. E-marketers, in essence, are in a position to shape and define virtually all aspects of an organization unlike ever before. Success will hang on their ability to identify consumers' emotional triggers and forge brand identity through a challenging digital medium. These are vital new imperatives for “multitasking marketers” and business ventures alike.

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