Cultivating an Emotional Connection With Your Customers Is How You Survive Disruption
A new crop of ecommerce startups has redefined personalization.
With big data and powerful analytics, it's easier than ever for companies to target and play to their shoppers. Using robust, open-source technology, brands can build highly personalized recommendations and boost their bottom lines along the way.
But, personalization also helps brands connect with their client base (and vice versa) on an emotional level. Done properly, a brand can lock in faithful customers for the long-term.
In short, the future is personalization with a purpose. The best, most savvy brands will use data and customization to build a bond and turn their customers into lifelong evangelists.
An emotional connection drives loyalty.
First, it's important to understand that an emotional connection is the foundation for brand loyalty.
Research shows that companies which can connect deeply with their customers often perform better. In an analysis of 1,400 branding and advertising case studies in the UK, those campaigns which featured only emotional content performed twice as well (31 percent) as those with only rational content (16 percent). Purely emotional content also performed a tiny bit better than campaigns that mixed rational and emotional content (26 percent).
That's not all. In a Harvard Business Review article, analysts found that emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers. These customers with a strong bond are simply more invested in your company--and your success. They buy more products, visit your website or storefront more often, are less sensitive to price, and recommend you to more people in their social circles.
One reason for this might come down to a quirk of human nature. Though it's often said that people do business with other people (and not companies), one exception may be those companies with strong personalities. For example, this includes companies which treat their customers like friends or loved ones, cultivating an engaged community, and making products just for them.
The first rule of thumb: the more a company seems like a living, breathing person (and less like a corporation), then the more likely it is to connect with customers. Now if your company comes across as a person (say, a hip friend), and builds things just for your customers--then the game is yours to win.
How to use personalization to build an emotional connection
Pulling this off isn't easy though. One way to do this is to pay more attention to laying the groundwork for a relationship with your customers. In fact, the most effective companies build in this emotional aspect into every part of their business--especially where it concerns personalization.
Glossier is a great example. The name is a clever play on words, combining the gloss of makeup with the personal curation of a dossier. Founded by Emily Weiss, a reality TV star turned businesswoman, Glossier cleverly built a thriving community around its blog. It helps that the company comes off not as a makeup producer, but as Buzzfeed puts it, "your best friend or benevolent big sister."
Add to that Glossier's tendency to literally build products around customer critiques. One product, Milky Jelly Cleanser, was designed in response to a blog post asking customers for their dream face wash. The lesson: Even if Milky Jelly Cleanser isn't exactly personalizing a product to an individual (more like customizing an item to a group's desires), it still helps buyers feel appreciated and valued. As a customer, think about how you would feel if your suggestion appeared as a product on Glossier's store.
Birchbox is another company that effectively builds an emotional connection through personalization. Its business model is built around the clever use of data to build custom boxes of mini beauty products (full-size ones can be purchased at a higher price, or through accumulated points). As the Harvard Business School article points out, Birchbox offers a very unique service. Its bespoke packages provide quirky, niche beauty products, which customers might have never discovered on their own (or purchased at full price).
Also, Birchbox saw a low churn rate, losing less than 10 percent of customers during the first three years after its launch. Much of this had to do with Birchbox's solid use of data, especially targeting. With these heavy-duty data analytics programs, Birchbox dug into customer reviews, user profiles, and personalized extensively. From this data, the company can match products to customers almost perfectly, making them feel valued, surprised, and delighted.
Personalization and an emotional connection are the cornerstones of Birchbox's success. The service consistently exceeds customer expectations, delighting them with the month's box, and encouraging them to look forward to the next one.
Another great example is Lovepop, a Boston-based startup that offers custom-designed 3D cards and wedding invitations. While studying to be naval architects, co-founders Wombi Rose and John Wise took a trip to Vietnam, where they discovered kirigami, exquisitely cut, 3D pop-up paper art. Encouraged by the delighted reactions of friends and family, Rose and Wise saw a chance to edge out mass-produced cards from giants like Hallmark and American Greetings.
Lovepop's fully customizable wedding invitations are a fun way to add something extra special and unexpected to an otherwise cookie-cutter element of the wedding planning process. To sum it up, Lovepop's business is successful by design. Not only does the company already deal with very emotional events, but it also offers a very unique, customizable product to add an element of surprise and personality to a special day. The intersection of the two builds a strong bond with customers. I wouldn't be surprised if customer referrals and word-of-mouth are Lovepop's main drivers of customer acquisition, more so than startups with less personalized services and offerings.
Related: 25 Tips for Earning Customer Loyalty
The little touches matter.
Lastly, when it comes to personalization and the emotional connection, details are important. Something as simple as directly accepting customer feedback and putting care into your products can make a huge difference.
Just look at Chef'd, a meal kit startup that differs from competitors in a few ways. For one, Chef'd turns customer-submitted recipes into actual meal kits. For each meal kit that they sell, recipe creators are paid a 50-cent royalty fee. Instead of Blue Apron or HelloFresh, both of which offer a smaller selection of company-created recipes, Chef'd empowers its users to submit dishes that they want to eat. This partnership model is a great way for customers to feel heard and appreciated.
Chef'd also does an exceptional job surprising their customers. I experienced this firsthand when my girlfriend and I recently ordered several meals for dinner. Along with our delivery, we received a separate box containing a turn-key kit to make overnight oats, complete with a full size container of oats, fresh blueberries and a mason jar. The fact that this was completely unexpected made it that much better. And, lucky for Chef'd, it did not even cost them anything. They cleverly partnered with other brands wanting to promote their products to its customers (Quaker Oats and Chobani Yogurt, among others). In fact, they may have even made money!
In today's fast-moving, fiercely competitive environment, it is critical that companies figure out ways to connect with their customers on an emotional level. With their stellar customer service and seamless online and offline experience, this new crop of ecommerce startups has redefined personalization--and the market. In fact, other companies may have no choice but to adapt to this new paradigm.
And who knows? This could even be the one thing that Amazon and other large companies won't be able to deliver on.
Ben Lewis’ experience lies at the intersection of brands, tech,and food. He’s founded The Epic Seed, a Greek yogurt brand and an incubator for up-and-coming food brands. Most recently, Ben is co-founder and CEO of Little Spoon, which provides healthy, customizable meals for growing babies.