Embracing empathy: The key to driving brand loyalty
Kaushal Satam, SVP, Airline Partnerships, Product, Loyalty & Operations at InterMilesInterMiles
Challenging times call for a double dose of empathy and compassion towards evolved consumer needs
brands

Embracing empathy: The key to driving brand loyalty

Challenging times call for a double dose of empathy and compassion towards evolved consumer needs
  • Connecting with consumers and other stakeholders requires building multiple bridges, and experience tells us that the strongest bridges are those that resonate on an emotional level.
  • Kaushal Satam, SVP, Airline Partnerships, Product, Loyalty & Operations at InterMiles writes about a few things that can help brands build an affinity for themselves in the minds of consumers.
Brand loyalty is a paradox in itself – it is infinitely complex, yet seemingly simple. There are multiple factors and innumerable moving pieces at play when it comes to driving a simple goal: consideration for one brand over another, even when the value proposition is equal.

Connecting with consumers and other stakeholders requires building multiple bridges, and experience tells us that the strongest bridges are those that resonate on an emotional level. Driven by emotional chords, brand loyalty is maintained outside of the product value through the gravitational pull of empathy. Challenging times call for a double dose of empathy and compassion towards evolved consumer needs. The consumer and their immediate needs, as well as other stakeholders and partners in the ecosystem, must be at the center of all business decisions; understanding them is the first step to earning and retaining their trust.

Content is key
Content is a powerful tool. Empathetic brand content, communicated sensitively during times of crisis, evokes and inspires. It is, hence, more likely to be shared, draws greater engagement and can even spark a change of thought or belief amongst local communities.

A recent report by Think with Google stated that in the last one year, 39% of millennials felt that an online YouTube video helped change their perspective while 45% agreed that a YouTuber has inspired them to make a personal change in their life. These findings amplify how generations today are proactively seeking out content that prompts change, as opposed to passively consuming content.

Through challenging times, consumers naturally seek out and engage with content that sends across positive messaging and resonates with them, in a particular environment & context.

Among FMCG brands, P&G leads with an excellent example; the brand has repeatedly demonstrated how simply empathizing with customers, followed by practical solutions, can speak louder than endorsements glorifying brand features. Their 'Share the Load' campaign targeting the unequal division of household chores, especially relevant during the lockdown, has become a point of discussion in households, youth-communities and workplaces
E-commerce major Amazon India’s ‘Aapki Apni Dukaan’ and ‘Apno ka Saath’ are other key examples of successful communication campaigns that have not only acknowledged but also addressed the importance of having a dependable vendor to meet the needs of India’s aspiring entrepreneurs. The campaigns not only reassure the viewer but also empathize with common grievances faced by them. Leveraging genuine emotions, these campaigns have been successful in driving long-lasting fulfilling relationships.

Pragmatically innovating

At times, the core business takes a backseat, while immediate needs are catered to and communicated. Travel was one of the sectors most affected by the pandemic – especially during the initial months, however brands like South African Tourism used this opportunity to guide consumers with campaigns that said ‘Don’t travel now, so you can travel later’ and ‘Sacrifice now, celebrate later’.

The travel industry has evolved to look beyond instantaneous profits, and has taken small steps to instill confidence and build trust. For example, lodges and hotels now provide flexible bookings – allowing trips to be postponed even up to a year – along with low cost cancellations. Hotels now give consumers the option of having their rooms to be completely disinfected one day before their stay, without letting anyone else use the room in the interim. There are also additional visual representations of health and sanitization measures.

Many destination brands have also been offering free virtual tours, to engage and inspire – be it a walk around The Louvre in Paris, real-time guided safaris in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, or 360-degree views of the ruins of Inca settlements in Machu Picchu.

This displays brand commitment to consumers and society, as well as the drive to provide meaningful solutions for company growth.

Getting it right with customer-centricity
Consumers show an active interest in content that is reflective of their own personal values and belief system. For a brand to be able to strike the right chord with their consumers, they need to form strong foundations by continually investing time and effort in getting to know their consumers. Brands must explore diverse areas of consumer personas to gain an understanding of habits, influences, emotions, and behaviours. These findings can be leveraged to construct a solid narrative that offers value, is relevant and insightful enough to evoke an emotion and prompt change.

Big gestures are non-mandatory; simple, timely and consistent methods of displaying care and concern establishes long-term trust and affinity. It could be as simple as offering free-of-cost contact-less deliveries during t he lockdown, loyalty points for staying safe at home during the pandemic, or sharing a relevant message of hope and harmony amongst consumers.

The entire ecosystem matters

Brand values and sensitivity must expand past the consumer base to encompass other stakeholders in the ecosystem as well. Partnerships and associations forged during challenging times help brands meet the needs of all employees, vendors and associates – right across the supply chain.

Amidst stringent lockdowns, Marico partnered with Zomato and Swiggy for straight-to-home delivery of their products and all essential food items under the Marico portfolio. This ensured jobs for delivery persons at a time when restaurants were shut, while also bringing convenience to the customers’ doorstep.

To help the food industry, Zomato recently made takeaway services available at zero commission to its restaurant partners, while also foregoing the payment gateway charges they incur on all takeaway orders.

There is strength in togetherness and immense power in empathy. It is what makes leaders and brands stand out from the herd.