Brand engagement – how to get it right

Encouraging clients to form an emotional connection with your brand is the key to repeat business, but are we getting it right? Hellen Ward investigates...

I've just come back from a fantastic hairdressing conference in Sardinia (thank you L’Oréal). The highlight is always listening to the diverse line-up of guest speakers and this year was no exception.

The theme of the conference really centered on customer engagement. What exactly is it that sparks an emotional connection to a brand? Statistics tell us that when customers really engage with a company they become ever more loyal. What became apparent was that the very real financial value of creating that elusive “magic” cannot be underestimated. Companies that fail to pay attention to how their consumers feel about them are missing a trick.

There are loads of companies that make us feel like we want to support them forevermore – they capture our hearts. My personal favourite is Chanel. I took my daughter to Paris for the first time and that was the store she wanted to go to (my heart sank – but I can’t blame her – where does she get it from?). We were hardly dressed for it – it was cold and rainy and we were both in jeans, trainers and hoodies. Walking in, we found ourselves amidst a hoard of rich tourists with their chauffeurs outside all buying a bag in every colour.

Elysia only wanted some nail polish and perfume but for her the experience of buying it in the flagship Rue Cambon store was key. She’s studying art textiles and wanted to see it all for herself. A smiling assistant approached us and when she found out what we wanted I held my breath. We were about to spend 50 euros where customers all around us were happily spending 50 thousand. Being 15, it didn’t occur to Elysia that they might turn their nose up at her money. But Chanel didn’t let me down. The attentive assistant spent as long picking out a new colour of lipgloss as she would have done if I was buying some fine jewellery.

Personal touch
The result? My daughter has an emotional connection with that brand that will last the rest of her life. In fact, Louis Vuitton’s parent company LVMH apparently goes even further. They have an active policy to nurture their young customers because they realise that if they fall in love with the brand that love just might last forever. Clever stuff.

Remember the woman who gave birth in the bedding department of the John Lewis store in Oxford Street? The staff who delivered her baby were so wonderful to her, guess what she named him? John Lewis. That’s the power of an emotional connection if ever I heard one.

At the conference, one of the speakers told a story about staying in a hotel in New York. On checking in, he was asked to fill in the usual card and at the bottom it asked what his favourite sweets and drinks were. He wrote Diet Coke and Snickers. When he got to his room, you can guess what was waiting there for him. But with it, there was a handwritten note, saying that the hotel wanted him to enjoy them with their compliments during his stay. And the magic didn’t end there. When he went back six months later, the same quota of Diet Coke and Snickers was already waiting in his room.

The right channels
Just as thought-provoking was the speaker on social media. So many salons feel compelled to jump on the bandwagon for fear that if they aren’t on Facebook and Twitter their businesses will be seen as stuck in the dark ages. But, the speaker argued, have they actually thought through why they need to be online? Is it relevant to their customer? Sometimes it will be but there are also those salons and spas that cater to people whose customer profile doesn’t include instagramming and snapchatting. So why bother? If what ticks their boxes is a more personal touch, like a handwritten note, he argued, then why not listen to them and give them what they want?

It certainly made me come back and re-think the “why” around what we are doing. Emotional connections are key to customer retention; the little things matter more than we think. And companies that realise that are cashing in.

Hellen Ward (pictured left) is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London’s Sloane Square and co-chair of Trailblazers for the hair and beauty industry sector.