Editor's Note: This is an exclusive excerpt from Michael Russo's new book, "Companies on a Mission: Entrepreneurial Strategies for Growing Sustainably, Responsibly, and Profitably."
Building an emotional bond to customers is one of several key elements of creating additional value for your products. Emotions are a key to understanding the behavior of consumers, as decades of marketing research shows. They are separate from the rational, calculative dimensions of decision, such as cost per use, efficacy, and longevity. But it turns out that using feelings to guide purchasing is surprisingly rapid and consistent. That is, it can be more effective to rely on the gut than on the gray matter when shopping.
This may well be one reason that green brands can be so powerful in markets: They elicit purchases based on emotion at least as much as those based on rational dimensions. Studies of so-called green marketing validate this emotional element. One robust result is that when consumers believe they are making a tangible difference on environmental or social criteria, this belief strengthens their commitments to products. A particularly provocative result was that when consumers sense that the character of their values and a company's values overlap, their propensity to purchase increases, as is the case with LOHAS customers in particular.
So here again, we see that for mission-driven companies, the content of the emotional bond is distinctive because it is so closely linked to the selling company. It is surely true that some conventional companies create emotional bonds with consumers. In products from companies as diverse as Harley-Davidson and Rolex, the brand images resonate with delighted customers. And although the image for many conventional products frequently does reflect the company (and often its founders), for mission-driven companies the company and its story are a central part of creating emotional ties to customers.
The ways in which mission-driven companies create these emotional ties to customers are varied, but the best ones leverage values and even elicit customer input into product and company decisions.
Developing the Brand's Story
Chip Conley and Eric Friedenwald-Fishman, in their book Marketing That Matters, include a chapter titled "Emotion Trumps Data." They urge mission-driven companies to "connect with the heart first, and the mind second." Their point is that the emotional bond with customers can forge the type of loyalty that product attributes simply cannot. A key to this emotional bond is communicating the company's vision for social and environmental change and especially its own story of specific actions.
For mission-driven firms, this story can take on many plot lines. The Ben & Jerry's brand story has touch points that include the $5 correspondence course on making ice cream that Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield took, the company's progressive social programs, and its many innovative flavors. Think for a moment about how these elements each connect with powerful emotions:
• The $5 correspondence course: entrepreneurship, starting from humble roots, self-reliance.
• Progressive social programs: philanthropy, empathy, connectedness.
• Innovative flavors: innovation, creativity, individualism, fun.
The emotional bond does require opening up a bit about the roots of the company. Vincent Ben Avram launched Organically Happy, a Maryland web-based business that sells natural cleaning supplies. A tall and burly 40-something father, Ben Avram had a defining moment when he was bathing his infant son and reviewed the ingredients of the soaps and shampoos he was using. His dissatisfaction led him to natural skin care products.
His fledgling website is professionally done, filled with carefully chosen products, and even includes "Lucy, our on-line aesthetician and skincare maven." Like just about all websites, the Organically Happy site includes a tab titled "About Us." But the information there doesn't include any discussion of Ben Avram's a-ha moment. His disappointment with the site's low traffic can be the result of many influences, but having a more personal story about founding the company (perhaps with a photo of father and son) could help to create feelings of common emotion with potential customers by serving to put a human touch on his website.