From Like to Love: Creating Emotional Loyalty

The past year has been an emotional rollercoaster—you would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t been on a ride. In times like these, we turn to the things that comfort us. It could be a favorite video game, a bit of online shopping, or a favorite food or drink. For me, it’s Dunkin’ Donuts.

I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through the past few months without the comfort of knowing that any time I needed it, a quick, no-frills cup of coffee was only a few blocks away. I order my coffee on the convenient Dunkin’ app so once I arrive, my cup is waiting for me to grab it and go. The loyalty points I earn towards a free drink only sweeten the deal.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the convenience, or that I don’t cash in on my free drink — after all, I’ve earned it — but those things are not what really brings me in. Rather, it’s the emotional loyalty I have to the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise.

Emotional loyalty is just one type of customer loyalty that brands can build. It can be hard to measure and even harder to generate, but brands should not overlook its importance. Far and beyond other types of customer loyalty, emotional loyalty is the most effective for customer retention because it’s concerned with how customers feel about a brand, rather than how they act based on other factors.

Type of Customer Loyalty

  • Behavioral loyalty – loyalty based on convenience for the customer. For example, ordering and picking up Dunkin’ Donuts coffee is so habitual I could practically do it in my sleep (in fact, I think I have).

  • Rational loyalty – loyalty based on logical things like a low price, frequent discounts or offers, or a customer loyalty program like a coffee punch card. For example, when I get coffee from Dunkin’ I know I’m paying less — you really can’t beat a large iced coffee for the $2 promotional price. However, if another local coffee shop started offering the same thing for $1, rationally, I would patronize that business instead.

  • Emotional loyalty – or loyalty based on customers’ positive emotions associated with the brand. For example, I delight in my Dunkin’ coffee so much I even recommend it to my Starbucks-loving friends in the hopes that one day they’ll see the light.

It’s easy to understand the distinction between these different types of loyalty from a customer’s perspective, but brands might have a hard time distinguishing why their customers are loyal. I know why I’m emotionally loyal to Dunkin’ Donuts, but how would Dunkin’ Donuts figure out the reason behind my loyalty? There’s no way to know for sure, but a few key metrics can provide insight.

In order to measure emotional loyalty, you have to differentiate how customers act vs. how they feel about your brand. There can be overlap — after all, customers are human and multiple factors influence the choices they make — but certain metrics can prove effective in gauging emotional loyalty.

According to a Forrester report from 2019, most brands aren’t measuring customer loyalty using key metrics that could give them insight into their customers’ emotions but would do well to start. Below are some metrics they could use.

Emotional Loyalty Metrics:

  • NPS (Net Promoter Score) – the results of a customer survey about how likely they are to recommend your brand.

  • Customer influence and advocacy – how many customers are influencing others by advocating for your brand and referring you to their friends

  • Customer sentiment – the emotions customers are feeling about your brand

  • Brand affinity – whether or not customers believe your brand aligns with their personal values

For the most part, these metrics can be measured by surveying a segment of your customer base. For example, if you know which of your customers are acting loyal based on how frequently they interact with your brand, you could send them an online survey asking them questions related to their emotions and affinity with your brand, and whether they recommend you (or would recommend you) to others. The results of the survey will give you an idea of what percentage of your customers who act loyal actually feel loyal.

Other ways to measure emotional loyalty could be monitoring customer engagement with the content you publish on email, mobile and social media accounts, or including a feedback form on your website. Once you have enough data on these metrics, you’ll gain valuable insight into customers’ emotional loyalty to your brand beyond generic metrics about their behavior like customer retention and engagement with your loyalty program.

Studies show that top brands cultivate positive user experiences. According to the Forrester US Customer Experience Index from 2019, “Elite brands provided an average of 22 emotionally positive experiences for each negative experience, while the lowest-performing 5% of brands provided only three emotionally positive experiences for each negative experience.”

Positive experiences turn into positive associations with your brand, and if customers associate you with emotionally positive experiences, they’re more likely to become emotionally loyal. So, how can you convince customers to experience your brand in a positive light? Here are a few suggestions.

Ways to Increase Emotional Loyalty:

  • Anticipate customers’ wants and needs – suggest products or services to your customers before they know they need them.

  • Personalize the customer experience – make your customers feel special with things like attentive customer service and personalized ads.

  • Give them a nice surprise – your customers will appreciate a free gift or special offer.

  • Run an emotional marketing campaign – tug at your customers’ heartstrings a little bit and they might start to feel an emotional connection or affinity with your brand.

When it comes to customer retention, your goal should be not just to retain loyal customers, but to generate emotional loyalty for your brand and increase the number of customers who don’t just act, or feel loyal, but are loyal. Remember, it’s not just the low prices, rewards program, or ease of access that keeps loyal customers coming back to Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s the positive experiences they associate with the brand and its reputation for providing a humble cup of coffee to anyone in need.

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