Getting emotional

One of the great things about retail is its constant capacity for positive reinforcement, reminding you why you fell in love with it in the first place, making you fall in love all over again.  Retail’s capacity – in short – for engaging you emotionally.  Emotion is on my mind thanks to the Retail Tomorrow conference, which reminded us exactly why it remains such a potent force.

Last week I had the honour and pleasure of spending two days with some of UK retail’s most dynamic movers and shakers in a forum dedicated to ideas and innovation, which did indeed remind me why I feel lucky to be working in such a vibrant area.  Retail Tomorrow (organised by McDonald Butler Associates and hosted at the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel in Hampshire) was, as promised, an event which ignited ideas and accelerated ambitious business models.

The fact that capturing the Millennial audience is key to successful retail was taken as a given by the assembled cohort.  It’s a generation that loves to shop, but is actually less interested in “owning things” per se than previous generations.  Rather, they want experiences, they want things that can be shared.  And they are willing to pay a premium for them.  And for an experience to be meaningful, memorable and authentic, it has to be emotionally engaging.

The golden rule

Any good advertising copywriter knows, the rule is: show, don’t tell.  Brand and loyalty expert Alex Hunter’s extraordinary, visually immersive presentation coupled with his humorous, self-effacing and generously inclusive manner showed us the key to engagement.  Yep, you guessed it: emotion.

Alex presented a variety of examples of customer service and engagement which went well beyond the call of duty.  Many of these were small-scale, fairly low-key, and personal, but the accumulation of examples hugely underlined the undeniable importance of emotional engagement.

One of his examples was a small boutique hotel in New York City, which at the bottom of its registration form asked “Tell us what your favourite snacks are…”  On returning to the hotel that evening Alex found in his room a basket with these snacks bought that day for him and a handwritten note from the hotel manager.  Needless to say, the hotel made a friend for life and Alex stays there whenever he is in town.  His takeout insight?  “200 real, hand-written notes are worth more than 200,000 Dear Sir/Madam emails.”  Personalisation unlocks emotional connection.

The key to inspiring advocacy

In fact, many of Alex Hunter’s insights are still ringing in my head:

“Loyalty is based entirely on emotion.”

“Emotion is greater than Reason.”

“You feeling something.  That’s what sells.”

“Advocacy is all – recommendations from within your trusted networks are the most valuable.”

Marketers know that customers buy on emotion and justify with fact.  In other words, they don’t buy what you do, or how you do it, but why you do it.  If they understand and trust your purpose and your belief, you’ll not only increase sales, you’ll also create advocates who will share your emotional proposition and the love of your brand with everyone else, extending your brand community.

A Google report on emotion in marketing put it clearly “You’re 50% more likely to get a tender if you lead with an emotional proposition.”

Leave them smiling

One of the innovations of the Retail Tomorrow format were two “Dragons’ Den” style sessions, one on either day, in which five suppliers bravely got up onstage for a make-or-break, strictly-no-more-than-10-minute presentation which at the end was ‘judged’ in real-time by the assembled audience of retailers.  The adrenaline and the immediacy of the Q&A inarguably made it far more emotionally engaging than your average face-to-face demo at a trade show expo.  Everyone loved it – retailers and suppliers.

The overall “winner” of the Dragons’ Den sessions with an 80% approval rate was tech start-up Bink who are helping retailers re-invigorate their loyalty programs through an easy-to-use app which (among other things) automatically updates loyalty points whenever the consumer shops at a retailer they’re registered with, without them having to present a loyalty card.  Again the importance of positive emotion – in Bink’s case, removing the ‘worry’ and hassle from something which is seen as more bother than it’s worth (having to carry a wallet full of cards, and/or forgetting or losing them) was clear to the conference audience.  And to a rapidly increasing number of consumers…

There was also a lot of laughter around at the conference, not just that caused by the stand-ups who provided post-dinner entertainment.  Alex Hunt reminded us what used to be socially acceptable in advertising (“Blow smoke in her face and she’ll follow you anywhere” – anyone?), and consumer specialist Ken Hughes nailed some of the “complete nonsense” of technology solutions that may be unique and innovative but that no-one will ever want.

The emotional connection hasn’t left me in the week since the event, and it doesn’t seem to have left many of the attendees and technology suppliers who presented, who have been emailing me since thanking the team for a wonderful two days.  All I can say is: we’ll definitely be doing it all over again next year.

For those who want to hear more – watch this space, as we will publish a summary of the event next week.  But I couldn’t contain myself until then.  I’m just too emotional.