Emotional Connection: A New Growth Strategy for CMOs

By Scott Magids, CEO, and Daniel Leemon, Senior Executive Advisor for Motista

Companies are increasingly turning to their CMOs to create strategies that drive organic revenue growth. Traditional growth tactics aren’t working as they once did: Product and service innovations are quickly imitated by competitors. Customer satisfaction and brand health measures have reached saturation and are now table stakes.

Emotional connection is key to growth because emotionally connected customers are anywhere from 30–100 percent more valuable on an annual basis than those who are “merely” highly satisfied or view the brand as differentiated. These customers buy more, pay higher prices and stay longer. 

Emotional Connection Drives Customer Value

Emotional connection occurs when customers connect their deepest motivations, values and aspirations to a brand. When customers feel that a financial institution helps them achieve social acceptance, attain freedom and independence in life, or simplify life in a complex world, they have an emotional connection to that institution. In return, they concentrate their balances, use more products and stay longer with that institution—generating six or more times the lifetime revenue of customers who are highly satisfied. When customers feel that a particular quick-serve restaurant gives them a sense of comfort (because they can go there whether they are dressed for work or taking the day off) or enables them to perform at a higher level (because they can eat quickly and get on with their busy day), they visit the restaurant three times as often and are nearly four times as likely to go out of their way to eat there.

Customers follow a predictable pathway to emotional connection, from those who are dissatisfied or disconnected from the category altogether to those who are highly satisfied by conventional measures or perceive the brand to be differentiated from others. But customer value only spikes when emotional connection is achieved.

Different from other psychographic or attitudinal approaches, emotional connection—like any other corporate asset—can be measured and managed. Emotional connection is based not just on insight, but on data and analytics that predict growth. Emotional connection is also a much higher bar than customer satisfaction or brand preference, as shown below:

Many popular, well-established brands—such as Coca-Cola or Starbucks—are well thought of by nearly 70 percent of their customers, but only a few (Marriott, Disney and Tiffany’s) are actually emotionally connected with more than 40 percent of their customers.

Emotional connection can generate extraordinary customer value across a wide range of categories.

What’s required to unlock this value is a precise assessment of the emotions that truly drive behavior while having a clear objective in mind. 

Activating Emotional Connection for Growth 

Leading CMOs who are activating emotional connection in this way are delivering remarkable results: 

  • A national apparel retailer has implemented emotional connection strategies through their branding and customer experience. Their annual sales are growing at 6 percent per year in an industry where negative growth rates and bankruptcies are all too common. Customers who have been targeted based on emotional connection are spending 50 percent more than they did last year, and emotional connection-based new customer acquisition efforts are yielding customers with 9– 11 times the first-year spend of those attracted through traditional algorithms via the same digital channels.
  • A leading bank used emotional connection insights to design a credit card that would increase their position with millennial customers. The key emotions that differentiated the segment—“taking care of the environment” and “helps me fit in”—led them to design a new card with rewards aimed at environmentally oriented products and nonprofits. Card spend by the target segment increased 30 percent in the first year, and primary card use by the segment grew by 65 percent.
  • A major frozen snack brand repositioned their marketing based on emotional connection. Traditional research told them that their primary customers (mothers with young children) were motivated by taking care of their families. Emotional connection analytics identified “reward myself and perform at a higher level” as the key emotions driving purchase and price point—because what moms were really after was the opportunity to take a break or get some work done while the kids were occupied and enjoying the snacks she prepared. Repositioning the brand and targeting the right audience based on these factors led to a threefold increase in responses to digital marketing and a 20-percent increase in household penetration (which had been declining), and it grew revenues by 21 percent over a three-year period.

CMOs who are leading the charge of delivering growth via emotional connection typically focus on the following critical applications: 

  • Brand positioning and messaging: aligning the brand promise with the particular emotions that drive the most profitable customer behaviors
  • Customer targeting: identifying different emotional target groups across the customer base, then targeting the most valuable groups with differentiated messages and offers, all optimized to resonate with the key emotions that motivate the behavior of emotionally connected customers and those customers with the highest propensity to become emotionally connected
  • Prospecting: creating and applying similar emotional target algorithms to third-party databases, identifying the prospects most likely to become emotionally connected— and highly profitable—customers
  • Customer experience management: assessing each touchpoint along the omni-channel customer experience—from the features and functionality of the website and mobile app to call center scripts and physical store layouts—to align the customer experience with the emotions that trigger the most profitable behaviors

All of the above applications have the dual benefit of generating real organic growth while optimizing marketing spend and return on customer-facing investments. 

Emotional connection is an opportunity to drive growth that lives in the sweet spot of the CMO, combining insight, data, brand strategy and segmentation/targeting to deliver predictable growth. Because this approach relies on big data and predictive analytics, C-suite colleagues find it compelling. In these days of low population and income growth, intense competition and expansion, and data-driven opportunities to address customers one on one, building emotional connection is the best investment in growth a company can make.  


  • Marketing

Scott Magids is CEO at Motista, a predictive intelligence firm that enables businesses to accelerate growth by activating emotional connection. Using proprietary data and analytics, Motista has scientifically mapped the genome of human emotions and identified those most predictive of profitable behavior across dozens of categories. Through an analytic, big-data-driven approach, Motista develops a firm’s customized Emotional Connection Score,™ Emotional Connection Lens and Emotional Connection Targeting™ to activate strategic and operational investments that accelerate growth.

Daniel Leemon is Senior Executive Advisor at Motista. He was formerly Lead Independent Director at CEB and Chief Strategy Officer of the Charles Schwab Corporation.

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