How can brands better build emotional connections with consumers online?

Ben Rachel, Founding Partner & Planning Director at Soul believes that brands need to change how they read the data customers give them.

Ben Rachel

Founding Partner & Planning Director Soul


Brands have to change how they read the data customers give them. 

We’re obsessed with what data; bounce rates, pages views, dwell time et al. We pay little attention to why data.

Take the search "hotel room Berlin tonight". Those four words tell you more than you might think.

“Tonight” means anxiety. The searcher wants reassurance; to know who has a bed for them. It’s not about price and ratings; that comes later. If you do that search on Google now, you’ll see that not one of the primary listings interprets data this way. Emotional connection missed.

How, then, do you more readily make an emotional connection? It comes down to task fulfilment first and bonding second.

When people visit a website, they have a task in mind.

Imagine you’re buying a car. Take the first brand that comes to mind. Which one of the three mindsets below would you be in were you to visit their site?

  • Exploratory. What type of cars do you have? Can I trust you?
  • Task-orientated. Tell me more about the estate cars you have. Why should I put you on my short-list?
  • Surgical strike. How much does a <insert model > cost? I want to buy it

As a structure, it works for just about anything – from kettles to choosing birthday presents. It also generates a lot of data.

Why data matters because behind every action is a motivation and why data is motivational understanding.

Ben Rachel

From what data to why data

You will see behavioural patterns. Patterns are good. Your what data will show you the typical decision-making journey people go through. You will know what content works and what is extraneous. You will learn how best to retarget, even though you may, on occasion, accidentally promote the shoes just purchased. Patterns give you all you need for your Next Best Action model.

But patterns don’t talk to individuals; they are cold and impersonal. They won’t give you bonding, the second part of building an emotional connection; you need why data for that. Why data build emotional connections between customers and brands.

Why data matters because behind every action is a motivation and why data is motivational understanding.

Sometimes the motivation is clear, as in hotel room tonight. More often, it needs a better understanding of people. Most segmentations don’t provide that.

To be clear, Recency, Frequency and Value of Purchase models are essential. Not least because they inform where to place marketing spend. Knowing what customers do becomes more valuable when you can pair it with why they did it.

And that’s takes us to the limitations of often used Pen Portraits and Personality Profiles.

Not everyone who behaves in the same way does it for the same reasons.

Ben Rachel

Personality is an unreliable guide

Personality is a poor predictor of behaviour. Our personalities change depending on who we’re with. We are different at work to how we are with friends, with family and with our children. Personality is an unreliable guide.

We need to go deeper into the drivers of decision-making. That’s where psychological understanding comes in. It unearths the need-states that drive the decision-making of all of us.

Consider this: we are three people at the same time. It’s not that we’re fakes, it’s just how we are wired. Our three selves are deeply interconnected. And little of how our three selves manifest happens consciously, with self-awareness.

There is our projected self: the ‘I go to the gym twice a week’ self. This is how we want to be seen, the image we want to project. Then there is the avoidant self. The avoidant self is why you have a gym membership. The ‘I don’t want to be only one who doesn’t take care of my fitness’ self. And the final self? That’s the actual self, the one not at the gym but on the sofa with a glass of wine!

Take a clothes label you like. Now think about a particular top you bought from them. Some people buy that top because they want others to notice them, to say how good they look, what a lovely top it is. Others buy that very same top for the opposite reason: they want to blend into their social group, seamlessly, without drawing attention to themselves. Buying that very same top you’re thinking of does that for them. And there’s a third group who buy that very same top. They buy it because they want to influence what their peer group does. They know what they wear achieves that.

One top bought for three very different reasons.

Transactional and profile data won’t give you that level of understanding. You have to dig a little deeper and build your own pool of why data. Be it asking your own customers or building a category understanding. And once you know the why you can read the what data differently, relating it to the why.

To build better emotional connections with consumers online, comes down to asking yourself “why are people doing what they are doing?”

Guest Author

Ben Rachel

Founding Partner & Planning Director Soul


Ben has worked in agencies from big to small, independent to international, spanning everything from direct to digital, advertising to design, with sales promotion to boot. He says it was part of a wider, cunning plan to see beyond channel and focus on the idea and how to use ideas to move people. After all, it's ideas that make the world go round. Ideas fuel what we think, feel and do. Ideas are an agency’s currency. Oscar Wilde once said an idea that isn’t dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all. Exactly. How appealing is that? Ben is proud to have worked with a multitude of wonderful brands in all sorts of sectors, from automotive to retail to the voluntary sector, as well as the unholy trinity of gambling, booze and vice!

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