The following article was originally published in Loyalty360 here

By Susan Frech, CEO and Co-Founder

On a very basic level, the definition of being loyal to a brand means you repeat the purchase of a product or service rather than taking your business elsewhere. Marketers are often focused squarely on the financial aspect of being loyal. They regularly design new ways to solicit the next purchase, to stay top-of-mind through targeted advertising or to upsell other products or services in the brand portfolio, with offers of points or discounts as an enticement.

However, many marketers are neglecting the relationship a brand builds with its audience in between purchases – the emotional part of being loyal to a brand. Emotional loyalty transcends transactional behavior, tapping into underlying motivations and deep-held beliefs. Research has found that on a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as even highly satisfied customers. So while many marketers are busy gathering mounds of data and analyzing activity across various systems like brick-and-mortar stores, e-commerce, loyalty programs, and third-party channels – all in the name of improving satisfaction – they are missing the opportunity to obtain the real competitive differentiator.

Emotionally-connected consumers buy more products and services, visit more often, exhibit less price sensitivity, pay more attention to content, follow advice, and recommend the brand to others. In another study, it was found that 70% of consumers with a high emotional engagement spend up to twice as much with those brands as consumers with low emotional engagement. In fact, they found that retailers could see a 5% boost to annual revenues by driving emotional engagement with consumers. Marketers who deploy emotional loyalty strategies and prioritize the customer experience will find it drives meaningful financial outcomes.

I know what you may be thinking. How can I create emotional connections when I can barely get a consumer to open an email? People are constantly bombarded with content vying for their attention. When you finally break through the clutter and get a consumer’s eyes or ears, how can you not seize the opportunity to ask for the sale?

The truth is emotional connections are just as critical to maintaining market share as traditional loyalty strategies designed to encourage repeat purchase. For brands to have long-term staying power, marketers must embrace a dedicated strategy for this “in-between place.”

Make Your Website a Personalized Engagement Destination Fueled by Zero-party Data

In the past decade, brand websites have evolved from being information-gathering hotspots to elegant digital productions that host a variety of functions like e-commerce, video-sharing and social integration. However, this central digital asset is often stuck in broadcast mode, which leads to flat, uninspiring interactions that lose a consumer’s attention. In order to deliver engagement that speaks to emotional needs, brands must first understand what those needs are. This is why a zero-party data strategy is critical throughout the entire customer lifecycle. Marketers are becoming increasingly wary of using first and third-party data as it can be particularly unreliable. As a result, zero-party data is coming to the forefront, and it thrives on capturing insights like values, preferences, and behaviors. Better yet, it is data that is fully owned by the brand.

This is an opportunity to transform your brand’s online presence into a positive, transparent feedback loop between the data given and the value received. In order to provide a tangible value exchange that triggers emotional motivators in-between purchases, marketers should provide enjoyable experiences that enable them to collect values-based personal information at the same time. This can include polls, quizzes, surveys or customer stories. Then, marketers can use this information to deliver brand interactions that highlight values shared by the consumer, creating one-of-a-kind experiences that make people feel valued, special and appreciated.

With all this said, marketers need to be very thoughtful about how they personalize experiences or they run the risk of frustrating and alienating people or leaving the impression that their data is being mistreated.

A Winning Community Strategy is a Winning Emotional Loyalty Strategy

Beyond assessing a brand for the efficacy of its product or service, an emotionally-connected consumer will view a brand as a reflection of their lifestyle. Researchers have found hundreds of emotional motivators that impact consumer behavior, but one of the most prominent is feeling a sense of belonging. Others included “feeling secure,” “confident in the future,” “standing out from the crowd” and “succeeding in life.” This is why it’s important for marketers to provide tools for meaningful community connection. Your brand’s online presence needs to appear alive with activity and energy. When consumers interact with your brand, they will look to engage with other consumers who are like them.

Many think of community-building as focused entirely on brand fandom, with the brand at the center of attention. But a community is about empowering people to tell the story of who they are and what they stand for. A successful community is built around a common purpose and it is an effective way to embody the brand’s core values (87% of consumers overwhelmingly choose brands that match their values.) The most significant step a brand can take is setting the background and building the foundation for the community to flourish. Without community, a brand set on capturing the hearts of consumers will sputter.

Keeping consumers from abandoning your brand is difficult for today’s marketers. Brands must always be listening and making improvements and appealing to the higher-order benefits that consumers truly seek and value. By setting emotional connections as the “true north” of a brand’s investment in pre and post-purchase interactions they will, in turn, reap significant financial rewards and a committed base of engaged consumers.