By Lisa Brink, Sr. Director, Client Consulting & Jeannie Votaw, Strategy & Implementation Lead, Gongos (part of InSites Consulting)
Photo, courtesy of Gongos via Shutterstock
When is the last time you witnessed a corporate brand directly asking a customer how they could make their life simpler, or provide them with a sense of belonging, or contribute to society in a meaningful way? Sure, if you’re talking about task-oriented or community-focused brands, it may seem plausible, but most brands take a superficial pass at these customer goals without realizing how deeply intertwined they are with what people are trying to achieve in their lives. In this article, we will shed light on just how important it is for brands of all kinds to understand and adopt what all human beings strive for in their lives, especially when you consider that humans only act as consumers 14% of their waking hours.
2022 continues to blur the lines between personal values and brand values
In 2022, and really since the plight of the pandemic and woke capitalism, to name just two incidents in our recent history, the consumer landscape has changed. Customer goals have shifted, and customer needs are more complex and multi-dimensional. The world has changed, we're more global, now more than ever, we're recognizing the rich tapestry of people, traditions, and beliefs.
As a result, consumers have different expectations of brands today. Ad spend is no longer indicative of brand dominance and market performance. Consumers expect brands to be clear about their values and they align with brands that share their values. All the while, consumers are getting smarter. They can sniff out brands that are merely checking the box and brands that are value-forward, transparent, and authentic. Those that authentically walk-the-walk inside the walls of their organizations and externally in the marketplace stand out.
What's interesting, though, is that connecting on values requires empathy. And while two-thirds of consumers expect brands to demonstrate empathy, only one-third feel brands do so. This reveals there is a significant unmet demand for brands that demonstrate empathy.
So, what does empathy mean? It can play out on an individual level, but also on a larger societal level, which is becoming increasingly important. Consumers want brands to deliver great products, services, and experiences; however, they’re also asking brands to be positive contributors to society, using their power to help people, society, and the planet.
A quest to find universal customer goals
Back in 2020, we set out on a journey to identify and articulate the goals that matter to customers as humans through multiple rounds of qualitative exercises and quantitative analysis.
We arrived at 25 customer goals that transcend industries, and fall into three primary categories: functional goals, emotional goals, and social goals. The importance of these customer goals for brands is in their ability to increase brand loyalty. This means, when brands help their customers achieve the goals that matter to them, brand loyalty also benefits.
It became apparent through our work gathering consumer feedback from over 100 brands that trust is foundational to a brand's ability to deliver on customer goals and power value exchange. We were able to distill the ingredients of trust down to consistency and customer understanding. Consistency and understanding come down to the relationship a customer feels that they have with the brand – do they feel well-treated, respected, and valued in each experience and interaction. The stakes are high, eighty-six percent say they would leave a brand after as few as two poor experiences. Nearly 80% say before making a purchase with a brand, that brand must demonstrate that they understand and care about them as a person. Not unlike human relationships, consistency and feeling understood are the cornerstones of building and sustaining loyalty, and without them brands risk becoming irrelevant.
Walking the talk toward brand loyalty through values
It takes more than just understanding your customers’ goals to deliver on them authentically. Authentic delivery requires brands to walk the walk, and not only when it comes to the products and services they sell, but also in their advertising, how their frontline employees engage with customers and even the company culture, and the different policies they have in place as an organization need to ladder up to those goals and values.
While we've identified 25 customer goals, not all goals are important to all consumers, or to all brands. Brand Loyalty is not a one-size-fits-all formula. What fuels loyalty will differ from brand to brand. For example, the goals that will be most effective at driving loyalty for Disney are likely going to be different than those that will drive brand loyalty for a brand like USAA, or BMW, or Chick-Fil-A.
Through a blend of primary and secondary research we can identify brands that deliver on these customer goals in a meaningful way for consumers. For now, we will highlight three goals, one from each category, functional – inspires me to live more sustainably; emotional – makes me feel good; and social – helps me to build a more inclusive and diverse society.
Brands doing it right on three goals in 2022
There's a thought provoking Native American proverb that says, we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children. Today, 47% of U.S. consumers want brands to publicly support environmental impact and sustainability. The functional goal, “inspires me to live more sustainably” fits like a glove here.
We weren't surprised to see consumers recognize outdoor brands like Patagonia and REI for delivering on this goal, as it closely aligns with their missions and values. By selling high-quality products made to last, and offering repair and resale programs, these brands truly facilitate sustainability for consumers. Furthering Patagonia’s commitment to this goal, in 2022 Patagonia’s founder transferred his ownership to a trust, a nonprofit that is committed to protecting underdeveloped and undeveloped land and fighting climate change.
Meanwhile, banks like Chase and Bank of America seem to have found their environmental niche by structuring credit card rewards and providing donation options through card points and investment options that support sustainable efforts and causes. MasterCard has more credit cards in circulation globally than any other cardholder. To reduce single-use plastics, MasterCard engineered a sustainably sourced, made, and recyclable card, with the goal of making it the credit card all financial institutions ultimately use. It’s apparent from these highlights that brands can deliver on the same goal in very different ways. There is no one silver bullet, which is good because a brand can find surprising ways that best fit their brand and business strategies.
The next customer goal we're focusing on is “makes me feel good”, which is an emotional goal. Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And likewise, consumers today remember and value how brands make them feel. This extends beyond consumers’ experiences with brands, to also include how transparent brands are with their values and how consistently they live out those values inside the walls of their organization and externally within the marketplace and society. From our research, we see Chewy understands pets are part of the family and they’ve tapped into that in various ways.
One Chewy customer describes the brand as compassionate and understanding. The customer called customer service trying to return $300 worth of food and medicine they had just purchased because their dog passed away. The customer service representative told her not to worry about returning the products, gave her a full refund, and told her to donate the products to a local shelter. In addition, a few days later she received a sympathy card in the mail. But Chewy doesn’t stop there – they also donate millions of dollars and products to shelters across the United States, demonstrating their commitment to making a positive impact in society, communities, and animals’ lives. These are superb examples of how a brand leads with their values and makes customers feel good; connecting authentically with them during a difficult time and supporting a societal cause that is near and dear to their hearts.
Our final customer goal is a social one: helps to build a more inclusive and diverse society.
As Gandhi said, “our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” Presently, nearly five out of ten consumers want brands to support issues of racial equality. Brands playing in this arena is still new and scary, but our research highlights Athleta and Peloton are getting credit for helping to build a more inclusive and diverse society. Athleta gets credit for celebrating cultural diversity, not only through the diversity of their models, but it's also the diversity of the bodies that they showcase. This enables women of all body types to see themselves in their clothing and pursue active lifestyles.
Peloton accomplishes this not only through their products, but through their trainers. They recently began to offer adaptive classes for people who are vision or hearing impaired and also have adaptive trainers. These offerings truly live out Peloton’s inclusive mission: Peloton uses technology and design to connect the world through fitness, empowering people to be the best version of themselves anywhere, anytime.
In summary, the path from customer goals to brand loyalty is becoming increasingly complex as consumers demand more from brands. It's no longer enough to deliver great products and great experiences. You also need to connect with consumers on their multi-dimensional needs, understand their values, and determine how you can authentically connect and live out the values you share with your consumers to drive brand loyalty.
This is where the real value exchange occurs, leading to deeper connections between brands and consumers and deeper brand loyalty…a relationship that holds.
About the Authors
Lisa Brink, Senior Director, Client Consulting, Gongos (part of InSites Consulting)
While guiding clients’ customer-centric business decisions, Lisa is responsible for the strategic direction on key accounts, as well as diversifying Gongos’ Strategy and Implementation practice. Her experience is duly balanced among client side and consulting agency work, focused on leveraging customer insights that shape and operationalize brand, customer experience, and business strategies. She often partners with C-Suite executives to transform teams to deliver on strategies that required paradigm shifts across the organization. Prior to Gongos, Lisa was Senior Director, Customer Strategy/Business Consultant at Elicit Insights, and has also held key brand strategy and insights roles at Advance Auto Parts and Best Buy.
Jeannie Votaw, Strategy & Implementation Lead, Gongos (part of InSites Consulting)
Jeannie helps clients solve their toughest challenges by collaborating with stakeholders to understand what truly matters to customers. With an adept ability to bridge insights and opportunity, she guides cross-functional teams in activating on customer narratives and developing sound business strategies. Her areas of discipline include strategic branding, planning, sales positioning, change management, and product/solution innovation.