Customers’ lives have changed profoundly over the last two years, so it’s only natural their expectations have evolved as well. Brands that meet customers where they are
—with authenticity and empathy woven through every interaction and across all channels—can build deep, reciprocal relationships that carry through adverse times.
Emotionally loyal customers are not fair-weather fans—they’re your diehard, weather-the-storm fans. But those characteristics don’t just happen. Emotional loyalty is a mindfully cultivated relationship that takes intentionality from a brand. And that’s no easy effort. The foundation of emotional loyalty is a deep knowledge and understanding of your customers on an individual level, powering personalized experiences and relevant interactions. These show your customers that you see, know, and value them.
Emotional loyalty is human
Emotional loyalty is achieved when consumers want to advocate for your brand because they feel that you are aligned with them. The human element in these relationships is real and consumers crave that reciprocity from the brands they love.
Brands that share a deep, emotional connection with their customers tend to have a more holistic understanding of how they fit into their customers’ lives—what those customers need from the brand to make their lives easier, better, or more fulfilling. Our research on humanizing loyalty uncovered six key drivers of emotional loyalty: trust, reliability, appreciation, investment, empathy, and shared values.
Trust is vital to any long-term relationship. Your customers are looking for honesty, transparency, and authenticity in their interactions with you. When they can rely on you to deliver in a consistent and convenient way that leans into empathy and makes them feel appreciated, they’re more likely to choose you over competitors. Successful brands deliver a value exchange that deepens their connection with their most loyal customers and are purpose-driven in a way that reflects the values of customers and communities. This cultivates brand loyalists and advocates, future-proofing a brand and carrying them through times of disruption.
Strategizing for emotional loyalty
In recent years, emotional loyalty has gone from being a lofty goal to mission-critical for most brands. Getting there is easier said than done but keeping people at the core of everything your brand does is the key to success. Each of your customers is an individual. They may behave like a particular segment, but that segment does not embody all of who they are. They have a vision for their life, ideas on how to get there, needs, and wants—all human qualities. Goals that are centered around your customer and building emotional loyalty will naturally balance any conflicting priorities and deliver measurable outcomes for your business.
Emotionally loyal consumers find it hard to remove your brand from their daily lives. In essence, your brand is woven into the fabric of their customer identity. They know you will be there for them because you have shown up consistently—and they feel valued whether they are transacting regularly with your brand or not. Brand loyalists feel seen and heard on a very human level, and therefore trust you with their personal data to power the elevated experiences they crave.
Bringing emotional loyalty to loyalty programs
Fostering emotional loyalty starts with gathering rich, first- and zero-party data on your customers and then acting on that data to deliver elevated, personalized experiences. At ICF Next, we recommend a strategic approach to loyalty program design that begins with getting to know our clients and their customers first through a series of stakeholder interviews, detailed brand assessment and competitive audit, an analytics deep-dive and segment exploration, and more. This provides a foundation on which to build strategies and programs that work to cultivate rich connections between your brand and your customers.
It’s also helpful to engage directly with your customers to see where they stand, how they are feeling about your brand, where you are delivering the most value and meaning for them, and where there might be room for improvement. But leveraging your loyalty program to enhance your relationships with customers as a part of a holistic, integrated approach—not as a separate strategy—will provide the most benefit for your brand.
This is where a knowledgeable partner can provide valuable insight. Partnering with an organization with extensive industry experience and a robust set of capabilities can make the data-gathering and loyalty program strategy process both more efficient and more comprehensive. The result is a program that is human-centric—helping to power deeper, emotional connections and participation with your brand.
True customer loyalty is not a program; it’s a reciprocal relationship between a customer and a brand, based on a deeper connection than points and rewards. But whether within the confines of a loyalty program or outside of that framework, customers are looking for the same thing: a feeling of being known and valued by the brands they invest in. Brands that deliver value in the form of individualized offers, helpful suggestions based on personal preferences, or exclusive experiences that resonate with customers, will cultivate the reciprocity both brands and their customers seek.