One of the most beautiful things about people is their ability to feel--it's what allows us to connect and not go through life like a bunch of robots. And marketers have latched on to this trait hard, learning and applying the science of how to trigger emotional response in potential customers.

But as we get more information, we have to evolve practice. And now, a new study from Deloitte Digital suggests we might need to revisit how we think about emotion, rationality and consumer-brand interaction.

It's a relationship, and emotions matter in the middle

Deloitte's study pulls together information from a survey of approximately 800 consumers, as well as an online panel of 112 additional participants. They also threw in an analysis of 91 million social media posts and 2,090 Voice of Customer surveys.

A key finding in the study is that customers absolutely see their connection with brands as a real relationship, and they want to be treated like a friend from start to finish. That means that brands must personalize, be responsive and helpful, and demonstrate contextural awareness in every interaction across the different platforms customers use.

But another finding of the study was that, while emotions contribute to purchase decisions through the entire customer journey, customers are driven much more by emotions in the middle of their overall time with a brand. They're more rational in the beginning and end of the relationship, considering elements like price or loyalty programs.

To demonstrate that statistically, 60 percent of long-term customers use the same language they'd use for friends, pets and family (e.g., love, adore, happy) when they talk about the brand. And when they leave, 70 percent point to rational reasons, such as wrong orders. Only 18 percent cite emotional reasons, such as rude behavior by an employee.

So with rationality always underlying engagement, essentially, the journey looks like this, as summarized in the study report:

1.     Shared values and rational thinking get customers to you

2.     Emotions build to inspire loyalty, advocacy and preference

3.     Rationality kicks in with incidents that eat away at the trust the customer has with you (e.g., price fluctuating for no reason, diminished quality, using customer data in unexpected ways that make buyers uncomfortable)

4.     Empathetic, contextualized response strengthens the emotional bond, preventing customer loss


Pay special attention to that last point. That's where most leaders drop the ball and fail.

"[Companies] have a good sense of how to engage emotionally in a marketing context," says Timothy Greulich, Experience Management Practice Leader for Deloitte Digital, "but when we move to the post-sale relationship, this is where the interactions often become more transactional and less personalized."

Humanized interaction saves loyalty

Greulich says how long customers are in each period of their relationship with a brand likely will vary based on how much investment you require in your product or service. But it's critical for leaders to understand that loyal customers need a humanized response when problems crop up, and that emotion-centric interaction plays a vital role in determining retention.

 "By actively listening and asking for feedback throughout the customer journey," Greulich asserts, "business leaders can better understand the needs/wants of their customers and engage in a more contexturally relevant, emotion-centric manner.[...Customers] are longing for a sense of connectedness to brands, and if done correctly, brands can foster customer relationships quickly."