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Why do companies equate transactional behavior—for instance, how many times you visit a store—with brand loyalty? The two things are not remotely the same.

Brand loyalty isn’t simply making repeat purchases—I may buy the same brand of TV or breakfast cereal over time, but the minute I find better value elsewhere, I’ll switch.  True brand loyalty requires an emotional connection, because if I’m emotionally connected to your brand, I’ll never switch, no matter what value I’m offered elsewhere. The key to boosting brand equity is to increase that emotional loyalty, focusing on the feeling that drives behaviour, rather than just the behaviour itself.  So if you can only measure one thing about your customers, measure emotional engagement, because that’s the only meaningful indicator of the health of your business.

What’s the impact of true loyalty on your bottom line? Enormous—loyal customers are worth up to 10 times the revenue from their first purchase. Emotionally engaged customers are at least three times more likely to recommend a product, and three times more likely to re-purchase it. They also make choices differently, being less likely to shop around (44% said they rarely or never do so) and much less price sensitive (33% said they would need a discount of over 20% before they would defect).

To understand emotional engagement, think about how often you check Google. How would you feel if it suddenly disappeared? They’ve got you hooked. And while Google is a multimillion-dollar company with a global reach, small businesses actually stand a better chance at building customer loyalty than bigger businesses, because they’re more agile, adaptable and responsive to customers’ needs.

Here’s how you can build an emotional bond with your customer, and create a heart-centered connection that withstands competition.

Listen and learn

The first step in creating loyalty is to understand why your customer has chosen to do business with you in the first place. Analyze how your value proposition compares to those of your competitors by examining the whole customer experience—today’s customers buy experiences, not just products and services.

Being heard helps customers feel welcome, comfortable and important, whether it’s through a phone call, face-to-face, email or chat. Listen for validation or inconsistencies with your brand image. Listen to your frontline employees—they’re not just service responders, they’re a source of data and drivers of customer service innovation and satisfaction.

It’s important to be a people person when examining customer experiences. Even if you’re an introvert by nature, school yourself to remember names and family details. Your employees should be kind, caring people too—bad attitudes are contagious, and toxic to loyalty.

Keep responding

It’s not enough to ask once. Stay in touch, and let your regulars know about specials, sales, and new products. Thank them in person and with special discounts—or even freebies—for their loyalty. Once they know how much they mean to you, they won’t take their business anyplace else.

Walgreen’s has really listened to its customers for the past 30 years. When their customers’ lives became more hectic, Walgreens originated the drive-through pharmacy and began refilling prescriptions at any location. When customers who weren’t native English speakers said they could not read their prescriptions, Walgreens began printing prescription labels in 14 different languages. And when older patrons noted that the print on labels was hard to read they created large-type labels for their convenience.

Build a brand

Four simple steps will help you build a brand with which customers can emotionally connect.

  1. Build your brand based on one single idea that provides value potential consumers cannot get from any of your competitors.
  2. Focus your efforts (and spending) on fulfilling this promise of unique value, and ensure you can deliver on everything that you promise.
  3. Do not stray from this focus over time, and keep it simple and consistent. While you can innovate and upgrade your brand, you must always keep it differentiated from competitors in that single, unique way.
  4. Using data alone, it is hard to tell a merely satisfied customer from somebody who’s a true loyalist. A measure like Fresh Intelligence’s Emotional Engagement Index™ can help you understand whether you’ve engaged your customer’s heart, or just her wallet. Remember: what gets measured gets valued.

• • • • •

Share of heart is more important than share of wallet. Break away from your competition by making an emotional connection with your customer, and she’ll be yours for life.

Corrine Sandler is a serial entrepreneur, thought leader and top 100 Woman entrepreneur. She is the CEO of ValidateIt™, a technology insight platform, and the founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Fresh Intelligence®, a custom global market research agency. Both businesses build on her mission of making insights and intelligence accessible to the world.


How do you make customers fall in love with your brand? Share your strategies and tactics using the comments section below.

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