The Power of Habit: Emotional Connection vs. Convenience

written for SellUp.net

hab·it

/ˈhabət/

noun

  1. a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

 

We are creatures of habit. From the moment we get up in the morning, our habits begin to affect how we function. Think about your morning routine – the order in which you perform your daily rituals. Whether it involves hygiene, beverage of choice, breakfast, reading materials, or checking your social channels, there is a developed tendency that provides order and comfort. This concept of how habits are formed, as it relates to branding, is something we should explore. Consumer behaviors are evolving, and the landscape is shifting. Advances in technology leave us asking an important question. Which is more impactful – emotional connection or convenience?

The short answer is both. But let’s dive deeper.

The purpose of branding is to create an experience for the consumer – to tell a story that establishes an emotional connection. Emotions can exert a more powerful behavioral effect than purely rational decision-making. If a consumer has a great experience with a brand that activates a core emotional response, they begin establishing a valuable sense of loyalty. When consumers are truly engaged, they become an advocate for your brand and are more likely to amplify the message.

We live in a world of noise. Content is king, and it is EVERYWHERE. Consumers are more accessible than ever. And so are brands. Let’s look at social media. With the advent of these information superhighways, word travels faster than ever. It’s up to the brands to keep pace. Social channels provide a unique opportunity for brands to create and sustain the aforementioned emotional connection. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have afforded businesses the opportunities to build communities around them. Making customers feel important creates brand loyalty. However, these are still relatively new waters for brands to explore. Some choose to dip a toe and test the temperature, and others dive right in.

2 words: CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT

 To understand how impactful social media can be, let’s look a fast food company that’s been making a lot of noise on Twitter for some time. Wendy’s is a center of many a debate regarding how communities should be managed on social channels. Why, you ask? Let’s suffice to say their methods are…unconventional.

Wendy’s has gained attention by roasting critics on Twitter. It’s an unusual strategy in corporate social media marketing where marketers and customer service teams typically worry about appeasing customers and being politically correct. The fast-food chain is quick to contradict anyone who question its slogan that its beef is “fresh, never frozen.” In one heated exchange about how it delivers fresh beef, Wendy’s responded “you forgot refrigerators existed for a second there.”

When one user wrote “you’re food is trash.” Wendy’s responded: “No, your opinion is though.”

When another asked for directions to McDonald’s, Wendy’s replied with a photo of a trash can.

The irreverent Twitter comments have attracted extensive attention on both social media and traditional media. As I said, unconventional. But has it worked? And if so, why?

Well, their sarcastic approach certainly isn’t hurting sales. Over the approximate four-year period of its social media campaign, the company has reported 15 consecutive quarters of positive same-restaurant sales. Another measure: in the past year, Wendy’s Co. stock has soared over 40%.

Mind blown? Let’s break it down. We previously discussed the process of Building a Cumulative Advantage, with designing for habit as the second step. Social media is habitual. We are constantly checking our social channels for the latest and greatest…and funniest. Wendy’s has simply found its own method amongst the madness. They’re directly engaging their customers on social media, while gaining a lot of free publicity. Sure, it’s outside the box as it relates to conventional branding. But that is exactly the point. They have found a way to establish an emotional connection with humor. People love to laugh. It makes us feel good. And while we wouldn’t necessarily recommend trashing your critics on social media, it seems to be working for the fast food juggernaut.

When simply put, the formula for establishing a emotional connection with consumers has shifted, and a little creativity goes a long way. “The best part of waking up” was once “Folger’s in your cup” and a newspaper. Now, the best part of waking up for many us is popping a K-cup in and seeing whom Wendy’s is trashing on Twitter.

Which brings us to our next talking point – convenience. Let’s continue with the coffee theme. Millions of people start their day with a cup of coffee, or in my case, several. This is a fundamental opportunity for a brand to create that emotional connection. We associate our coffee with starting the day on the right foot. For many of us, getting up in the morning is difficult, especially on those chilly mornings when our warm, comfortable beds have us trapped. Folger’s harnessed the power of these emotions in an inventive way. Remember the ad campaigns you’d see on TV with people waking up to the smell of a fresh pot of coffee? I bet many of related to this sentiment. They even told you “the best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup.” How delightful. But what if you live alone? Who’s making your coffee and creating that smell that fills up the entire house to entice you out of bed?

In the 90s, Keurig gave us a more convenient solution – a single-serving brewing technology known as the K-Cup. Problem solved. No more wasted time or wasted coffee. Convenience incarnate. Consumers already had an established emotional connection to a cup of coffee, and Keurig presented a more convenient path. Now, you can most likely get your favorite blend in a single-serve K-cup, because other brands recognize the impact of convenience.

These concepts can be applied to any brand when properly gauging the climate of consumer behavior. Habits are self-generated. They evolve from a decision and are modified with repetition before becoming automatic. They eventually become part of our value system. If you can establish an emotional connection with your consumers, brand loyalty will follow. However, accessibility, and more specifically, technology presents a real threat to brand loyalty.

What is important to note that while habits die hard, they do die. In branding, convenience kills habits. Convenience is about speed, predictability and ease. And it can be difficult to combat. So what’s the solution?

To create a connection between your brand and your customers, engagement is essential. As previously discussed, social media provides a platform for businesses to build communities around their brands. But it’s not enough to create a Facebook business page or a Snapchat account. To build a sustainable following, actively engage your online communities by posting captivating content and being responsive. If consumers are commenting on your posts, comment back! If they’re sending messages your way, reply in timely fashion! These personalized touches lends themselves to building relationships with your customers and creating that emotional connection to keep them coming back.

Personalization is something you should be incorporating in your email marketing, as well. To navigate your way through the traffic in your customers’ inboxes, your content must be creative and dynamic. Incorporating tools like surveys and contests will encourage your customers to engage, and it makes them feel like they’re a part of your brand – like they’re connected.

Sound like a lot of work? It is, but it pays dividends. And luckily, companies like SellUp are here to help you strategize and execute email programs to increase customer acquisition and retention. When you’re sick, you go to doctor, right? SellUp has the medicine to improve the condition of your email marketing.

Emotional connection will always be an important nuance in branding, but now more than ever, brands are competing to present more convenient access to their products. It’s not just about solving a problem anymore. It’s about solving it fast. It’s about being the convenient solution. So, brands have to continue to do what works, and do more. To stay ahead of the curve, one must understand where the curve is headed. And while this is a challenging road that continues to wind, those providing ease of access are catching up quickly. Consumers want to feel that emotional connection, but they expect more from brands these days. And it’s because brands are giving it to them. If you want your customers to keep coming back, start a conversation. Engage. Offer convenient solutions. Be a resource.

 

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Building A Cumulative Advantage (Part II): Keep It Simple

Written for Sellup.net

Building a cumulative advantage is a process that requires precision and perseverance. In Part I, we discussed the importance of becoming popular early and some methods that have proven effective, and we also addressed consumers as creatures of habit, stressing the significance designing your brand experience for habit. The evolution of technology is responsible for creating new consumer habits – for our purposes, digital habits. In this segment, we’ll address these habits, discuss the dilemma of changing your brand, and conclude with how to effectively communicate with your following.

Digital habits have created new opportunities for companies to employ the aforementioned tactics. Facebook is the most common example. The interface, while slightly altered to enhance the viewing experience, has maintained the same design and color scheme since its inception. Consumers can identify a Facebook page from a mile way, because the layout is just that – identifiable.

Consumer behaviors are quite possibly the most valuable metrics a marketer can study. This information identifies trends, indicating how consumers spend their time while online.  Regarding traditional marketing and advertising methods – TV, radio, print, etc. – brands must rely on antiquated methods, like surveys, to obtain similar data. With advances in technology, the analysis of consumer behaviors (digital habits) forms a more definitive roadmaps. Enter the phenomenon of retargeting.

Retargeting is a form of digital, targeted advertising by which online advertising is targeted to consumers based on their previous internet actions. Essentially, consumers view products and services on social media and across the internet, and then the ads follow them around, as to appeal to consumer habits and impulses. Have you ever viewed a pair of shoes on Amazon and then noticed the same pair of shoes popping up on Instagram and Facebook? You’ve been retargeted.

Because the interfaces of these service providers appeal to consumer habits, advertising and retargeting efforts become white noise. We know they’re there, but they’re not bothersome. This is only achieved when consumers feel comfortable. So, what happens when a brand feels it’s time to make a change? As discussed in the first entry in our series, The Art of Balance, it’s time to innovate inside the brand.

Through dynamic marketing efforts and tireless analysis, you are well on your way to building a cumulative advantage over the competition. You’ve become popular. You’ve designed your brand to appeal to consumer habits. Now, all you have to do is keep it simple. Yet still, some brands choose to shake things up and make changes to attract new customers, which often times results in breaking the consumer habits you’d worked so hard to establish. Technology is breathing down the necks of brands all the time. It whispers, “Stay relevant. Keep with the times. Update your logo. Try something new.” Technology is an invaluable asset to brand strategy, but it can also mean a brand’s demise. To avoid pitfalls of change, play it safe – innovate inside the brand.

Facebook vs. Myspace

Similar platforms. Similar functionality. So what happened to MySpace? Why did Facebook become the phenomenon it is? Answer: innovating inside the brand. In 2008, Facebook overtook MySpace, boasting 600 million users, for one simple reason. Facebook let the market dictate where it went and innovated inside the brand. On MySpace, users could modify and customize their profile pages. So, all user pages were different. If you remember a few paragraphs back, we discussed the importance of consistent design and branding. Facebook listened. All user profiles look the same, and users are given the freedom to do what they like within the standard interface. At a bird’s eye view, MySpace tried to dictate the market, made too many changes, and gave their users too many freedoms to create a cumulative advantage. Facebook continues to innovate inside their brand, constantly adding features like Live video and new apps, and in turn, they have developed an entire subculture within their business model. Change consistently, and you can consistently change.

Lastly, communication should be clear and concise. Don’t make consumers think too hard about your brand and the services offered. We live in a world that moves very quickly. The attention span of your target audience is limited. Capture their attention directly, and be clear in your messaging to complete the cycle of cumulative advantage. There is a tendency in today’s advertising climate to be artful and complex, but then, the power shifts and your brand’s success will be contingent upon the attention of the consumer.

Cumulative advantage is not a new concept, but the habits of consumers have changed and will continue to change. If content is king, convenience is its high-maintenance queen. The most successful brands continue to find innovative ways to answer an age-old question – how do we offer the best resolution to a problem? While some argue that cumulative advantage is a non-factor, negated by accessibility to technology, I’d argue that technology can and will bolster the process of building a competitive edge, when coupled with thorough analysis and careful implementation. It’s time to pay closer attention to the way consumers want to receive information.

To review:

Become popular. Everybody loves “FREE.”

Design your brand to cater to the habits of your target audience.

Change can make or break your brand. When necessary, innovate from within.

Communication is paramount, but keep it simple with clear and concise messaging.

 

Brand responsibly.