Emotional loyalty: Build your brand through paid media

Emotional loyalty: Build your brand through paid media
By Alicia Houselog
Alicia Houselog
Director, Media
Dec 21, 2021
5 MIN. READ

A gap exists between what consumers want from brands and how they feel those brands deliver. The missing piece is often simple—emotional connection. According to our Humanizing Loyalty Report, this is the most common key driver of loyalty outcomes, not just a points program. As the gray areas between loyalty marketing, CRM strategy, and paid advertising continue to blur, there has been a convergence of responses and strategies from the agency teams guiding brands through the process of establishing deeper connections with their consumers while delivering on operational goals for the business.

The right team of paid media specialists will possess expertise in engineering measurable business outcomes for their brand clients. They understand that long-lasting emotional loyalty requires a strong foundation on which to build that relationship. Though a significant part of the strategy will always center around acquiring new customers for brand clients, important work must also be done to ensure those customers eventually become loyal to, advocate for, and identify with the brand in order to grow those customer relationships and future-proof the business.

Move away from a purely transactional relationship

There continues to be a need within loyalty programs to shift from transactional relationships to deeper, emotional connections. This is applicable in broader advertising campaigns as well. If you’re only chasing bottom-of-the-funnel “performance media” strategies without a focus on building your relationship with the customer, you may squeeze out a handful of sales but you’re not laying the foundation for a higher level of participation with your brand. Another player in the industry can easily come along offering something less expensive, or that seems like the next big thing, and quickly undercut the short-term successes you’ve built.

Brand building among key audiences is essential for the long-term health of your business—executing on this in the right way is crucial to your success. Consider these three best practices when developing your strategy or refining your efforts:

1. Don’t skip awareness media

It’s easy to focus on more efficient channels that drive directly attributable sales. But doing so limits your ability to tell your brand story and cements a purely transactional relationship with your customer. Start with brand building and reinforce that branding throughout your retargeting efforts.

2. Use your first-party data to refine your brand scope if needed

There are use-cases for mass channels, but if the cost of such channels is prohibitive, make sure you have a strong understanding of the highest lifetime value segments within your customer database. Focus your brand building on prospects who look like those segments.

3. Do the hard work of measuring (and optimizing) brand performance

While it might not be as easy as a sale on a website, regular brand study pulses—or even control/exposed digital brand studies—can paint a picture of how you’re moving the needle emotionally with your audiences.

Keeping emotional loyalty at the core of your media buying practices

For the media buyers out there, if you want customers to feel like your brand cares about them, you need to treat audiences like humans. Trust, appreciation, and empathy are key drivers of emotional loyalty because they are essential human considerations—building strong relationships requires a multifocal approach that recognizes the importance of each driver. When looking for the right partner or agency to drive your paid media strategy, look for those that infuse that kind of thinking into their efforts and campaigns.

The following principles will help guide a successful effort:

  • Acquire with loyalty in mind: Form fields certainly should not be exhaustive but acquiring new “known” customers or prospects with basic information doesn’t allow for much personalization in your communications. Start with a smaller number of data points and show your audiences you’re listening to them by tailoring your subsequent messages to the data they have provided. Valuable personalization will incentivize them to participate in future communications when you ask for additional information to build out a more robust profile. This can be the start of a reciprocal relationship that deepens the relationship between brand and consumer.
  • Never put your ads in non-brand-safe environments: Bad brand alignment can push customers to consider your competition, so be vigilant about your brand safety measures. Don’t rely solely on brand safety technologies to do all the work for you—there should be a human involved to provide checks and balances in this crucial area.
  • Pledge to be at the forefront of privacy regulations: Ensure proper use of first-party data so your customers know they can trust you with additional information down the road. This will allow you to grow your relationship through greater value exchange and reciprocity.
  • Don’t invest in ad formats that create a negative experience for the user: Publishers are constantly coming up with new formats to capture attention and increase ad revenue, but it’s important to step back and look at it from a consumer point of view. Ask yourself if you’d be annoyed encountering that type of ad unit in the wild. If the answer is yes, don’t be fooled by promises of high CTRs—they are likely too good to be true.
  • Consider the consumer’s emotional mindset to better gauge message receptivity: When selecting partners and placements, this way of thinking can lead to better contextual alignment, a starker emotional contrast that allows your message to truly stand out, or even give you a reason to walk away from a placement where your message may be relevant to a sensitive topic but not appropriate in the moment. That level of empathy and understanding is crucial to building emotional loyalty.

The digital media landscape is always changing, and the transition away from cookie-based paid targeting is a perfect excuse to start blending your one-to-one and one-to-many marketing strategies and practices. Doing so can set your company up for increased participation and loyalty, leading to higher customer lifetime value and, ultimately, meaningful business gains.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the author
  1. Alicia Houselog, Director, Media
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