I think we all can probably agree that consumers are currently exposed to a huge amount of content. As I've previously mentioned, Americans are now spending an average of 5 hours and 16 minutes online (via laptops, desktops, and mobile devices) and 4 hours and 31 minutes watching TV per day.
Not only are we spending a lot of time online and in front of the TV, but we’re also exposed to advertisements and various forms of marketing when we’re not plugged in. It’s difficult to estimate how many advertisements we’re exposed to every day, but a recent estimate puts it at about 600.
Given the immense amount of content we’re exposed to, it’s no wonder so few of us scroll down the page to read more (or even read more than the headline). We’ve become very picky about the content we consume and are quick to dismiss anything we find irrelevant.
In this aggressive market, the question businesses should be asking is not “How do we get people to read our content? ”. It should be “How can we transform our content into a cornerstone of our customer relationships? ”
In a world of highly competitive content, yours will not likely be groundbreaking--even if you do everything right. The market is too saturated to win over consumers with simply great content. In order for your content to succeed, you have to make it part of the emotional relationship you build with your customers.
Reason vs. Emotion
Traditionally, brands have focused on appealing to customers’ reason--which has mostly meant appealing to their financial motivators. “Content” (if you can call it that), would attract customers by selfishly pushing deals and low prices. Brands assumed the only motivator consumers had was money. And by only speaking to this one motivator, brands would quickly lose customers when they were undercut by competitors.
So what have great companies learned from the limitations of the [this strategy]? …They have realized that human beings... are naturally predisposed to be emotionally engaged -- and crass commercialism is not the key to emotional engagement.”
They are moving from product and service transactions to human interactions
They are moving beyond marketing-led transactions to user-led demand
Ultimately, customers are multi-faceted people, and want to be treated as such.
A joint survey by Yahoo! and BBDO found 79% of respondents say brands should be genuine; 77% say they should be engaging; and 59% expect that brands "should understand me."
Your content will turn customers away if you only speak to their logical motivators. You have to prove that you understand your audience by appealing to their reason and emotions. You can do that by integrating your content into your customer relationships and using it as a tool to drive passion for your brand.
Note: Before we get into the details of integrating your content into customer relationships, it’s important to point out that just because we’re talking about customer emotions and relationships does not mean you can can throw your strategy out the window. Your content still has to be highly targeted, well researched, well written, well executed, and consistent.
The progression of customer relationships
So far we’ve discussed the terms “emotional customer relationships” and “brand passion.” Before we go any further I need to specify how I define those terms (you might run across different definitions elsewhere).
An emotional relationship is an emotional attachment that bonds the customer to a brand. Brand passion is the pinnacle of that emotional relationship.
While brand passion is the highest point of an emotional customer relationship, there are other steps that lead to that point, which can be organized into an emotional relationship funnel.
Note: The stages of emotional attachment in this funnel were created by Gallup and are based on 60 years of consumer data. The descriptions of each stage were then fleshed out by William J. McEwen in his book “Married to the Brand: Why Consumers Bond with Some Brands for Life.” However, Gallup and McEwen structure the emotional attachment stages as a pyramid (the highest point being passion), while I find it more helpful to structure it in funnel form.
Confidence is the entry point in an emotional customer relationship, and it’s also the foundation of any relationship. Consumers won’t maintain a relationship with a brand they don’t have confidence in. Most customers have confidence in a brand when it fulfills its promises. For example, Zappos told you your shoes will arrive in 3 days, and in 3 days you receive the right shoes in the right size.
However, confidence is not a brand differentiator; consumers have confidence in a number of brands, but that doesn’t make those brands special. For example, there might be several brands of engine oil you know will get the job done, so your confidence in them doesn’t make them unique.
While confidence is fueled by brands keeping their promises, integrity is established when consumers believe a brand fulfills its promises under trying or difficult circumstances. Consumers want to know a brand will always come through.
For example, Zappos says you will receive your shoes in 3 days. Unfortunately, a large storm sweeps through the nation, making deliveries nearly impossible. In order to redeem the situation, Zappos sends you a $50 gift card and upgrades you to VIP Zappos.
However, integrity is also not a brand differentiator. There are many brands that have outstanding customer service teams who do whatever they can to fulfill brand promises in difficult circumstances.
Confidence and integrity reflect how consumers feel a brand is performing. Pride, on the other hand, reflects on how a brand makes a consumer feel. McEwen defines brand pride as “the extent to which shoppers, owners, or buyers feel good about their use of a brand...whether they feel good about being a brand’s customers and how it reflects on them personally” [emphasis added].
For example, you might feel HBO has really awesome shows that fit you personally. You’re proud to say you’ve watched the latest episode of Game of Thrones or The Wire when you roll into work on Monday.
At the very bottom of the funnel we have brand passion. Gallup found brand passion is often defined by two sentiments:
Brand X is perfect for me
X product/brand is irreplaceable in my life
While those may sound extreme, remember that passion is a deep emotion and fewer of your customers will ever make it to that point in the funnel.
Getting your customers to feel passion for your brand is difficult, but it pays off. Gallup found hotel affinity club members who were strongly attached gave the chain 32% more of their total lodging dollars than did those who were not emotionally attached. The same study also found a mid-size bank could add $265 million to its total of customer balances on deposit by drawing higher attachment scores from 50,000 more customers.
Creating content that evokes passion
So how can content contribute to customer relationships and be used as a tool to drive passion?
In order to answer that question, we have to take a look at the elements that cause people to be passionate about a brand:
Consistent brand experience
Then we can strategize how content can contribute to those goals.
Goal: Creating a consistent brand experience
McEwen points out that,
Consumers want a smooth, consistent brand experience--not a siloed one. So it’s no wonder that “Successful [relationship] management can be achieved only by company-wide commitment and aligned, integrated efforts.”
Solution: Unified brand voice
In this case, content can express those aligned, integrated efforts by maintaining a consistent brand voice. This will ensure content coming from various departments will sound cohesive and will be on-brand.
There are two basic components you need to consider when determining your brand voice:
- What’s your purpose?
- What’s the reason behind your content? To educate, entertain, delight, inform, etc.?
- What’s your personality?
- How do you approach your content? Are you witty, playful, serious, inspiring, etc.?
Below are two examples from Zillow, who creates a very consistent experience with their brand voice.
This first example is from Zillow’s blog, and the piece has a very playful, informal voice--as you can see in the headline and second paragraph. However, towards the end of the image, the piece becomes more serious and very genuine (calling for a focus on family and community in home design). The tone remains informal and conversational throughout, but readers can see there’s both authenticity and spunk.
This second example is from Zillow’s “jobs” page. It has the same fun and authentic voice. The piece starts out with a more serious and genuine note saying employees “pride ourselves on our culture of transparency and collaboration.” However, it still maintains the playful voice we saw on the blog, “No office is complete without a heavy-duty espresso machine...We like to play and have an awesome game room and memorable parties to prove it.”
While the first example is from Zillow’s blog and the second from the HR department, readers still get the same consistent, integrated experience. There isn’t one voice from HR and one from the blog; it’s clear Zillow has a company wide commitment to creating a total brand experience.
Goal: Brand identification
According to one study, whether or not a consumer can personally identify with a brand is likely the greatest driver of brand passion. “Consumers buy brands with an image or personality that is congruent with their self-concept,” according to the same study.
That concept is in line with the earlier cited survey by Yahoo! and BBDO where 59% of respondents expect that brands "should understand me."
Solution: Highly targeted content
Content is the perfect platform to help your customers identify more strongly with your brand. By making your content highly targeted in the language it uses and the topics it discusses, you can prove to your audience that you “get them.”
To help your customers identify with your brand, you need to figure out what makes them tick. By finding out this information, you can make sure your content reflects your customers’ wants, needs, and personalities.
I’ve mentioned this in a past blog post, but it’s worth going over again: The most effective way to find out what motivates and interests your customers is to ask them--one way to do that is through in-depth customer interviews.
You should also begin to get a feel for the language your customers use. This is hugely important because your customers will feel your brand is more personable if you use language on your website that they use themselves.
The best way to make sure you’re writing in a way that relates to your customers is to pay attention to how your customers talk and write. What’s their verbal personality? Are they informal, upbeat, and enthusiastic? Or are they more laid back, inclusive, and funny?
Additionally, avoid industry jargon and technical terms because these will instantly alienate your customers (unless your customers are an advanced niche group that uses jargon regularly).
Below are two examples from Sharpie, who uses very targeted content to help customers identify with their brand.
This second example is from Sharpie’s Pinterest account. The copy is the description at the top of their “neons” board. It mentions black lights and promises to have “you shining bright and bold no matter the hour.” Of course this is a generalization, but it’s mostly millennials you’re going to find out under black lights at all hours of the night.
The example below is a screenshot of the same Pinterest board. You can tell from the imagery that this content is definitely geared towards the interests of young people.
Sharpie definitely takes a risk here: they have highly targeted content, which of course alienates those it’s not targeting. However, this strategy definitely pays off as it’s effective in helping customers strongly identify with the brand; 86% of Sharpie Facebook followers are aged 13-24 and Sharpie has an 89% market share.
Goal: Brand trust
One study has found that brand trust is the second most important factor when determining brand passion (just after brand identification). The survey by Yahoo! and BBDO also found some interesting stats on consumers trusting brands:
Consumers understand that brands make mistakes (69%); however, they also expect to hear from them if they do (65%)
79% say brands should be genuine
If a brand is unresponsive, nearly 50% of consumer respondents said they would like to see it fail in the market
53% of customers who are passionate about a brand view the brand as a “very close friend”
Ultimately, consumers want brands to be honest about their mistakes, responsive, and treat them with respect (seems pretty reasonable).
Solution: Responsive and transparent content
Content is the perfect place to build trust by being transparent about your internal operations, culture, and mistakes. It’s also a great place to listen and respond to customers through comments or social media; this lets consumers know your brand is dependable and available if they have problems or questions.
Not only will transparency and responsiveness help your business by increasing consumer trust, those characteristics are also becoming industry norms that customers expect from brands.
When it comes to responsiveness, 53% of consumers expect a brand to respond to a tweet within an hour. That number jumps to 72% of consumers expecting a response if the tweet is a complaint about the brand or its products.
The example below is from the Nike Support Twitter account, which has been called the gold standard in social media responsiveness. Nike certainly responds quickly, but more importantly, they’re very helpful and personable--which doesn’t go unnoticed by consumers. Nike consistently makes the list as one of the world’s most trusted brands.
The example below is from Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles, which provides the details of their supply chain so consumers can see where their products are coming from. Patagonia has also launched several other transparency initiatives in addition to the Footprint Chronicles, and has seen a profit increase of 38% since doing so.
Patagonia and Nike are both great examples of brands that are building trust among their customers. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that trust takes time to build. Ultimately, your brand will have to adopt responsiveness and transparency as long-term goals if you want to build trust through your content.
A passionate customer base is attainable for every brand. You don’t have to be a luxury brand like BMW or Prada, people are passionate about “boring” brands too. In fact, people might be most passionate about “boring” brands.
But passion doesn’t just happen to customers; it has to be fostered over the long-term. One way to cultivate that process is by using content to drive customers through the emotional funnel towards brand passion. In order to do that, first look at what causes brand passion:
Consistent brand experience
Then, you can use your content to speak to those passion-drivers by implementing:
Unified brand voice
Highly targeted and personal content
Responsive and transparent content
While content can certainly be used as an effective tool to drive brand passion, it shouldn’t be the only one you use. As McEwen points out, “successful [relationship] management can be achieved only by company-wide commitment and aligned, integrated efforts.”
Has your company used content to foster brand passion? Share your experiences below!