Emotional attachment

The biggest miss on business radars: Why emotional attachment is the key to customer-driven growth


New research collected data from over 18,000 customers indicates that relationships - emotional attachments - are the biggest drivers of business value, over and above the likes of product quality, price and ease of use. So what can organisations do?

11th Aug 2022

Hands up, if you think relationships are essential in business?

We see a forest of hands up in the air every time we ask this question. But exactly how important are relationships when you compare them to product quality, price, ease of use, customer service, digital self-service capabilities, and so on?

We set on several-month-long research with data collected from some 18,537 customers of 24 large organisations from nine different industry sectors, conducting structural equation modeling analysis on 59 customer groups. In the process, B2B and B2C customers from the US, Canada, UK, Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia answered 1m+ survey questions. The research culminated in my book “The Big Miss: How Organizations Overlook The Value of Emotions” (Business Expert Press, 2022).

In the research, we tried to compare how much value does the feeling of a relationship drive for organisations compared to the typical customer lifecycle journey touchpoints (i.e. things like brand and advertising, learning about the product / service, the buying experience, the joining experience, the product price, quality, ease of use, the quality of customer service, communications, the self-service and account management options, etc.). 

With this goal in mind, we created a touchpoint called “Feeling of a relationship.” However, as we proceeded with the analysis, we saw that it goes beyond the feeling of a relationship. It’s more about “Emotional attachment,” as some of the most prominent aspects of it were things like “Cares for me as a person,” “Values me as a customer,” “Feeling ppreciated,” and so on. 

And isn’t this what our personal relationships are – an emotional attachment. Think about your loved ones, partner, parents, kids – what makes them stand out from the rest of your acquaintances is your emotional attachment to them.



We found that “emotional attachment” was the biggest driver of value in 59% of the customer groups we analysed and overall was responsible for 43% of business value – far more than second ranked “Product and use” with 20% and third ranked “Brand and advertising” with 18%. 

When we say “drive value for organisations,” what we mean is customers being more likely to recommend the organisation, buy from them again or renew their subscription, contract or insurance policy, seing the organisation as easy to work with (which research suggests is a predictor for future financial performance) and seing the organisation as distinctively better than competitors.

Our findings are consistent with the research of some of our clients who have been working on customer experience for many years. For example:

  • A US-based global logistics company found that emotions measured at distinctive points in the customer journey were contributing to 46% of the brand attachment and share of wallet, while cognitive loyalty (satisfaction) was contributing to 39% of Brand Attachment.
  • A US-based global B2B hardware & software company found that customers who describe the organisation as a “trusted advisor”  allocate 32% of their budget with them vs. 26% of those describing them as a “partner” and 22% as a “vendor.”

Research from other organisations also confirms the importance of emotional attachment. For example, Motista collected data from 2016 - 2018 from more than 100,000 customers of more than 100 retailers across multiple sectors. They found that customers who feel an emotional connection to a brand are far more valuable to retailers, in some cases spending twice as much, than customers who rate themselves as satisfied with the brand (CSAT). Additionally, these emotionally connected customers have a 306% higher lifetime value (LTV), stay with a brand for an average of 5.1 years vs 3.4 years, and will recommend brands at a much higher rate (71% vs 45%).

Another organisation, MBLM, which uses a distinctive index to measure the customer’s intimacy with an organisation, also found that brands that nurture emotional bonds with their customers tend to outperform top companies listed on the S&P 500 and Fortune 500 in both revenue and profit. Not only that, they can also build higher levels of trust, which in turn breeds a more loyal consumer base over time.

Behavioural science comes to the forefront in explaining why the feeling of relationship and emotional attachment are so important. Professor Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Laureate for economics, says: “There is confusion between experience and memories. We actually don’t choose between experiences; we choose between memories of experiences.” And what creates memories? Considerable research shows that the greater an emotion is felt, the more vivid the recollection of that experience. We may forget the transactional side of the experience, but it is the emotional peak and ending points that stick with us.

So, if what drives the most value for organisations is the “emotional attachment,” what can organisations do?

Strategic implications

1. Focus on the emotional connection and the feeling of a relationship 

At the moment, when organisations use customer journey mapping, they focus on the customer actions and the rational side of the experience. They try to smooth the journey and find opportunities for digital automation. 

Interestingly, even removing friction from the customer journey and making it easy to do business with is about perception, which is driven again by emotions. According to Gartner, how customers feel drives 59% of the customer effort score (CES). However, when it comes to taking action, 73% of customer experience (CX) teams are more inclined to focus on the objective factors that drive customer effort, rather than on addressing how customers feel. 

Customers have the inner desire to feel a sense of belonging, that they are valued and appreciated as customers, that the organisation they buy from cares for them as individuals and is trustworthy and reliable. 

Organisations should rethink their journey maps and moments of truth to not only look at what customers are trying to do but how they are using the various interaction touchpoints as opportunities to create an emotional connection and a feeling of a relationship. 

With digital transformation, organisations should think:

  • Which interactions to automate and digitise.
  • Where to keep or redeploy the human element to drive more emotional attachment.
  • How to also evoke key value driving emotions in the digital customer journeys.

2. Do not (solely) take customers on their words

Unequivocally, what customers tell you and what they do can be very different. In our research, we found that customers don’t know what they really want. When we do our Emotional Signature research, we use Maximum Difference Scaling (most important vs least important) to find what customers want most and predictive analytics to find the key drivers of business value (customer attitudes). This way, we found that in 74% of the customer groups we analysed, customers state product as the most important for them, but in reality, the predictive analytics structural equation model showed that the product only accounts for 12% of the largest drivers of value. On the other hand, only in 2% of customer groups we analysed customers state “emotional attachment” aspect as the most important, when in fact, “emotional attachment” accounts for 59% of the largest drivers of value.

Drivers of value


Hence, as you can see, the true drivers of value are often hidden, and this is predominantly the case with the “Emotional attachment”. Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman says that 95% of our purchase decision-making takes place in the subconscious mind. The subconscious is the process and thought of which we are not aware, the “human operating system.” We are not mindful of it running, but the subconscious has a surprising effect on what we do. To gain customer-driven growth, organisations need to adjust their research methodologies to look at the hidden, often subconscious drivers of customers’ attitudes and behaviour.

3. Include emotions in your research

Emotions heavily influence customers and play a big part in the experience. We first proved this back in 2005, when we undertook two years of research with London Business School that culminated in Colin Shaw’s book “The DNA of customer experience: How emotions Drive value” (Palgrave MacMillan, 2007). Since then, we have been measuring them and testing these with a great number of organisations and found each and every time that they play a significant role. In this research, we discovered that emotions positively or negatively affect 48% of business value (48% in B2B and 49% in B2C).  Consequently, if you are doing research without emotions, then this is not a true representation of the real world and could lead you to miss the biggest opportunities to gain customer-driven growth.

Of course, these are just the tip of the iceberg. As Colin Shaw, founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, says: “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it!”. If you want to know more about the underlying psychological reasons why customers are unaware or find it hard to articulate what really drives their behaviour and why emotions are such strong drivers of consumer behaviour; or if you want to know how to approach the creation of an emotional attachment with customers as a science and a strategy read the book “The Big Miss: How Organizations Overlook The Value of Emotions” (Business Expert Press, 2022) and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter as we share more insights and tips.

This article is based on content first published in “The Big Miss: How Organizations Overlook the Value of Emotions” (Business Expert Press, 2022) by Zhecho Dobrev.

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