The evolution of shopping habits and consumer behaviours over the past decade are well documented, especially for younger generations. What continues to emerge is how the seismic changes of the last few years, combined with technological advances and a shift in consumer attitudes towards brands, have created unique challenges for brand owners, retailers and their marketing service providers.

There is huge pressure on marketers to focus on business outcomes and demonstrable ROI. However, brands vying for consumers’ attention today are battling fierce competition for attention, digital marketing saturation and increased gate-keeping. Savvy consumers can choose which brands they engage with and which they ignore.

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Duncan Smith, Country Director, Production Printing, Canon UK & Ireland
Duncan Smith, Country Director, Production Printing, Canon UK & Ireland

It’s also true that buyer journeys are not simple or linear. In a multi-channel world, consumers engage with brands across complex ‘flight paths’, moving seamlessly between the real and virtual worlds to consume information, form impressions and make buying decisions.

This leaves a burning question: how can brands cut through and connect with audiences in a meaningful way, taking them along the journey from ‘aware’ to ‘advocate’?

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Harness emotion

One vital ingredient that is all too often overlooked, is how brands make their customers feel. In our obsession with data and campaign metrics, we’re in danger of forgetting how important emotion, connection and experience are in stimulating purchase and nurturing a long-term brand/consumer relationship.

As humans, we don’t just exist in the world, we experience the world. What we experience links directly to what we think and how we feel. For most people, emotional reactions happen mainly on an unconscious level, rooted in the evolutionary imperative to survive and thrive.

Psychologist Robert Plutchik proposed a ‘wheel of emotion’ to convey a complex spectrum of human feelings. Previously commonly accepted research suggests four core emotions – Happiness, Sadness, Fear/Disgust and Anger/Surprise, while Plutchik’s view was that our emotional reactions are actually a lot more nuanced.

For the most part, consumers’ emotional responses to brands are relatively ambivalent – the connection is weak and the relationship transactional. To change this, brand marketers – whether they’re thinking about how to engage the consumer at home, out of home or at the point of purchase – need to consider how to take customers on a journey that intensifies positive emotions for example, moving from acceptance to trust and then admiration. At the same time, we can also be mindful of opportunities to minimise negative responses such as boredom, annoyance and anger.

Think ‘human’

How? By using what we know about our customers to deliver a more individualised experience at every touchpoint with the brand. Brands have so many chances to use the insights they gather to deliver more personal communications and experiences that make customers feel seen and understood.

By devoting more time and energy to humanising target audiences, focusing on their beliefs, behaviours, drivers and motivations, businesses can create stronger propositions and turn buyers into long-term brand converts. The clue is to deliver products, content and experience that are more considerate of consumers as individuals and offer something of meaning or value.

Today, sophisticated audience insights can be used to drive highly personalised promotional marketing communication that is entirely relevant and appropriate to those customer needs, delivered at an optimal point in time. This is where printed direct mail, for example, delivered as part of a considerate campaign driven by genuine customer insight, can hold the upper hand.

As a ‘haptic’ medium, print engages sight, touch and smell, connecting with consumers at a deeper level than digital channels alone. Carried to its highest level of sophistication, printed, personalised direct mail can even be ‘programmatic’ – that is, triggered by dynamic data to grab the consumer’s attention and provoke a response when they are at their most receptive.

Deliver experiences

When brands transfer that focus on customer engagement to physical spaces – retail or hospitality environments for example – they can use the same understanding of the customer to curate more customised and even immersive experiences that remove frictions and frustrations and put emphasis on comfort, convenience and connection.

Here again, customised printed décor, signage, considered promotional print and POS materials and even packaging, can combine to move the customer’s emotional needle from ‘OK’ to ‘amazed’.

And in the ecommerce age, the ‘unboxing moment’ at home has become another increasingly fundamental touchpoint in the customer’s interaction with the brand. Does the customer open a poorly wrapped item in a boring brown box, with nothing to make them feel appreciated, invite further exploration or prompt secondary purchases? Or do they receive a more individual, strongly branded and even personalised parcel that treats them as a valued customer, makes them feel special, and uses the moment to surprise, delight, captivate and – most importantly – continue the conversation to build a longer term relationship?

Reap the rewards

Today’s consumer has high expectations of the products they buy and the brands they buy from.  In an ever more competitive landscape, marketers need to tap into their audiences’ emotions to stand out and be remembered for the right reasons. Those that get it right will reap the positive reviews and recommendations that can be rocket fuel for growth.

Whether virtual or physical, print or digital, personalisation, customisation and individualisation elevates the brand, appreciates the customer and transforms simple transactions into unforgettable experiences – with rewards for both the consumer and the business.

Duncan Smith Country Director Production Printing Canon UK Ireland SQUARE
Duncan Smith, Country Director, Production Printing, Canon UK & Ireland
Country Director, Production Printing at Canon UK & Ireland | + posts