More marketers and product professionals are placing increased importance on emotion in customer engagement strategies, with good reason. Writers and researchers like Dan Ariely of Duke University, Daniel Kahneman of Princeton, and Antonio Damasio, of the University of Southern California have reported findings that make research into human decision-making relevant to anyone interested in understanding why people consistently choose one product, or brand, over another. Emotion plays a much greater role in decision making than was once thought, and a much greater role than is apparent to the one doing the deciding.
Marketers have always tried to engage customer emotions, but technology is changing how they do it. Traditional marketing techniques — like couponing — are finding new life. Using new and freely available technology tools, customers can get web-based coupons scanned at checkout or sent to them to use when they are in a store. Loyalty programs are growing in sophistication too, with concepts like gamification being applied to ecommerce sites to encourage customers to earn points and rewards for return visits, exploration of new products, recommendations and purchases. The most successful programs create habituation in the customer’s life, driving long-term program engagement.
The best way to drive emotional engagement with your brand is through mobile.
The average smartphone user looks at his or her phone 150 times per day, more than ten times per waking hour. 83% of millennials report sleeping with a phone within arm’s reach. Mobile users are, in essence, in a relationship with their devices, habituated to them both physically and emotionally. For marketers, therefore, mobile can deliver frequent, emotionally-rich, two-way interactions that can’t be matched by any other platform.
Additionally, smartphones are already location, context and time-aware, allowing for customization of the experience and effective targeting of alerts and notifications. Companies investing in mobile are well positioned to benefit from the growth of leading-edge technologies such as new sensors and wearables, which will add even more nuanced data to customer profiles.
However, taking full advantage of these opportunities is also more challenging than ever. Customers are increasingly aware that they provide copious personal data to their favorite brands and they expect it to be used to encourage and reward their loyalty in a manner they value. Companies that fail to anticipate customers’ needs look out of touch – or worse – as though they don’t care. The high emotional stakes cut both ways, resulting in an app that won’t last long on a customer’s device if its owner feels like it’s a useless distraction or gets in the way of the experiences they really care about.
So, what do companies need to know in order to launch or expand successful mobile-loyalty programs? Here are some considerations:
Simplicity is king.
The most successful mobile experiences are often the simplest, and this maxim applies at all phases of a project, from program design to mobile UX. It’s exceptionally difficult to create a simple mobile experience for a complex program, so be ruthless in cutting non-essential elements. Ask yourself whether a customer could easily explain the value proposition to a friend. This discipline will pay off in increased word-of-mouth recommendations and better usability.
Give more than you get.
A recommendation to be generous applies on many levels, but the most important point is this: don’t be greedy. Nothing sabotages loyalty faster than a program that feels cheap or entirely self-serving to the brand. Loyalty programs should not be designed to be instantaneously profitable; the appropriate measure of return on investment is customer lifetime value.
On the design side, this means respecting the increased difficulty of text input on mobile compared to other interfaces. Avoid form pages that are long, don’t ask for information you don’t really need, and try to give the customer something in return for every input you request.
Make rewards relevant.
Make sure rewards are connected in a natural way to the relationship and have an appropriate emotional tone. For example, a hair stylist might give a loyal customer a coupon for a massage therapist who works at the same facility, but it would seem out of place if a food truck gave the same reward.
Remember that rewards don’t always have to be monetary or product-based. What about time, exclusivity or choice? Consider whether there are ways to offer different customizations of a product to your most loyal customers, a perk that isn’t available to casual customers. What about early access to a new offering or a membership to a customer advisory group? As emotional connections deepen, monetary incentives actually become less appropriate. Friends don’t expect payment for favors.
Embrace variability and choice.
Uniqueness reinforces emotional bonds. People feel more connected when they know their version differs from everyone else’s. This can be achieved either by adding an element of randomness or by offering meaningful choices to the customer within the experience. Random elements can inspire deep, even obsessive engagement as users attempt to figure out the details of the system. Gamification programs are built on the principle that people love opportunities to employ choice and strategy.
With these four principles at the forefront of any mobile loyalty strategy, you’ll be well on your way toward unlocking the emotional potential of mobile experiences.