Nike co-founder Phil Knight has said, “It doesn’t matter how many people hate your brand as long as enough people love it.”

This is undoubtedly true. Although some brands hesitate to open themselves up to backlash and discourse, it’s nearly impossible to form an emotional identity with your target audience if you’re unwilling to stand for (and sometimes against) the things its members care about. And when a brand demonstrates that emotional identity, it taps into a certain consumer’s empathy to create a firm bond between them and your brand.

Creating this kind of connection requires the art of storytelling to humanize a brand and relate products or services to the appropriate audience. At the same time, it requires the science of analytics to understand what matters to and resonates with that audience.

When you pull this kind of art and science into products and marketing, your consumers inevitably develop unwavering loyalty that deepens over time, as in their relationships with people.

However, when brands don’t engage in the topics or causes that their consumers are passionate about, they risk being seen as simply a thing: an easily replaceable commodity. Brands that grow and endure do so because of how consumers feel about them. That’s why you need to have a plan for getting your target audience’s feelings involved.

Solidifying Your Brand’s Emotional Identity

Do you want to take connection with your audiences a step further? These three essential steps will help you form a solid emotional identity and truly bring your audience into the fold.

1. Conduct a Social Listening Audit

Every brand or business can understand what truly motivates (and demotivates) their consumers, and there’s no better place to get that input than directly from consumers who are posting on social media. By paying attention to what consumers share on social feeds, both about your brand and within your industry, you can gain valuable insights about the causes or beliefs you should align with—or avoid.

Social listening tools help you see what topics are trending in consumer conversations across channels and what overall sentiment or emotions are expressed. If you’re unsure where to start, check out the various social media tools other digital marketers rely on and experiment with a few to find what works best. As you gather data, analyze it to feed social business intelligence and find ways to create emotional connections with your audience.

2. Survey Your Consumers Regularly

Many companies sink considerable attention and resources into transforming the customer experience, but the payoff for their “innovative” work is often underwhelming. By going directly to the source, you can create a more targeted marketing strategy that focuses on building connections with audience members on a deeper level.

Directly ask your target consumers and existing customers the questions that help you understand their values and interests. This will allow you to focus your content strategy on topics and stories your consumers will believe and embrace. Customer surveys can also serve as an excellent guide to nonprofit organizations, volunteer opportunities, and influencers who can help position your brand in meaningful ways.

3. Solicit Input From Your Customer Care Teams

Your team members who interact directly with consumers during times of conflict often have powerful insights into what makes them tick. Ask your customer care team what excites your consumers, whether positively or negatively. Delve into the deeper causes of pain points and areas where your products or services might fall short. Find out why people feel the way they do.

Your consumers’ wants and needs change frequently enough that these information-gathering tactics should be used annually—and perhaps even quarterly. Paying attention to the data from these audits and surveys will allow you to assess whether you’ve discovered the strategies that truly build robust emotional connections over time.

You might not have the marketing budget or resources of a giant enterprise, but every brand can invest some time in understanding and responding to what truly motivates (and demotivates) their consumers. Define and demonstrate an emotional identity for your brand, and you’ll see how much people want to support a company they can identify with in their hearts and minds.

Daryl Forkell

Daryl Forkell is the creative director at Hallmark Business Connections, the B2B division of Hallmark that helps businesses build and strengthen relationships with their customers and employees. She ensures that all programs developed are the optimal blend of data-driven business insights expressed in the most compelling and creative ways. Her campaign-level thinking has benefited brands such as Nike, Nintendo, Disney, Hallmark, and State Farm. She knows how to make connections and produce experiences that result in real relationships and revenue for her clients.

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