Customers that feel an emotional engagement with a brand are – on average – 50% more valuable than those with a purely rational engagement.
That’s why building an emotional connection with customers is a a key area of focus for many of the speakers at this year’s Shopper Brain - a major conference with three successive sessions across the globe this summer.
Our own Andrew Piper will close the New York leg of the conference with his showcase of big brand strategies for cost-effective emotional engagement. What can visitors expect from his speech, and why does Soft Power thinking matter in today’s fast-moving marketplace?
Rare Design: Andrew, the theme for your talk is ‘Win the Share of Emotion Without Spending Big’. What will you cover in the session, and what do you hope your audience will take away from it?
Andrew Piper: The session takes place as a closer to the event, following presentations looking at the science of the shopper – neurology, eye-tracking, how long people linger at fixtures, what makes them stay, how they navigate stores – all that kind of thing.
There will probably be quite a heavy research element to it, so it’ll be quite technical. I’ll present at the end, as a way of wrapping up and saying “What does this mean?” How do we respond to some of these crucial insights with execution that’s going to cause them, the consumer, to stick their hand out and pick something up in a store?
Just as importantly, how much it will make customers click through online if they’re looking at a similar brand in a digital space? I’m asking: “how do we execute the big ideas shared over the two days?”
RD: Will you be answering those insights from a design-first or innovation-first perspective?
AP: It’ll be about executing brands. We’ll put stuff up to comment on and look at the challenges faced in each case.
For example, retro brands like Kellogg’s and Heinz. On the one hand, they’re modern brands - just as they’ve always been - in how they want to communicate to consumers. Today that means YouTube and the like. But what they do on-shelf is still constrained by limitations. These might be physical limitations; their supply chain determines that their products will always be in a box or a tin, for example. That’s been the same forever, and it always will be because that’s not easy to change. The historical limitations of their brands mean they will always look a certain way, and nobody has picked them up and done anything with them.
We’ll compare this with how new brands on the block, and talk about how new brands have introduced a new language and visual cues and transformed categories in a way that leaves those retro brands looking precisely that; like the elder statesmen and women of the fixture.
How do brands execute with integrity and authority, and demonstrate their quality, but at the same time remain relevant to the new consumer, showing the dynamism and agility needed in today’s marketplace?
We’ll demonstrate that execution has got a big part to play in all of this. We’ll show examples from heightened environments, like travel retail, and also the new retail environments where the definition of packaging has changed.
RD: Why are these themes significant to retailers and consumer brands today?
AP: I suppose it’s to do with how people think about their lives. So, for example, we’re thinking increasingly about our health, and what constitutes ‘healthy eating’. Obviously, ‘health’ means different things to different people, but we consider things in a different way to our parents. The obvious example is asking “is there sugar in this?”.
There’s sugar in everything, from tomato ketchup to tomato soup and – of course – every cereal bar in between. Consumers’ questions about health trigger different reactions to brands. All of this stuff hangs heavy on more established brands because they are known for their ‘unhealthy’ characteristics. A new brand can enter the market and execute directly against that insight to talk about protein, for example, in a way that seems authentic.
If Heinz put ‘with protein’ on their label, it would look incongruous, like they’ve reacted with little credibility. Consumers are pretty smart; they’ll spot that. I’m intrigued to know how long the Snickers protein bar will last for this reason. It’s a variation of the Snickers bar that has jumped on the protein bandwagon. Some consumers will say love it. Others will probably say “come on: that’s just a chocolate bar with the word ‘protein’ written on the front.”
"Execution shouldn’t just be a stunt; it should be grounded in authenticity."
Execution shouldn’t just be a stunt; it should be grounded in authenticity. It’s about how you tell your story in a way that has meaning for consumers. People are looking for something with meaning. They’re looking for something that has an idea, even though they wouldn’t say it if you asked them that question. They’re seeking something which triggers more than just a sugar rush - something that creates some level of engagement.
At the higher end of that spectrum is the green-smoothie revolution with all this intellectualised nonsense. Down on the more everyday side of things there exist categories like fresh soups and frozen where people are looking for more of a story. They’re seeking to understand what healthy eating means and how they can adhere to it with the products they buy.
RD: Rare Design has built an approach around ‘winning a share of the emotion without spending big’, which we call ‘Soft Power’. What does this mean?
AP: When we’re thinking about brand design, we’re thinking about a whole load of things. Where did this come from? What’s new? What’s contemporary and relevant for this brand? What’s our brief asking us to express? Increasingly, we’re trying to answer these questions in ways that are driven by consumer emotion.
A lot of categories are very functional; from frozen food to foot care, from mouthwash to e-liquids for vaping devices. Functional products must trigger emotion to engage consumers.
With vaping and e-liquids, it’s all about flavour and complexity of flavour. With foot care, it’s about showing that the brand understands that consumers want to look after themselves.
Even though some of the products are uninspiring on the surface, they have a lot to do with how you feel about yourself and how you believe other people think about you.
In the summer, for example, research shows that female consumers are extremely conscious of their heels because they start putting on flip-flops and shoes which are open. Using escalators is especially problematic. This issue around unattractive heels due to cracked skin is something that drives an insight into the practical products from our client Scholl. In turn, we can bring an emotional cue to a very functional problem.
"It’s not about just turning everything into beauty products. It’s about recognising that there’s an emotional pull there and leveraging this in how we execute for brands."
It’s not about just turning everything into beauty products. It’s about recognising that there’s an emotional pull there and leveraging this in how we execute for brands. When it comes to food, this means considering appearance, taste and – for the consumer – the sense of freshness, naturalness and having been prepared at home. We seek to evoke a feeling of relaxed confidence and effortless style, as opposed to the staged, somewhat artificial presentation that brands used before.
RD: Any other recent examples from the Rare portfolio that showcased the principles covered in your speech?
AP: Yes. The soft drink startup Gunna launched about a year ago in the UK, at the same time as the introduction of a sugar tax that penalises brands whose drinks contain a certain amount of sugar.
Gunna has arrived with a positioning that’s all about being low in sugar and high in character. It’s an interesting positioning because it takes functional and emotional elements and combines them. Low sugar is the functional benefit. ‘High in character’ is a way of talking about the taste of the product and the provenance and attitude behind it. This has to do with urban settings and the use of sophisticated and interesting flavour combinations, like raspberry and lemon, lemon and mint, ginger and cola. These create different profiles for adult consumers looking for drinks that aren’t only sweet, and who are looking to substitute a soft drink for alcohol – but who’ve not been able to find anything else in the past, because everything’s the same.
Gunna sits next to Cawston Press at fixtures like Co-Op. The latter is a juice offering that retailers typically depend on to promote ‘healthy’. Gunna is a likely alternative to traditional softs, because it’s still in a can.
RD: Final question: what other speakers are you especially looking forward to at the conference?
AP: It was Ferrero’s Neuro-Lessons at 10:30 which caught my eye. Partly because Ferrero’s a brand that I’m passionate about and part of an organisation that has brands that I’m passionate about. Also, because I’m looking forward to his view on how neuroscience can enhance a category that is so spectacularly brim-full of emotion, with the likes of Ferrero Rocher and Kinder.
The second one I liked the look of was Turning the Shopping Experience on its Head, because if that doesn’t happen then lots of retailers are going to disappear faster than they already are. The speaker, Lyn Falk, is talking about the role of colour, texture, movement and contrast. I’m quite excited about it, and I think we’ll have something that’s of interest for our audience too.
Ours is a sign-off to the event, and also one focused on cost-effectiveness for brands. ‘Soft Power’ is an area which offers surprisingly good value in ROI terms. A lot of brand development is perceived, incorrectly, I think, to be expensive, time-consuming and wasteful. We’ll be talking about doing things cost-efficiently and quickly, but in a way that moves brands forward rapidly to engage consumers who are jaded at the best of times, but who still want a great experience.
Andrew will take the stage at 3.45pm on Day 2 of Shopper Brain New York, this June 7th – 8th.
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