It's that time of year again: whether you've fallen for John Lewis' bouncing Buster the Boxer, have been captivated by Burberry's cinematic biopic, or teared up at Sainsbury's animated tale of family life, the battle of the Christmas adverts has begun.
Christmas is the only time of year during which brands unanimously attempt to tap into consumers' emotions, winning brand love by speaking to universal values of warmth and openness. While these adverts may be a familiar feature of the festive season, they also serve an important commercial purpose. Brand love isn't just a marketing cliché; it's key to lasting consumer-brand relationships.
At dunnhumby (the customer science company I co-founded), we pioneered the idea that previous shopping behaviour is predictive of future purchases; or, in other words, what you did directly relates to what you will do. However, this theory is only effective in relation to a small portion of consumer purchases. Supermarkets have a high success rate with this approach; after all, humans need to eat! We tend to shop regularly for the same groceries in the same locations, leaving a trail of transaction data that's relatively easy to follow. For other industries, however, it's not quite so straightforward. The average retailer only sees their customer a maximum of 5-6 times a year. What's more, the digital age has turned the world into a beautiful bazaar of options and opportunities, with consumers being spoiled for choice in every possible category. With so many possibilities on the table, how do brands begin to predict customer behaviour?
The answer lies in emotional loyalty. Traditional measurement methods focus on functional loyalty: that is to say, a customer returning to a particular brand again and again for practical reasons. Our relationship with supermarkets tend to fall into this category - popping into your local Tesco Express on the way home from work, for example. Emotional loyalty, however, is only achieved when a customer feels that a brand corresponds with their passions, values and ideals. Does it support a particular charity you care about, for example, or produce eco-friendly products? You only have to look at Apple for an idea of this: the brand has done a fantastic job of aligning itself with a trendy, personal and aspirational lifestyle, so much so that customers queue around the block whenever a new product is launched.
Emotional loyalty is especially valuable in the modern, social media-driven world, where consumers can cultivate 'Brand Me'. Consumers are becoming savvier and more self-aware, actively choosing how they want to be perceived and chasing brands, products and experiences that reinforce the feeling of "It's very me".
This brings us back to Christmas adverts. Supermarkets generally focus their marketing efforts on functional loyalty (think of 'That's Asda Price', Sainsbury's 'Live Well for Less', or Aldi's 'Spend a Little, Live a Lot'). Once November strikes, however, these brands switch their attention to emotional loyalty, vying for clicks, likes and - ultimately - market share by inspiring a warm, fuzzy feeling. In the battle for emotional loyalty, though, Christmas is a bit of an anomaly. While adverts based on family values are a safe zone during the holiday season, brands can struggle to replicate this universal approach throughout the rest of the year. What's more, these 'warm, fuzzy' adverts are now so ubiquitous that they risk getting lost in a sea of lookalikes. Just as a blanket approach to functional loyalty prevents supermarkets from standing out, so churning out copycat Christmas adverts undermines the attempt to conjure up that special, personalised feeling that is the lynchpin of brand love.
Different things matter to different people. Blanket advertising runs the risk of striking at the heart of some consumers, while alienating others. By understanding and tapping into consumers' genuine passions, aspirations and motivations, brands can forge lasting emotional connections with consumers. Whether it's a start-up or an established conglomerate, any brand that truly understands and caters to the needs and desires of their customers will be a step closer to achieving emotional loyalty and will feel numerous positive effects all year round.