Would it surprise you to learn that easyJet is more beloved than Ryanair? Probably not. It might surprise you more to learn that Ryanair had almost 10 percent more on-time arrivals at U.K. airports, estimated by FlightOnTime for the period from May 2015 to May 2016, and the fewest complaints per passenger among major U.K.-based airlines, according to consumer research by the Civil Aviation Authority for the period from January to December 2014. But because easyJet has built an emotional bond with its customers, love for the brand mitigates weakness in operational performance. In other words, customers are more willing to forgive mistakes.
Emotional bonds act as multipliers on everything the company does, giving a greater lift from the same customer experience. Whether it’s financial services (America’s USAA or the U.K.’s Nationwide), retail (Amazon) or entertainment (Disney), it’s possible to build an emotional bond.
Three steps for a closer connection with customers are:
Influence the experience alongside storytelling
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. That will mean creating the attribution model that quantifies the financial value that emotional bonds bring, prioritizing the brand associations that matter most and identifying the touchpoints where these associations create the most impact.
Be a passionate advocate
This should be blindingly obvious, and it is a current management focus with tools such as Net Promoter Score and design thinking. But the reality is that many organizations focus on immediate financial benefits, rather than setting red lines against compromising the customer experience. Examples include airlines charging for baggage, banks hiding fees in the small print, and phone companies offering the best deals only to new customers. It is difficult to balance what you can directly measure with your convictions about what matters for the future. Items that can be measured are usually the more tangible, shorter-term and cost-focused ones, such as 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, such as the dynamic Uber creates between you and your driver by taking payment out of the relationship, enabling you to play your music on their car radio, etc. It’s not enough to deliver a performance worthy of a five-star review on a platform like Uber or Amazon — your customer also needs to want to give you the glowing endorsement. Yet intangible 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?
Unlock the potential of your team
Many organizations today still treat employees like they do any other resource, despite study after study proving that 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. Capital One’s CEO spent 12 months visiting every major facility to share his vision and, more important, to talk face-to-face with employees. 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 will intuitively know what is the right thing to do.
The emotional bond between brand and customer acts as a multiplier on everything you do. It drives desire, builds pride and generates goodwill. Yet emotional bonds are rarely measured or discussed. Marketers, as the soul of an organization, are uniquely placed to drive the emotion agenda and deliver business impact.
Article originally published on CMO.com on December 1, 2016.