It would be nice to think that people make all of their buying decisions based on considerations like price, quality, or convenience. Yet time and again, studies have shown that these qualities only moderately factor into consumer buying decisions. The truth, more often than not, is that people make these choices based primarily on their emotional response to a business, product, or service. In the consumer’s mind, the old adage holds that “feelings are facts.”
Whether brands are interacting with a potential customer for the first time or catering to a longtime buyer, it’s critical to foster positive emotional connections from the outset. This isn’t to say that quality, convenience, and value aren’t important, but in order to cement a loyal relationship over time, it is most important for companies to focus on building strong emotional bonds with their customers.
So, what are some brands doing to make sure they emotionally connect with their consumers?
Harley-Davidson Builds a Community Among Enthusiasts
On any list of truly iconic American brands, there’s no doubt that Harley-Davidson is on the top. Even for people who are not motorcycle enthusiasts, the name brings to mind the qualities that the brand embodies: Freedom, pride, independence, and rugged individualism, among others. By consistently reinforcing and cultivating these feelings in every interaction with its customers, Harley-Davidson is easily the most popular motorcycle brand with riding enthusiasts — and most recognized by all Americans.
What Harley-Davidson has done so well is show consumers that buying a Harley is actually buying into a lifestyle and a community. The company has placed a premium on nurturing not only a strong relationship between the brand and riders, but among the owners themselves. In 1983, the brand founded the first nationwide Harley Owners Group (lovingly called “HOG”), which provides everything from roadside assistance and nationwide riding events to custom riding maps that detail the best routes for biking around the country and special concerts. Harley-Davidson also recently expanded these efforts to specialized owner groups for women, Latinos, African-Americans, and veterans to show that the “Harley Lifestyle” is for everyone. For Harley, the quality of the bikes is important, but the community it supports and fosters is what makes the brand truly iconic and fosters an emotional tie to its fans.
Whole Foods Evokes the Healthy Lifestyle
Before Whole Foods came along, a trip to the grocery store was filed under the same category as stopping by the post office or going to the bank: a chore. But as Whole Foods has meteorically risen from a local natural market in Austin, Texas, to a global health-food powerhouse, the company has revolutionized the way people think about their health and their food. Founded on the principle that natural foods and farming practices are integral to leading a healthy and conscientious life, Whole Foods has become the go-to for consumers who want to align with these values.
Whole Foods, like most successful brands, uses a multi-faceted approach to building and consistently reinforcing its bond with customers. It is constantly experimenting with innovative technology, including placing sustainable greenhouses on top of its stores to providing the freshest produce to customers. The brand also find ways to evangelize about the importance of its mission directly to consumers through its outstanding customer service and loyalty efforts, or more widely via blogs, magazines, in-store promotions, and social media to create an environment that inspires a healthy lifestyle. It’s this kind of passionate and innovating thinking that shows shoppers that Whole Foods is tireless in its pursuit of improving the state of health and food production around the world. When people buy from Whole Foods, they know they are supporting a change in themselves and the world they want to live in, and that kind of emotional bond is difficult to break.
Pepsi Stokes Consumer Passion
Thanks to innovative consumer engagement tactics, Pepsi’s precipitous rise in the market has continued to excite and attract younger audiences. The brand continues to work tirelessly to solidify its place in the hearts of its loyalists by delivering unique experiences that speak directly to customer passions.
For example, in the 1990s, Pepsi began introducing “Pepsi Stuff,” a program that offered fun rewards and prizes to consumers who accumulated points for purchasing products and merchandise. That initial effort, which ended in 2008, eventually morphed from tangible prize rewards to experiential ones. Today, the brand gives consumers VIP access to things they are truly passionate about like concerts, sporting events or travel to exciting places. Take Pepsi’s currently running “Out of the Blue” campaign. Pepsi drinkers can win tickets to everything from The Grammys or the VMAs to a pool party thrown by iHeartRadio just for sharing a photo of Pepsi products on social media.
And as part of its new, multichannel loyalty and engagement program called Pepsi Experience Points (PXP), Pepsi continues to transform itself. The brand, which focuses on music to connect with its millennial audience, awards points to consumers who buy its products and for interacting with the brand across social and digital channels. By consistently engaging its audience with the kinds of experiences that they are already passionate about, Pepsi forges emotional ties with consumers and continues to build an extremely loyal and growing fan base.
Building loyalty isn’t an exact science. It’s inherently personal and particular to the individual because it is based on emotions instead of rational, linear thinking. Harley-Davidson, Whole Foods, and Pepsi understand this well and have built their businesses on it. It is no longer enough to provide the best product or service. What will always remain are the bonds brands build by engaging with customers on an emotional level and fostering genuine emotional connections at every turn.