by Lauren Durant. Now, more than ever, marketers have to find ways of engaging with customers to build brand loyalty and avoid product switching. That said, if they have any hope of success, they need a retail marketing strategy that ignites the sales target and profits but, at the same time, increases brand loyalty, thereby creating lifelong brand advocates.

“Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.” —Walter Landor

We all buy brands and, to some extent, we define ourselves through our brand choices. From the clothes we wear to the cars we drive, the watch we choose, and where we live and socialise — the list goes on. Interestingly, up to 90% of all purchasing decisions* are made subconsciously, and the factors which influence purchase decisions are 80% emotional** and 20% intellectual***.

Clearly, we have deep connections with the brands we buy. We choose them not only for their intrinsic functional benefits but predominantly because we have an emotional relationship with them. It makes sense, then, that those brands and products that evoke our emotions are the most likely to succeed, and the earlier you make that connection the better. Once consumers are committed elsewhere, it’s that much harder to secure brand love in a world that’s all about likes.

Paying attention to emerging consumer trends and identifying relevant opportunities to move the revenue needle will help win the retail wars.

Emotions drive decisions

In my experience, customers will tell you they purchase rationally but all studies indicate that, even for B2B customers, it’s emotion that drives the final decision. Features and benefits justify decisions but the initial motivation is almost always emotional. If you want your customers to be attached to your brand, there needs to be strong emotional attachments that aren’t linked to price or convenience; there needs to a level of trust between consumer and brand. This comes from meaningful brand experiences that build connections and this is not something that can be achieved overnight. To quote Simon Sidek, well-known author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant “If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business.” To add to this, understanding people is understanding their emotional drivers.

This is where experiential and activation — events that lead to deeper connections and create emotional stickiness to your brand — may add so much value.

Often linked to call-to-actions, they give consumers an opportunity to engage with brands through unexpected, authentic and seamless brand experiences. The best of these will be shareable, generating social chatter and digital noise. It’s hard to justify the cost per contact of a big or differentiated experience if you only focus on the people you connect with directly. This is why digital amplification is vital to magnifying the experience and, in so doing, reaching a broader audience. Social media and PR are ideally positioned to achieve this. More than just a blog or social mention, the campaign must include a creative angle that invites audience participation on digital platforms. Not just a one-way information push; it’s all about active brand engagement. A word of caution, though: be mindful of the prohibitive costs of data in South Africa, which may preclude participation of some audiences if not well thought-out. USSD and IVR may be used to work around this challenge. Ultimately, though, the campaign must solve a pain point for the consumer and, in some cases, the campaign must build awareness of this need, in the minds of the consumer.

Emotions enhance recall

A big part of activations and experiential success in building brand love is linked to the human brain retaining information better when there is an emotion associated with the experience. Emotion affects how the brain stores memory, so occasions that stimulate the senses with evocative imagery and emotions are retained and, if more senses are engaged in the experience, the emotional experience is elevated even further. A stronger emotional response equals a stronger brand connection.

This is not just conjecture. Emotion increases our ability to remember by affecting activity in particular areas of the brain involved in emotional processing, the amygdala and striatum. The same holds true for the hippocampus, the region of the brain involved in encoding new experiences.

Studies also show that emotion increases the strength of memories over time, a process called consolidation. It stands to reason, then, that brands that immerse consumers in positive, unique and emotional experiences will have more success when it comes to establishing long-term connections, recall and retention.

Engineering trust

Individuals expect brands to live up to their promises in every interaction. The benefit of brand activations is they contribute towards the creation of trust between the customer and the brand; trust is key to creating loyalty between consumers and brands. Once there is trust in place (while a challenge to maintain), companies may use this loyalty to create re-purchase behaviour, enabling profitable relationships between brands and stakeholders.

Measurable returns

Perhaps its greatest strength, ROI may be measured in multiple ways within the activation space. This return is usually linked to the brand goals, so the first and most-obvious step is knowing what you are measuring. Client/agency collaboration in the planning phase is, therefore, fundamental to putting ROI measures in place; it’s at this point that the business outcome driving the campaign should be defined. By translating objectives into analytics before the campaign even starts, this will ensure the analytics have context. For example, if it’s a new product with no ATL support, the activations agency needs to ensure high reach of engagements and trial. So the ROI would be measured in cost per engagement, or cost per sample. However, it’s critical to then measure sales within the activation catchment area to ensure that there is sustained interest from the audience.

Wrapping up

A sale is great for a short-term result, but brands need a strategy to build lasting relationships and that only comes with an emotional connection — one that builds brand love. Supporting profitable growth and maximising revenue should be the consequence of the approach adopted but, in the end, the marketplace is always the acid test. With all this said, though, there’s no doubt in my mind that the power of activations continues to generate better, deeper relationships between brands and consumers than any other communication tactic.


*Neuromarketing: Understanding the Subconscious Drivers: NeruoFocus, The Nielsen Company. Caroline Winnett, CM and Andrew Pohlmann, managing partner
**The Power Of “Emotional” Marketing. Jamie Anderson, Digitalist Magazine
***Fusionbranding: How to Forge Your Brand for the Future. Nick Wreden, page 117


Lauren DurantLauren Durant is an executive who’s been with Isilumko Activate since its inception in 1993 and has contributed significantly to the evolution of the business. She helps brands build emotional connections with their customers through experiences.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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