The corporate world is well-known by many as a “battleground” where firms compete for market power, higher profits and better public opinion.The search for the competitive edge has led companies to specialize and improve every aspect of their organizations, striving for differentiation in every front.As ideas start to run out and specialization reaches sky-high levels, firms are starting to realise that there is one area in particular that has both much room for improvement and the capability of providing the advantage they look for: the consumer approach.This phenomena is not only embraced by firms simply because they enjoy helping the community. Even though consumers benefit from it, these measures also allow firms to increase their profits. In fact, the consumer service has improved a lot over the years and the saying “The client is always right” has gained special attention from companies. Ever since trades started to occur, the idea of a consumer and a producer being two separate identities only linked by the currency exchanged has been rooted in our minds. However, as stated, firms are now shifting their focus towards the people who are the reason why they exist in the first place. More and more, organizations are trying to end this notion of separation and starting to approach customers with the goal of breaking barriers and gaining trust.One way to do so lies in customization. The development of the trend where buyers customize their own product according to their tastes and preferences has increasingly brought gains for firms. On the one hand, consumers become emotionally attached to the products as they feel like, by being responsible for part of the creative process, the resulting product becomes part of themselves, boosting positivity towards the merchandise and the brand. On the other hand, firms also have the opportunity to receive massive feedback about consumer taste, transforming the otherwise “passive customer” into an “active customer”, transforming the whole decision process – a win-win situation one could say.

The head of the Center for International Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge, Jagjit Singh Srai, even said that he believed most major companies would have customization operations in place within the next 5 years.

Nike is one of the most famous brands that embraces product customization

Nike is one of the most famous brands that embraces product customization

Another way to build consumer trust relies on brand development. Through jingles, logos, catch phrases and multiple initiates firms’ main goal is not only capturing a bigger audience, but also promoting brand loyalty among the regular consumers.It is with no shame that everyone can remember at least a handful of commercials or jingles from their favourite brands, even if they don’t want to. It is actually not our fault that the themes are so catchy that our brains cannot detach from them, or that we are exposed to the same commercial so many times that it sticks. It is a great investment of time and money on the behalf of firms to improve our perception of their reality.

Moreover, brand image is also boosted by campaigns related to events occurring in the world where brands decide to take a stand and defend a certain point of view in order to send a message to their customers, showing what ideals they support. As an example, multiple brands like Nike, Netflix, Ben & Jerry´s and Amazon, decided to make a stand against racism in light of the recent protests “Black Lives Matter” through financial contributions, social media posts and advertisements.

Part of Nike´s “For once, don´t do it.” Campaign.

Part of Nike´s “For once, don´t do it.” Campaign.

With all these measures the firm´s main goal is to be seen as much more than a company that trades a specific product or provides a service and more as an entity  linked with ways of living and thinking, wanting to sell an experience which their customers can identify themselves with and embrace. It is of great importance to feel part of a family that shares their same interests as it drives loyalty and brings security while promoting and expanding companies’ perception within the market.However, it is also very important to notice that by doing so, firms are now starting to interact more and more with social norms and less with market norms. That is, firms, by trying to reach an emotional attachment with consumers, start to fill an enlarged pool of expectations that if they are not able to fulfil, might generate disappointment among the loyal customers that saw them as more than a brand.

Picture this situation:

For years, you only buy shoes of a certain brand, either because you like the design better or simply because you really like the brand’s message. Imagine that you like it so much that you even have posters on your bedroom wall and stickers on your laptop of commercials and slogans by that specific brand. Well, it’s safe to say you have an emotional connection with this brand.

Suppose now, that you made your first order online and the product is nothing like what you expected and so you complain, calling and sending emails to the “Consumer  Help Service”. After hours waiting on the phone and a couple of sent emails, you receive no answer by the company you liked so much.

Now, you have a strong dislike towards this brand, you have been personally disappointed and it is very likely that you will not shop there again and will persuade your friends to do the same by telling them all about your experience. This feeling of betrayal would not exist if the emotional connection had never been established. Firms should have this in mind when they decide the type of image they want to send to the public.

To sum up, building an emotional connection with customers has numerous advantages and is a very prosperous way to gain market power and brand loyalty, but it is also a potentially dangerous measure that has the possibility of backfiring and having the opposite effect if the expectations are not met. This being said, emotional connections are a significant way to achieve consumer loyalty, but building an image that cannot be achieved can also greatly damage a firm’s reputation.

Sources: NY Times, The Guardian, Forbes Magazine

Scientific revision: Ana Clara Malta (Behavioral Economics Team Leader)

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