New research reveals that the brands forging the strongest connection with customers are defined by a deep understanding of the current emotional needs of their target audience.
Every day we create and use shortcuts to help us make decisions based on our core values and needs.
We each have a set of these values and needs which typically remain broadly consistent, but their detailed DNA can change over time depending on our experiences and influences.
As a marketer, if you can understand the needs that matter most to your audience at a given time, you can make better decisions about product and service innovation, brand strategy and communication, and focus your efforts where they’ll have the most impact.
Our approach to identify real-time emotional needs of consumer groups and how well brands meet those needs is LENS – Live Emotional Needs System.
Its foundation is a framework of six core values and their underlying emotional impulses that drive instinctive decision-making:
- and Love.
At the start of the year we surveyed a nationally representative sample of 10,000 people to identify the most emotionally-connected UK brands. Netflix and Dove shared top spot with the highest positivity rating across the 42 brands surveyed, with PayPal, Samsung and Lego making up the top five.
The most-loved brands have their finger on the pulse of people’s emotional needs
Netflix is a powerful example of the value of responding to your audience’s changing emotional needs. Traditionally entertainment brands such as Netflix, Sky and Virgin Media have primarily delivered against the core value of Variety, which is characterised by the emotional need for change, excitement and interest. The content providers have competed on range, focusing on breadth of content across different genres.
But Netflix recognised that the new battleground was to deliver against a rising need for Growth amongst young adults and revised its strategy accordingly. Netflix’s offer is increasingly defined by original content - the recent focus on exclusive documentaries such as ‘Fyre’ (the infamous music festival that never happened), Formula 1: Drive to Survive, and David Attenborough’s ‘Our Planet’, is introducing its audience to new stories and new perspectives. It is content designed to trigger thought and conversation, and this is helping Netflix to resonate with an expanding community of subscribers looking to learn more about the world around them.
Netflix now has the highest rating of any entertainment brand on the attribute “can help people learn or discover new things” (the most important emotional need for young adults aged 18 to 29), helping the online streaming service to become the most loved entertainment brand in the UK.
Dove’s connection with the UK population is also grounded in a deep understanding of consumer needs and the role that brands can play in addressing them. Launching the hugely successful Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004, and regularly innovating around that concept since, Dove has long been recognised as the archetypal case study of the value of brand purpose. This is reflected in the Netfluential research which shows that Dove has the highest rating of any UK brand as a ‘brand that does good’.
But the most powerful brand purposes also make a tangible difference to consumers’ lives. In the case of Dove, the Real Beauty message delivers a strong personal emotional pay-off, with the brand receiving the highest rating as a ‘brand that makes people feel good about themselves’ (a core component of the emotional need for Contribution).
Categories disrupted by consumer-centric tech brands
Many sectors have been disrupted by consumer-centric, technology-enabled brands. In retail, Amazon leads the way as the most loved brand ahead of Boots, M&S, Primark, ASOS and Tesco. Amazon is widely recognised as the original personalisation pioneer, delivering a tailored shopping experience for each customer. This has helped Amazon to become the go-to retailer for shoppers at the expense of bricks-and-mortar competitors.
In a world where choice has proliferated, people feel reassured that Amazon will reliably deliver relevant products. This underpins Amazon’s rating as the retailer that delivers most strongly against the need for Certainty (defined by comfort, trust and security) – an emotional need that is most pronounced amongst parents with young children.
The restaurant and foodservice industry has also seen disruption from online brands. Just Eat is now the UK’s most loved food brand, ahead of McDonald’s. Online food delivery services have catalysed a revolution in the UK takeaway market which has grown rapidly in the last decade.
Just as Netflix helps people to explore the world from the comfort of their homes through on-demand TV content, online food delivery aggregators such as Just Eat and Deliveroo are facilitating choice and experimentation in food. Just Eat surpasses McDonald’s in delivering against the emotional need for Variety. This need is particularly important to 16 to 24-year olds who value excitement and trying different things.
However Just Eat will need to defend against the growing threat from Deliveroo which is reorienting its strategy around the rising need for Growth. Deliveroo is increasingly providing content that inspires people to try new things with features such “our picks” and “healthy options”. Whilst its competitors provide access and choice, Deliveroo is becoming the destination for people who don’t yet know what to choose and need inspiration and guidance.
This spirit of exploration and discovery is reinforced by the brand’s recent campaign encouraging customers to find ‘food freedom’. Deliveroo is already ahead of its more well-known competitor Just Eat in ‘helping people to learn and discover new things’ – an emotional need that resonates strongly with young adults.
Be single-minded in building your entire brand experience around the targeted emotional need
The research also highlights the importance of providing a holistic and coherent brand experience when delivering against people’s needs.
Barclays is the second most loved UK bank. It is connecting with the young audiences that are increasingly defined by the emotional need for Growth (the desire to learn, grow and evolve). In banking this need is manifested as a desire to take greater control over personal finances. Barclays has responded by aligning its brand experience and advertising behind new features such as in-app card locking and spend projection, both of which are now available in the bank’s mobile app.
An understanding of younger customers’ changing financial needs has also enabled the rise of challenger banks such as Monzo and Starling. The feature-led, money management approach of the challengers is offering reassurance, control, and arguably a vocabulary for younger people to articulate their financial concerns.
Nationwide is the most loved bank and 10th most loved brand in the UK overall. A key driver of success for Nationwide has been its single-minded commitment to delivering against the universally relevant need for Love (underpinned by the needs for connection, acceptance, belonging and support).
Nationwide’s inclusive brand experience centres on putting its customers first. As a building society it is owned by its 15 million members, and this is reflected by a commitment to ensuring that Nationwide customers get the best rates and offers. The experience is amplified by Nationwide’s Voices advertising campaign, which brings to life the diverse perspectives of the customers it serves.
This is just a snapshot of the research, which allows us to monitor changing emotional needs over time. It certainly confirms that consumer-centricity is more than just a marketing buzzword. The brands forging the strongest connection with people are defined by a deep understanding of the current emotional needs of their target audience.
In the era of mass personalisation, successful brands will need to leave generic demographic segmentation labels such as ‘Millennials’ behind, and instead embrace needs-based communities. It’s key to understand that the emotional needs driving decisions can change over time, and with so much disruption, brands need to keep their fingers on the pulse or risk being left behind.