How Empathy Can Boost a Brand

Advertising campaigns that make a clear, unambiguous promise to the customer and understand the human side of behaviour are more likely to drive brand health, market share, and long-term sales, says a new study from The B2B Institute, LinkedIn’s marketing think-tank, in partnership with the World Advertising Research Council.

And that sentiment is finding increasing traction in the South African market. Nathalie Schooling, CEO of customer experience agency nlightencx, tells the FM that with consumer confidence at a low ebb, buying decisions are not being made on price alone, and empathy and service are more likely to sway shoppers than having the lowest price tag.

Gordon Wilson, business development director at Achievement Awards Group, believes that as the economy hardens and household budgets come under pressure, inclusive brand loyalty programmes have become more important to help businesses retain customers, increase customer engagement and boost sales.

The B2B Institute study found that “promise to the customer” (PTTC) campaigns deliver a significant brand and commercial advantage compared with those that do not

The effect, it says, was consistent, regardless of budget, duration, or number of channels used, and this offers a competitive advantage to smaller or scale-up brands or a useful approach for marketing departments under budget pressure.

The study also said PTTC campaigns deliver a commercial advantage and are 60% more likely to report increased market share, and 17% more likely to report increased market penetration than non-PTTC campaigns.

The study cited a long-standing campaign for the Snickers chocolate bar and its deep understanding of the human condition of hunger. The insight is that men seek acceptance and membership of the “male pack”, and that when they are hungry, they are not themselves, and their place is the pack is threatened.

A Mastercard campaign in the US that showed the company investing in the success of 5,000 women-owned businesses was also cited. The campaign suggested that the financial services company was investing in something priceless and was supported by real-life stories. Brand-noting increased by eight percentage points and there was a four-point increase in positive opinion among small-business owners.

A similar campaign for Starling Bank in the UK, which positioned itself an institution that would help small businesses fly, led to account take-up tripling in number.

Wilson says: “In a tough economy, businesses are often competing for a smaller pool of customers. A loyalty programme can give businesses a competitive advantage by offering a unique value proposition that sets them apart from their competitors, and gives that extra value needed to retain customers, increase engagement and generate revenue.

“By creating a loyalty programme that is tailored to the needs and preferences of their customers, businesses build stronger relationships and create a loyal customer base that is more likely to stick with them through difficult times.”

Schooling says businesses need to develop empathy; to recognise the price-consciousness in the market while understanding that modern consumers are often unwilling to trade low price for an inferior product offering and a bad customer experience.

“It is a basket of expectations. Get any one of them wrong and customer loyalty goes out the window — more so now than in good times.”

A study by global customer relationship management software company Salesforce found that 71% of consumers had switched brands at least once in the preceding 12 months as priorities, lifestyles, or financial situations changed and of these, half made the change because of customer service.

Wilson says sustainability is becoming more of a focal point for organisations everywhere and loyalty programmes must play a significant role in encouraging behaviour change such as recycling and reusing products, buying ethically sourced products and living a healthier lifestyle.

“There is also a distinct move to loyalty partnerships and ecosystems to increase utility and add greater value to programme members, and we are seeing more partnerships across service providers to reach new markets, reduce costs and grow revenue. As one example, earlier this year Starbucks adjusted its formula to make it easier to earn and redeem rewards for iced coffee, a trend driven by Gen Z consumers as iced coffee has accounted for at least 60% of Starbucks’s total sales every quarter since early 2021.”

Schooling says brands must communicate their intentions. “Take this empathy and include it in all your communication so that your client knows that you are behind them and make meaningful and deliverable undertakings.”


This piece originally appeared in the Financial Mail.