In the digital era, finding data about consumer behavior is as easy as picking up a stone from the ground. Our first instinct is to build a mountain of the stuff: We want a better view of our customer's preferences, behaviors, and experiences, so we dedicate ourselves to piling our data troves ever higher.

We circulate surveys, map workflows, note behavior patterns, and track customer activity across every storefront, call center, e-commerce site, and social media platform. Then, standing atop our hoard, we can even apply AI and deep-learning technologies to micro-segment our customers, predict trends, and ensure that our campaign efforts keep up with ever-changing consumer interests.

That sky-high view empowers us to see a larger informational landscape, but it leaves us blind to the tectonic force that shapes it: consumer feelings.

Brand interactions aren't exactly known for having a reputation as emotional powerhouses; after all, it's not all that often you see someone tearing up over a toothpaste logo or laughing out loud over a TV ad. However, years of research into behavioral economics have demonstrated that although the feelings that drive customer choices are often overlooked, they are always present.

As consumer behavior researchers Alan Zorfas and Daniel Leemon point out in an article for the Harvard Business Review, "The most effective way to maximize customer value is to move beyond mere customer satisfaction and connect with customers at an emotional level—tapping into their fundamental motivations and fulfilling their deep, often unspoken emotional needs."

With the right research, a marketer can—and, according to Zorfas and Leemon, should—understand what customers want to feel, then create a message that helps foster that feeling. Doing so will empower marketers to orient brands in a way that will appeal not only to a consumer's practical needs but also to their "emotional motivators."

These motivators can take a variety of forms: One might be a wish to stand out from the crowd, while others could be to gain greater confidence or protect the environment. Once a company understands these motivating feelings, they can then orient their brand messaging in a way that helps consumers achieve their emotional wants by engaging with a given brand.

Turning a greater focus on building more emotional connections through marketing can be lucrative, as well. According to Zorfas and Leemon, one major retailer who adopted the strategy saw considerable gains, including a 15% increase in active customers and an over 50% hike in the rate of same-store sales growth.

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image of Catherine Rickwood

Catherine Rickwood is North American VP of MESH Experience, a marketing consulting firm that specializes in helping brands understand how consumer experiences can inform and improve their marketing strategies.

LinkedIn: Catherine Rickwood