Think you love someone? Of course not. You either feel love or you don't. What's true for the bonds between people is equally true for the brands we choose to buy from and associate with. That's why brands with emotional bonds with their customers deliver a stronger financial return. Over five years, emotionally connected brands delivered 70 percent points higher shareholder return than their peers.
Emotional bonds act as multipliers on everything the company does, giving a greater lift from the same customer experience. It's why Southwest, with more cancellations and lost bags than many airlines, has materially fewer complaints. Its loved brand mitigates weakness in operational performance ensuring that customers are more willing to forgive mistakes. Over the past five years, Southwest's market capitalization gained 280 percent, nearly 100 percentage points more than United.
We intuitively recognize and respect the brands that create the strongest bonds with their customers -- companies like Amazon, Disney, Nike, Starbucks, and USAA. It's not just about being in a high engagement category. They are financial services, healthcare, and utility companies that have successfully achieved an emotional bond and the financial returns that result.
How any brand can build an emotional bond
Creative leadership across the enterprise
Emotionally bonded brands don't just deliver a better experience; they also deliver something that is memorably different, an experience that delivers a physiological response at our most visceral level. That requires creative leadership, an ability to paint a vision of the end-to-end customer experience and then mobilize and align the entire organization to deliver on it. It's no surprise that founder-led businesses often typify creative leadership. But what if you don't have a CEO able to play that role? Overcome the silo mentality and build a mechanism to focus on the emotional associations unique to you and meaningful to your customers. Create the attribution model that quantifies the dollar value that emotional bonds bring, prioritize the brand associations that matter most and identify the touchpoints where these associations create the most impact.
Show passion for your customers
This should be blindingly obvious and a current management focus with tools such as Net Promoter and Design Thinking. But the reality is that many organizations focus on immediate financial benefits rather than set redlines against compromising the customer experience. Examples include airlines charging for baggage (compare that to Southwest); fees hidden in the small print (unlike USAA), or offering the best deals only to new customers (think O2). It is also difficult to balance what you can directly measure with your beliefs for the future. Items that can be measured are usually the more tangible, shorter-term and cost-focused ones, for example revenue from charging for checked luggage. But brand building is a long-term game and moving towards a bigger idea requires also focusing on the intangible, e.g., Southwest's reputation built on its "Warrior Spirit" in championing the customer's interests. These results tend to be more difficult to measure and take longer to show progress. How many of us have the courage to move beyond the numbers?
Empathize with employees
Unfortunately, many organizations today still treat employees like they do any other resource -- something to be commanded and controlled to efficiently deliver the strategic plan. But as Daniel Pink's book "Drive" explains, the most productive employees are those with purpose, autonomy, and the ability to master skills they're passionate about. Before telling employees what you want, take the time to listen to their concerns. Building emotional bonds should start with the employee as the most critical lever to reaching customers. Employees need purpose to their work beyond making money for shareholders. They'll also feel more ownership if they can participate in the conversation. IBM designed the first global employee crowd-sourced event, called "Jam," to create involvement on major company decisions. With strong creative leadership, employees should understand the brand's purpose and use it to guide every decision. This means there will be less need for scripts as employees should intuitively know what is the right thing to do. Ultimately, with purpose and greater autonomy, employees will be happier, they'll be more productive and you'll gain a stronger, more emotionally connected customer experience.
The emotional bond between brand and customer acts as a multiplier on everything you do. It drives desire, brings forgiveness and generates goodwill. Yet emotional bonds are rarely measured or discussed. They are often treated as an outcome rather than something to be actively shaped and managed. Follow in the footsteps of the brand legends and make emotional bonds an integral component of your customer experience conversation.