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Consumers are inundated with messages from businesses both online and offline today. As a result, it is more important than ever to build emotional connections between consumers and your brand. Trust matters more today than it ever has before, but the good news is that it’s easier than ever to build that trust simply because the tools of the internet are so accessible. The trick for business owners and marketers is figuring out how to build the right emotional connections with the right audiences.
First, let me back up a bit and introduce you to consumer emotional involvement theory, which tells us that as consumers experience a brand and begin to believe in that brand’s promise, they’ll develop an emotional attachment to it. Think of Apple, Starbucks, and Disney. A primary goal of brand building is developing customer loyalty, which comes directly from activities that drive emotional involvement — consistently and persistently delivering your brand message and meeting customer expectations for your brand.
Over time, a consumer’s emotional involvement with a brand grows deeper and evolves into a strong personal connection to that brand, which drives them to repurchase the brand, advocate the brand, and protect the brand. In other words, emotionally involved consumers are the most effective brand ambassadors.
Let’s go back to the brand examples I gave above, and consider a brand like Starbucks that spent the majority of the early 2000s creating consumer emotional involvement in the brand. It’s hard to imagine 10 years earlier that people would one day be willing to pay $7 or more for a cup of coffee that they could get elsewhere for one-quarter of that price (or less), but by the 2000s, they did. In fact, consumers would drive far and wide for their mocha lattes (there wasn’t a Starbucks on every corner back then).
The reason was simple. Starbucks sold more than a cup of coffee. The brand represented a better coffee buying and drinking experience. Suddenly, a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee wasn’t good enough. Starbucks offered so much more for emotionally attached consumers. Even when the economy weakened in the United States in the late 2000s, many loyal Starbucks consumers still could not live without their Starbucks coffee and continued to pay exorbitant prices for their beloved brand.
Building Consumers’ Emotional Connections with Your Brand
One of the most effective ways to build consumers’ emotional connections with your brand is through brand experiences. How does the Starbucks brand experience differ from the Dunkin’ Donuts experience? How does the Apple experience differ from the Microsoft experience?
First, you need to identify your brand’s position in the marketplace relative to its competitors. Confirm that your brand is positioned correctly and that you’re able to own that position in the marketplace.
Next, it’s time to create brand experiences that consistently and persistently deliver on your brand’s promise based on its position in the market. Notice how the Apple experience is consistent from end to end? That’s not accidental. Consistency builds consumer expectations for your brand, and consumers are creatures of habit. We like consistency, and we like it when things meet our expectations.
4 Orders of Brand Experience
Before you dive in and start creating as many brand experiences as you can think of, you need to understand the Four Orders of Brand Experience. Not all brand experiences are equal and not all consumers are going to be game to join every brand experience. By understanding the Four Orders of Brand Experience, you can create brand experiences that tap into the emotions of consumers at all points in the marketing funnel – from first contact to brand loyalty and every point in between.
The image below shows how the Four Orders of Brand Experience move from very passive to very active experiences.
To better understand the Four Orders of Brand Experience, I’ll use Disney as an example.
At Level 1, consumers passively and superficially experience the brand. For example, they might watch a television show on the Disney Channel. They absorb the sights and sounds, but that’s it. At Level 2, consumers passively experience the brand in an immersive way. They might go to a Disney star’s concert with their children. The consumer watches and listens to the concert while the brand surrounds them, but their participation is still passive.
When they’re in Level 3, they actively experience the brand but in a superficial way. They might read the Disney blog and actively try to learn more from the content. They might even apply the information to their own lives to attain what the brand promises. It’s not until they’re in Level 4 that they’re actively immersed in the brand experience. A consumer who is actively immersed in the Disney brand might take a vacation to Walt Disney World where he or she is placed smack in the middle of the brand experience 24/7.
Your goal is to create brand experiences for all of the Four Orders of Brand Experience. Ultimately, you want to surround consumers with branded experiences so they can self-select how they want to interact with the brand. That’s how you move them through the Four Orders of Brand Experience to become fully emotionally connected with your brand.
3 Stages of Consumer Emotional Involvement
Consumer emotional involvement with your brand grows as they find more ways to experience it. However, emotional involvement takes time. In fact, there are three specific stages of consumer emotional involvement in a brand – thinking, acting, and feeling – as shown in the image below.
When a consumer first comes into contact with a brand, he is likely to simply interact by thinking about the brand. For Disney customers, this might include watching a Disney movie or television show. As his relationship with the brand evolves, he takes action related to it. In other words, he’ll look for more ways to experience the brand such as buying Disney merchandise or attending a Disney concert, Disney on Ice, or another branded event. Ultimately, the consumer develops an emotional connection to the brand that causes him to have strong feelings toward it. For Disney consumers, strong feelings are an inevitable by-product of branded experiences such as visiting Walt Disney World or going on a Disney Cruise.
Once strong feelings about a brand develop, consumers often seek out other people with similar feelings about the brand in order to share those experiences (think of Disney fan blogs, Facebook Pages, and so on). Human beings are innately social, and successful brands evolve at the hands of a network of people behind those brands who truly believe in them and want to share them. This loyalty leads to vocal brand influencers who buy the brand, support the brand, try to convert others to the brand, and defend the brand relentlessly. In other words, building emotional involvement with your brand leads not just to brand loyalty but also to powerful word-of-mouth marketing.
The Key Takeaway
Building consumer emotional involvement in your brand isn’t difficult if you create relevant and appropriate brand experiences based on your brand promise and position. Furthermore, those experiences must be diverse to support all Four Orders of Brand Experience, and they must effectively move consumers through the Three Stages of Emotional Involvement in your brand.
It all starts with defining your brand and creating experiences. As always, I’m here if you need help!