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Measure them any way you like, relationships between brands and their customers today can always be resolved to a number. Whether via shares, viral views, impulse buys or sales spikes, an increase or dip in figures tells marketers exactly how things are faring and how the loyalty stats are stacking up.
But do they reveal the whole story? Absolutely not. A sudden drop in clothes sales might tell a big retailer that something has to change – and fast – but it doesn’t explain why. Were the style or materials off the mark? Did a competitor steal the show? Have economic shifts caused a sudden unwillingness to part with money?
Trying to solve these conundrums is not a new challenge for brands. However, what is comparatively new is that, thanks to technology and data capturing, brands can keep track of the numbers as they stack up, day-by-day. Adjustments can be made in real time in attempt to improve fortunes tout de suite.
This process has become something of an obsession. For most brands, marketing campaigns were often planned years in advance; a process that seems totally unnecessary in the quick-fire world people live in today. The potential problem is that marketing has become very tactical. As brands increasingly operate in the moment, is there a downside to fixating on short-term short-cuts?
Recently, our Redefining Loyalty report uncovered a shocking truth for brands. They are trusted by only 6 per cent of consumers. This finding indicated that something must be going badly wrong in the relationship between the remaining 94 per cent and the brands that want to sell to them.
In an age when brands claim to know their customers better than ever, this surely doesn’t make sense. We set out to understand what was going wrong and how to change it.
Examining loyalty stats and consumer behaviour
By interviewing more than 1,000 UK residents, pouring over key texts and speaking to a number of experts in consumer behaviour, we discovered that ailing trust isn’t just the fault of brands. Levels of distrust are also being driven by a worldwide context of change and disruption. However, what brands are failing to do is handle the shift in sentiment appropriately. They are not prioritising what every disconcerted consumer craves – to feel safe, supported and to lead satisfying lives. Put simply, people just want to be happy. This is supported by modern psychological theory, which goes one step further, identifying an inextricable link between happiness and trust.
Thinking in these terms, brands have an incredible opportunity to connect with people and win back loyalty; but it is one that they are far from fulfilling right now. So, what needs to give?
If happiness and trust are linked, to understand how to create happiness we wanted to understand why people lose trust in brands beyond macro events. Via a poll of more than 2,600 residents, we found the top two reasons were low quality (58 per cent) and bad customer service (51 per cent). These were followed by emotive factors like corruption (28 per cent), misleading advertising (26 per cent) and change in prices (23 per cent).
It is logical to think that in order to solve the problem of mistrust, brands simply need to avoid the sort of activities that fall into these categories; and, fortunately, there are ways in which brands can turn such negative experiences around. Employees can be invested in, trained and become powerful brand advocates. Creativity can be developed with consumers’ well-being in mind. This is set to become crucial in a marketplace that will, increasingly, demand excellence, accountability and transparency in all aspects of business. But what is also urgently needed is a way to proactively ensure more positive relationships with consumers that inspire trust and loyalty.
This is where we need to revisit the culture of short-termism that the marketing industry at large seems to have adopted. Martin Seligman, founder of ‘positive psychology’, offers a powerful argument that in order to be happy, humans need to connect in ways that offer more than just a quick experience of small, instant pleasures. Instead, or at least in parallel, they need to find engagement and meaning in the long term. In fact, Seligman argues that fixating too much on short-term pleasure-seeking has a negative impact on the ability to achieve happiness in its purest sense.
Brands need to take heed. Strategies need to promote both short and long-term connection with customers, striking the right balance between quick boosts of pleasure and more significant experiences. Concentrating on social media likes, loyalty points and quick thrills is a far cry from achieving this balance – and is therefore never going to win back consumers’ trust.
Our research also found that, when it comes to all-important, long-term happiness, there are a number of key drivers that brands need to be mindful of: health, self-respect, relationships with others, self-fulfilment, fun and enjoyment and safety.
Although some variation in significance was seen across the generations, what is most striking is just how consistently important they remain, no matter people’s age. For example, if we look at the numbers for ‘importance of relationships with others’ there is a high level of agreement and the bar charts are almost completely level. Significantly, if brands want to impact many of these contributors to customer happiness, then long-term strategies and connections are vital.
Whatever the numbers – big or small, old or young – a fundamental characteristic unites humans. At times of great uncertainty, people seek security. They crave something to believe in. They want to be happy. This is good news for marketers as trust, loyalty and brand success are all nurtured by happy experiences. Brands that consistently seek to help people achieve happiness, and leave a positive footprint in everything they do, will be less likely to have to scramble for short-term fixes when they catch sight of the balance sheet.
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