On Our Wavelength: Why Emotional Capital Is the Essence of Close Customer Relationships

Brand Consumer Relationships

By Kate Howe, Executive Director, MSQ

Consumers’ brainwaves are bombarded by brands. While it’s hard to pinpoint how many ads we’re exposed to, estimates put the volume we see daily in the thousands; some experts claim as many as 10,000 or more.

It’s therefore no surprise that our brains are evolving to sift these marketing missives in milliseconds. It’s the only way to stay sane. In the giant sorting centre of our minds, we note the ones that appeal and stream out thousands of others.

Which means instant recognition — and instant affection — is now critical. And the only way for brands to achieve that is by forming closer customer relationships that leave an indelible imprint which lights up when we see and hear their messages.

Building the Right Relationships

Plenty of brands already understand the need to infuse their campaigns with Emotional Capital.

They recognise that in a data-rich, tech-enabled world the winners of the future will build success by responding to consumers’ dizzyingly high expectations.

Initially, that means employing a joined-up strategy: relevant, timely communications through a smart choice of channels.

Most brands know this is a given in the digital age. There can’t be many consumers who get satisfaction from a good online experience only for it to be swiftly followed by a call centre that fails to recognise them. That’s akin to walking into a dinner party, heading for someone whose company you’ve enjoyed before and being greeted with: “Hi! And you are?”

The opposite is true too – an inspiring ad campaign or impeccable in-store service means little if the website the consumer ends up on to make a purchase becomes so infuriating that they abandon the cause all together.

What matters most for brands to show emotional intelligence, responding to a consumer’s ever-changing need states.

This is now the way to drive and maintain engagement. Prove you’re on my wavelength and I’ll pay attention.

Consumers Are Emotional About Brands

This thinking sits at the heart of what we’ve been researching at MSQ. From talking to some of the world’s most prolific marketers and conducting in-depth research with consumers around their attitudes to brands, we’ve been able to identify the depth of relationships we have with brands.

Many of us talk about brands as if they’re a friend or one of the family. We speak positively about brands that are on our wavelength, using phrases like, “Understands how I feel”, “Takes the time to genuinely understand” and “Considerate and respectful”.

And the result of this research means we can now also measure it. At MSQ we can understand a brand’s Emotional Capital, report on it, protect it and accelerate how quickly it’s earned.

Conversely, we’re critical of brands that fail to understand our personal values and how we function. We express repulsion. “Ignorant” and “Run by arseholes” were a sample of the strong sentiments stated in our consumer research.

The ‘Evil’ Outliers

Of course, it could be said that bad brands still succeed. The budget airline that treats its passengers like cattle; the sports shoe shop that exploits its staff and suppliers; the fast-fashion chain that uses sweatshops. Bad as they may be, they can’t exactly be labelled as sales failures.

Yet trouble is always just around the corner for these types of brands. They’re bought because of convenience, scarcity of alternatives or a PR job done well to mask their misadventures. It seems only be a matter of time before lack of investment in the things that matter to people, not just making margin, catches up with them.

And technology is making it easier for people to ditch emotionally disengaged brands. Reminding us we have a choice. Apps can be grouped together as an instant aide memoire: if Sainsbury’s messed up our delivery or Tesco broke its price promise, Aldi or Ocado are just one click away.

Scaling Up Emotional Capital

Whether you’re a new brand riding the D2C wave and flourishing fast online or a longstanding household name it’s vital to embed Emotional Capital. Both types of business face challenges that are critical to overcome if they’re to succeed.

John Lewis, for example, made its mark in high-street retail and built brand value leading on customer service. Now it’s adapting to the digital age, pondering the place of department stores in the purchase journey while attempting to match in-store and online customer recognition and experience.

It must respond to younger consumers who have learned to love the brand because of their parents but now demand an emotional connection through digital channels.

Meanwhile, online-only brands — the likes of Cazoo and Zoopla — have the opposite problem. They don’t enjoy a legacy of loyal customers, relationships soldered down the years; their Emotional Capital has to be built from scratch.

There can be benefit to that – no legacy perceptions or reputational issues to manage. However, as successfully as these brands have started out, they must seek to rapidly swell their rich stock of Emotional Capital before a rival comes along, does it better and ends up being the one we share on social and recommend to our friends.

Earning Superior Emotional Capital

Studying the emotional relationships customers have with both your brand and your competitive set is the first step to pulling together your next marketing playbook.

Brands with close customer relationships have a positive supply of emotional capital. They attract new customers, increase consideration and inspire loyalty.

Brands without close customer relationships have a negative supply of emotional capital. They actively repel people who are socially and financially aware and equipped to fight back.

Emotions compel our actions — they are the engine of our behaviours. They push us away from things we intuit are bad for us and pull us towards things we understand are good.

So, if you want your brand to succeed, you have to be on your consumer’s wavelength, cultivating an emotional response that attracts us to your brand.

Ultimately, you must earn ‘Superior Emotional Capital’ to benefit from having closer customer relationships. Because for good or ill, consumer emotions don’t stay suppressed for long.