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NOW and NEXT of customer engagement

Dr Simon Moore is a trained psychologist and CEO of Innovationbubble – a behavioural psychology consultancy that helps brands understand their customers’ behaviours and decisions (conscious and non-conscious). Here he gives us his thoughts on the current advice being touted to brands and organisations and useful insight into the NOW and NEXT of customer engagement and brand positioning.

Psychologically speaking what is happening now for consumers? Most of the world population is experiencing a serious loss of control. Things and situations are being imposed on us and we are being forced to comply, adapt and adopt new behaviours. Coupled with this is a crippling sense of uncertainty which disables our perceived ability and confidence to plan ahead.

This creates a potent double whammy in terms of the psychological impact it has on consumer attitudes, decisions and behaviours. Loss of control and a sense of the unknown create hopelessness, stress and anxiety in the human mind.

What does this mean in term of the consumer mindset? Firstly, stress switches peoples considerations away from openness towards a more convergent, restricted and defensive way of thinking. We have shifted from a ‘gain’ consumer market to one more governed by ‘maintain’. In a consumer sense this means that your customers are now focused on stress reduction and coping – rather than consideration of new ideas, services and products. In a practical sense, brands and business’s that offer their customers the ability to manage this stress and improve their sense of control will (psychologically speaking) will fair much better than those brands who try to show, sell or promote new things!

Secondly, stress and anxiety make us more critically minded. This is bad news for brands and something they really need to think carefully about. Humans brains are wired to watch out for and attend to negative stimuli four times more than positive stimuli. This is heightened during times of stress – we become even more aware of things that irritate, or disappoint us. We find these things even more distasteful, frustrating and annoying.

Removing irritation

At the present time consumers will respond more positively to brands that work at understanding and removing the things that irritate their customers. This is a perfect time for brands to actually do some spring cleaning in terms of their digital copy, customer search and purchase journeys and product framing. Those brands that try to engage customers with new products and services will most likely be rejected and much worse ostracised. Customers do not have the capacity to entertain new things – they are fully engaged trying to juggle their stress, cope and take stock of the new behaviour changes they are needing to adopt.

Power of the non-conscious

The last 30 years and three Nobel Prize winners have already demonstrated that human decisions (including consumers) are more influenced by non-conscious factors (90%) than conscious ones (10%).

This is one area that brands really need to invest in. Those brands that seem to be weathering the storm have already invested in understanding the non-conscious things that influence their customers.

When we are stressed we tend to switch to more of a gut or intuitive appraisal system when we evaluate things. Consumers haven’t got time or the energy to divert too much effort away from stress management, so they tend to start relying on very quick emotional reads on things. Product facts, prices, quality start to become even less relevant, instead it is how something immediately makes them feel (in terms of milliseconds) in relation to whether they engage with it or disengage.

So consumers will make very quick non conscious assessments in terms of whether your brand, product or service is ‘psychologically and emotionally’ relevant to them right now.

Reframing your offer

Brands need to shift the emphasis away from them to the customer. Think of someone who talks just about themselves, how great they are, how clever they are, that they have all the answers you need etc. on a date – how does that make you feel? Brands need to reframe their offerings in terms away from how great they are towards what can you do for the customer. How can you help the customer meet their needs? How do you help them feel more in control? How do you make them feel more connected? How do you make them feel less irritated with you?

Leading with facts and figures will not do much for you. Customers are in an emotional space, you throw numbers at them you are simply adding to their stress levels (as they need to remember your numbers, compare them, understand them). Instead lead with emotional- based messages that engage the customers on their needs (control, social inclusion, status).

Customers also need brands to be confident (not silent – as silent suggests a lack of confidence and lack of answers). This confidence, however, needs to be positioned around the customer needs. So saying what a great product you have isn’t really relevant to the audience right now, but confidently saying how your product helps the customer right now will create more effectively psychological engagement.

So again brands need to invest in understanding what do their customers need psychologically speaking – beyond price, quality, etc. Do they have a control-based audience or are their customers more fearful of social exclusion? The top ten brands in the world have all invested in this area. Presumably if you wanted to build a house you wouldn’t build it anywhere would you? You would of course invest in some research in understanding the constitution of the ground that were to be the foundations of your home.

Customer control

Move away from assuming you know the customers. Age, gender, spend hardly tell you the ‘why’ of how customers are making their decisions or what is emotionally relevant to them. Brands really do need to do proper research and homework about their target audiences. Dig data doesn’t really answer the question about how you meet the needs of your customers and how you communicate that.

Brands need to be careful about wanting to assert control back over the customer relationships. Instead they need to give the perception of control back to the customers. Customers have been out of control for quite some time and will react quite badly to a brand that tries to exert it again!

There will be a shift in how customers assess brands. It will be a more emotional non- conscious assessment of relevance, credibility and ethics. For example, customers will feel emotionally irritated and let down by brands that spend large budgets on media without really bothering to spend much money on asking their customers what it is they need from the business.

Evaluative mindset

In summary, customers will emerge from the present situation with a much more evaluative mindset. They will want to be fully understood by the brands they decide to interact with. Getting into a price war with your competitor is neither going to psychologically engage your customer or differentiate you in terms of their deeper needs. The best ROI for brands in the next 12-18 months is to invest on a fuller understanding of how they can understand and respond to customers in the emotional non-conscious space. After all that is where 90% of the consumer decisions are based!

Tags: behavioural psychologyConsumer Behaviourcustomer engagement