Mindset. Engagement. Integrity. Centricity. Communication, There is a restaurant in West Perth that I used to frequent weekly and often twice weekly for years. The vegetarian food, personal service, great environment and overall consistency made this a restaurant with which I developed a deep connection. A cordial relationship with staff, including the owner, […]
There is a restaurant in West Perth that I used to frequent weekly and often twice weekly for years. The vegetarian food, personal service, great environment and overall consistency made this a restaurant with which I developed a deep connection. A cordial relationship with staff, including the owner, enhanced this connection. It was my favourite restaurant.
In recent months, I have sensed more variability in the quality of the food and the standard of service. Initially, this had little impact on my use of the restaurants. More recently, however, I had an experience where a relatively new staff member behaved arrogantly towards me – directing the blame for an order error to me. While I was happy to take the blame – I did not appreciate the tone.
As a result, this one bad experience damaged a connection built over year. While I will give them the benefit of the doubt and return, the arrogance on top of the slipping standard of service recently, has significantly damaged my ‘connection’ with the business. I would also note, that on this occasion, I joined the 93% of dissatisfied customers who don’t complain.
The point is – the connection between a business and a customer can be a superpower, but in a highly competitive environment, connection can be fragile – and what is more, we often don’t know when it has been disrupted. A regular customer can become a past customer in the blink of an eye.
Is this life, or am I just becoming cantankerous in my old age?
Nothing is more central to maximising the lifetime value of each customer than establishing and maintaining a connection between the customer and the brand. Human beings crave connection, and the businesses that establish and maintain a connection with customers will be the ones that maximise repeat business and referral rates. Every business should prioritise connection.
Marketers talk a great deal about brand recognition and awareness. They are important in that they underpin enquiry rates. ‘Brand connection’ is less talked about but equally important given its potential to enable sales, support margins, drive repeat business rates, and encourage referral.
Brand recognition and awareness are all about the product or service being sold. ‘Brand connection’ underpins the relationship between the customer and the brand beyond the product sold. Brand connection occurs when an individual engages with a brand, what it represents and what it stands for. A brand connection occurs when the consumer sees the brand as a natural fit for them – not just meeting their needs but also reflecting their values and aspirations.
Apple has mastered the concept of ‘brand connection’. Early on, Steve Jobs recognised that to build Apple into a truly great brand, he had to establish a relationship – or connection – that went beyond technology. Today, Apple is a brand that purchasers identify with and to which they are absolutely loyal. Few brands attract the loyalty associated with Apple, and this loyalty is built on the connection with target consumers. That is why there are ‘Apple users’ and everyone else.
Brand connection is a superpower in maximising each customer’s lifetime value. Connecting with a brand leads to identifying with that brand, which drives sales, margins, average sales per customer, repeat business and referral rates. If I relate to a brand, its features, advantages, and benefits, I might buy it. If I connect with a brand, I will not only buy it, but the chances are, I will buy it repeatedly, tell my friends all about it, and flash the logo in front of others. Chances are, I will even be prepared to pay more for a brand I connect with.
Brand connection involves looking beyond a product’s features, advantages and benefits and establishing a relationship with and trust in a brand. And brand connection is important to customers. Research suggests that:
- 64%of customers want brands to connect with them.
Research highlights 6 critical drivers of consumer behaviour in 2023. They are:
Clearly, ‘connection’ is one of the six factors driving consumer purchase behaviour, highlighting its importance to business. It is equally relevant in the B2C and B2B environments. The consumer will buy brands they don’t connect with but are driven to buy brands they do connect with.
Connection is also the key to ‘permission marketing‘, creating an environment where consumers are happy for the brand to engage with and market to them. Connected customers are happy to look beyond the product they have purchased to other products sold by the brand they connect with. Permission marketing, a concept documented by Seth Godin, involves converting strangers not just into customers but into ‘friends’ with whom there is an openness to ongoing communication.
STRATEGIES FOR CONNECTING
Brands adopt a range of strategies to establish and maintain a connection between the brand and its primary target market members. Following is a discussion of the foundation stones of any strategy designed to establish a connection between a brand and its customers.
Many businesses measure brand recognition and awareness – and in many cases – so they should. Fewer businesses measure brand connection – partially because it is hard to measure, but more often because the importance of brand connection is not well recognised. For many businesses, the extent to which customers are ‘connected’ with a brand is not top of mind.
The starting point of any campaign to maximise the connection of members of the primary target market with a brand is ‘mindset’ – or recognising that connecting with customers on as many levels as possible is central to maximising the lifetime value of each customer and, as such, profitability. Central to this are:
- Empathy and ego.
- Authenticity and transparency.
To connect with someone – indeed anyone – empathy must take precedence over ego. Understanding and engaging with a customer must take precedence over telling them how good the brand is. Maximising connection requires putting ego aside and bringing empathy front and centre. Connecting involves an understanding of the importance of:
- Understanding and responding to the issues of importance to the target market.
- Being prepared to develop the brand and its messaging with the customer in mind.
Research has repeatedly shown that consumers tend to connect with brands that they feel are authentic and transparent. Recent research found that:
- 90%of consumers want a brand to be authentic.
- 90%of consumers will stop buying a brand they think is not transparent.
Research suggests that consumers will not connect with a brand they do not believe is authentic and transparent. Therefore, developing a mindset of authenticity and transparency is a precursor of brand connection.
In previous missives, I have noted the importance of purpose and values alignment with customers. Aligning the purpose of the brand with the aspirations of customers and the values of the brand with those of the customer is central to the engagement of customers necessary to establish a connection. Few things will drive connection more than purpose and values alignment. Research findings in this regard include the following:
- 64%of consumers find brands that actively communicate their purpose more attractive.
- 62%want companies to take a stand on issues they are passionate about
- 52%are more attracted to brands if they stand for something bigger than just the product.
- 71%of consumers prefer buying from businesses aligned with their values.
- 83%of millennials want brands to align with them on values.
Perhaps no two factors influence the level of consumer engagement and, therefore, brand connection to the brand’s purpose and values. It is therefore critical to:
- Establish and communicate a purpose larger than the product and in line with the consumer’s aspirations.
- Understand the values of members of the target market and align the values of the business with those of the target market.
This is not only important, but it is an opportunity far too often ignored by business and especially small to medium-sized businesses; again, the importance of purpose and values is as important for B2B as it is for B2C.
I have written previously in this series about the ‘integrity superpower’ that I believe every business should embrace. Critical aspects of integrity central to establishing a connection are:
The importance of honesty (including authenticity and transparency) has been discussed above under the mindset.
Consistency has been discussed in previous missives. Consistency is critical to establishing a connection because it ensures that consumers will have similar positive experiences each time they engage with a brand. Research suggests that:
- 60%of millennial consumers expect brands to be consistent across different platforms.
- Consistent brand presentation can increase revenue by as much as 23%.
- 54%of businesses say that brand consistency substantially contributes to growth.
Consistency is often the primary criterion against which consumers judge authenticity and honesty.
It is not enough to meet the expectations of consumers. Connection occurs when the brand goes above and beyond the consumer’s expectations to address customers’ expectations. Surprising the customer, especially with the customer experience, can drive the connection between the brand and its consumers. The importance of the customer experience is highlighted in recent research findings:
- 84%of consumers say that the experience provided by a business is equally important to the product or service they’re using.
- 33%of consumers will leave a brand they love after just one bad experience.
To exceed expectations consistently requires an in-depth understanding of the consumer and their expectations. Research (as opposed to relying on intuition) is central to understanding how customer needs and expectations can be exceeded. Research suggests that the expectations of consumers include the following:
- 76%of customers expect consistent interactions across departments.
- 54%say it generally feels like sales, service, and marketing teams don’t share information.
- 74%of customers have used multiple channels to start and complete a transaction.
- 66%of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations.
- 66%say they’re generally treated like numbers.
Connections between brands and their target market are augmented by understanding and exceeding customer expectations, especially in terms of the customer experience.
Consumers want brands to be good corporate citizens and live their values – values aligned with those of the consumer. Strategies effective in developing and maintaining a sense of community include:
- Establishing a brand community.
- Sincerely embracing ESG
The importance of a brand community has been discussed at length in previous missives.
In line with a concern about the values of a business or brand, consumers are increasingly concerned about ESG (environment, sustainability and governance) – although most would not be aware of the TLA’ three letter acronym.’ In keeping with the importance of integrity, the importance of ESG to consumers (B2B and B2C) is highlighted in the following research findings:
- 60%of consumers say they will pay more for sustainable packaging products.
- 76%of consumers will discontinue a relationship with a business that treats employees, communities, and the environment poorly.
There is also a growing resistance to the increasingly common practice of greenwashing, as evidenced by these research findings:
- 83%of consumers feel misled by green and sustainable buzzwords in advertising.
- 90%of consumers think retailers need to be more transparent about how green they are.
Research suggests that consumers in most sectors are more attracted to businesses with a sound ESG record and highly suspicious of businesses that greenwash. Prosecutions of greenwashing businesses are increasing.
Customer-centricity involves putting the customer at the centre of the marketing strategy and all marketing activities. Customer-centricity is the foundation of any strategy that will likely maximise brand connections. Among other things, customer-centricity involves:
- Undertaking the research required to truly understand customers’ needs and expectations.
- Staying as close as possible to the customer throughout the customer journey.
The need for market research and the power of consumer insights and brand communities in enhancing the understanding of consumer needs and expectations has been addressed in a number of these missives.
The importance of staying close to the customer throughout their journey is highlighted by these research findings:
Not only is it important to know when customers are unhappy and why – but engaging with dissatisfied customers can help to establish a connection with that customer. Most customers will forgive a bad experience if it is owned up to and addressed. Monitoring customers through their journey, showing appreciation, and addressing their concerns can significantly enhance brand connection. This is especially important, given that:
- A 5%increase in customer retention can increase profits by 25 – 90%.
Few things drive connection more than communication. Critical issues in terms of communication include:
- Telling stories.
Listening has been addressed under the heading community. Suffice to note here that:
- Listening to customers is more important than talking to them.
- Listening to customers goes beyond looking at research data to getting close enough to customers to truly understand what they think and feel.
Telling stories is essential. Nothing engages human beings and creates connections more than stories. Human beings have brains naturally attracted to listening to, engaging with, and remembering stories. Consumers remember stories much more than they do statistics (says a writer who spews statistics and is only now beginning to tell stories. Consider these research findings:
- Consumers are 55%are more likely to buy a product if they engage with the brand story.
- 44%of consumers will share a brand story.
- 62%of B2B marketers use storytelling as an effective content marketing tactic.
Develop a brand story that the target audience can engage with, remembering these quotes:
- ‘The way we experience story will evolve, but as storytelling animals, we will no more give it up than start walking on all fours.’ -Jonathan Gottschall.
- ‘Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.’ – Robert McKee.
Earlier in this missive I highlighted 6 drivers of consumer behaviour, of which ‘connection’ is one. Another of these drivers is ‘significance.’ All human beings want to feel significant or important, and nothing makes them feel more significant than:
- Addressing them by name.
- Personalising communication.
Over recent years, one of the most significant trends in marketing has involved the development of software that facilitates personalised marketing. This issue was addressed in the missive on digital transformation. Highlighting the importance of personalised marketing are the following research findings:
- 60%of online shoppers say brands delivering un-personalised content would lose their loyalty.
- 74% of customersfeel frustrated when website content is not personalised.
- 91% of consumersare more likely to shop with brands that provide offers and recommendations that are relevant to them.
- 80% of consumersare more likely to purchase a brand that provides personalised experiences.
Personalised marketing, which will be addressed in detail in a future missive is central to establishing a connection between a brand and the consumer.
Perhaps the most significant key to maximising the lifetime value of each customer is to connect with each customer. Connecting with each customer is facilitated by developing a connection mindset, maximising customer engagement, demonstrating integrity, being customer-centric and communicating effectively.
Connecting with customers can and should be a superpower leveraged by brands to drive the lifetime value of each customer and especially brand loyalty and referral. It can be addressed by the smallest and largest of businesses with little, if any, additional expenditure. It is not expensive t develop and implement a strategy to maximise the consumer’s connection with your brand.
Develop and implement a strategy to leverage the finding that 64% of consumers want to connect with the brands they purchase.
Replace ego with empathy while demonstrating authenticity and transparency in creating a brand consumers will connect with. 90% of consumers want a brand to be authentic.
Connect with consumers by creating a brand that leverages the finding that 62% of consumers want brands to take a stand on issues of concern to them.
Connect with consumers by creating a brand that leverages the finding that 71% of consumers prefer buying from businesses aligned with their values.
Leverage integrity to connect with customers appreciating that consistent brand presentation can increase revenue by as much as 23%.
Place the highest priority on connecting through the customer experience noting that 33% of consumers will walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience.
Prioritise a commitment to ESG, noting that 76% of consumers will discontinue a relationship with a business that treats employees, communities, and the environment poorly.
Never believe that no complaint means a customer is happy. 93% of dissatisfied customers do not lodge a complaint, and 91% of them go elsewhere.
Leverage fully the power of a brand story to create a connection, with consumers being 55% are more likely to buy a product if they engage with the brand story.
Use all the tools available to personalise your marketing, given that 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase from a brand that provides personalised experiences.
Return on investment is maximised when the consumer is at the centre of the strategic planning process. Consumer-centric marketing leverages data and consumer insights to drive enquiries, conversion rates, margins, the average transaction, and repeat business and referral rates.
Focusing on consumer needs, preferences, and behaviours, I work with clients to create cost-effective ethical marketing, branding, communication, and culture strategies that drive qualified enquiry and maximise the lifetime value of each enquiry while minimising waste.