Your customers no longer want to be treated as if they are consumers who all think alike and look alike and are therefore replaceable.

Today, people are seeking value and meaning in many areas of their lives; unlike consumers in the era of mass consumption, today's customers expect brands to treat them as people first, and as potential buyers second.

For marketing teams, this shift in customer expectations requires an overhaul of customer messages. That overhaul begins with segmentation, which determines what companies know about their customers. The segmentation process is what creates a language and terminology for interpreting customers' needs.

The segmentation methods of yesteryear (demographic, geographic, and psychographic) created a language about customers that was rooted in brand value—not personal value. Those rational and logical customer descriptions created a view of customers that was merely a reflection of a company's brand.

To reach customers today, marketers must embrace a more human-centric and more customer-centric approach.

Three trends are influencing personal customer communications

Although emotions have long been derided in business, things are starting to change. Three prominent trends give emotions overdue credibility and lay the groundwork for personal customer communications:

  1. Distrust: Lingering anger from the financial crisis, mounting privacy concerns, and fatigue from corporate scandals all contribute to a general sense of distrust toward business and government. That's a powerful headwind for brand marketers: Deeply cynical people tend to reject all efforts to influence them. To overcome cynicism and distrust, marketers must communicate more honestly, authentically, and openly.
  2. Technology: Every part of our lives is besieged by technology, which leaves everyone hungry for human interaction. As a result, customers are craving emotional connections with companies in the form of rich brand experiences and authentic communications. Small craft brands are making headway against the great marketing powerhouses such as Procter & Gamble specifically because customers want to interact with real people.
  3. Research: A growing body of research makes a compelling case for the role of emotion in customer communications. Research from the Corporate Executive Board and Google finds that emotions drive buying decisions—even for B2B customers. After surveying 3,000 B2B buyers from 36 distinct brands, CEB found that emotions trump rational motivators by a two-to-one ratio.

    Products that offered buyers personal value in addition to product or service value achieved a 42.6% increase in commercial outcomes, the research found. (Personal value included emotional appeals, such as how to be a better leader, to feel more confident, or to improve one's self-image.) Products with purely functional benefits achieved only a 21.4% increase in commercial outcomes.

    The research concluded: "Not only do emotions matter in B2B buying, but they actually matter even more than logic and reason."

Adjust your segmentation strategy

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Kellie Cummings is a business consultant specializing in practices that fortify trust with customers. Learn more at

Twitter: @kellcummings

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