The secret to how to build a brand is forging strong emotional connections with your customers. This theory is at the heart of brand expert Kerri Konik’s work with luxury, professional services and experience brands through her innovative agency, Inspire Fire.
Konik started her careers as a brand designer and strategist with top global agencies after graduating from Parsons School of Design. After cutting her teeth working with iconic brands from CPG to luxury retailers, she brought her expertise to small-to-midsize companies developing unforgettable brands.
“We spend a lot of time in helping grow companies by looking at the emotional connection in the customer experience, in the marketing and in the sales closing process, as well as the delivery, the fulfillment of their services or the experience with their brand. From there, we focus on customer retention and how to expand and grow the size of that relationship,” says Konik.
How to Build a Brand through Customer Connection
To build a brand, you must begin with clearly understanding who you are as a company and what impact you want to have on customers and the world. “It’s the heart of the brand and the relationship between the brand and the customer. What problem do they solve for their clients? Who are their clients, and what are the emotional motivators of those customers? It’s also important to understand the ‘why’ for the owner and the management team, and to look at the emotional solution they truly provide.”
Through a proprietary process, Konik’s team works all levels from discovery to messaging and, finally, experience design.
Start by understanding what kind of connections customers want from you. “What does the brand stand for? How do you communicate it in a way that your audience understands it, feels it and wants to be part of it? Focus on customer connection. Why do people love your brand and really want to be part of that community as a brand member?”
The Power of Customer-Focused Solutions
Konik notes that solidifying those emotional connections starts from the very first touch point and requires relentless customer focus. Yet all too often, brands are talking about themselves most of the time. “Customer centricity today is all about the customer. We spend a lot of time in our services flipping the messaging of what our customers are saying.”
From a messaging perspective, this means focusing on the solutions you offer to problems your customers are trying to solve. Stop talking about the product or service you sell. Instead, focus on how your solutions help customers achieve their goals.
“Take braces. It’s painful. And they’re not necessarily attractive for a long period of time, right? Three, four years. But what we want is a beautiful smile, and to feel confident and attractive. That’s an emotional want.”
Bringing In The Emotional Connection
he advises remembering your customers desires and goals as you shape your messaging across customer touch points. “We’ll get you to your goal. We won’t talk about the procedure. We’re not going to talk about the pain. We’re not going to talk about adjustments or wearing retainers for the rest of your life. If we all knew what went into the how of what we buy, we wouldn’t buy half of what we do. They sell you on the outcome. That’s what we buy: the solution. I know you’ve heard that a million times, but people still don’t message that way, and there’s an emotional solution.”
The emotional focus needs to be strategically baked into each touch point throughout the customer experience. “What we solve for is defining the emotional goal for every touch point, right? Every interaction with you, every engagement, should have a different emotional goal. It might be the same emotional goal, but it needs to have an emotional connection goal.”
Konik notes that there are a wide range of emotional experiences you can focus on delivering at each touch point. “In CX, the emotional goals can be things like trust, credibility, moving out of formality, being more casual, being more intimate, being more personal. Inspiring people, educational, driving excitement or even helping people feel relaxed.”
The Latest Trends on How to Build a Brand
At a higher level, Konik notes that the focus on emotional connections is reshaping the full brand and customer spectrum. One trend that’s coming to the forefront is the different emotional connection needs of varied generations of customers.
“To use some demographics here, but it’s really psychographic, a 20-year-old thinks very differently about value systems and what they expect from their corporate dollar investment. You have to have a social cause, and they want to be part of that. They can buy any brand of sneaker, right? But they want to align with something they believe in, and they’re not going to patronize your brand or work for you, in the workforce, if they don’t like what you stand for,” says Konik.
Tie your customer segmentation strategy to the larger emotional context. “Segmentation and micro-segmentation, emotionally tethered on the strategic view of values, is a trend that is absolutely not going away. These times are polarizing. Especially in America, these times are really volatile and vocal, right? Social media users are very loud and proud to talk about what they stand for. They vote with their wallet.”
There’s an increasing focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in marketing and customer relationships. “In the customer experience in external marketing, in a retail advertising campaign, if people don’t feel represented, if they don’t feel included — there’s nothing more emotional than belonging,” says Konik. She continues, “We’re seeing a trend that is much more layered visual marketing, photography that’s much more inclusive, not just of race and gender, but also in sexual orientation or sexual identity.”
CX and Brand: The Key to Longevity
Forging those emotional connections doesn’t just build your brand today, notes Konik. It’s also the key to customer loyalty in competitive markets where industry experts talk about declining customer loyalty. “In emotional connection, the studies have shown that an emotionally connected customer is worth two times more than a non-emotional or just a satisfied customer. This means three things: They spend more when they spend with you. They spend more frequently, so their frequency is increased, and they stay longer.”
Konik says that now is the time to be thinking about the long-term power of an emotionally connected brand. “Going into 2020, if we are facing a recession, customers are going to be much more discerning about where they place their investments, what they buy and who they buy from.”
Ultimately, bringing the power of an emotionally connected brand to small and mid-size brands that are making a difference keeps Konik inspired. She notes, “Inspire Fire was born to level the playing field between us and use something as sophisticated as emotional connection that only the big dogs got to use. Now, we can use them as small business owners. We can use them at a price point that we can employ strategies, and we can grow our companies and make a bigger difference in the world. That obviously just lights me up.”
All photographs provided courtesy of Kerri Konik/Inspire Fire.