Marketing that is customer-centric and empathetic will secure long-term gains over aggressive offer-based marketing. 

Have you ever been at a dinner party and there is a guest who loudly talks about themselves all the time? As though they learnt how to converse by watching endless repeats of the old Cillit Bang adverts? I suspect we all know someone like that and, whilst you gave them your attention for a bit, you soon began to switch off, drift away from their lecture and eventually became annoyed at them. Sound familiar?

This relatable scenario, identified by Kait Creamer on an upcoming podcast, is something we are exposed to everyday. Whether we be email marketers, #emailgeeks, or the average joe subscriber we commonly see this style of aggressive self-promotion in our inboxes. And in fairness, it does have it's place for certain marketing scenarios - for example product offers and 'end-of-sale' messaging that urges you to act now.

Kait Creamer

CRM Email Marketing Manager, Framer & wanderingkait.com

@kaitcreamer

(If you) highlight 50% off and say it 42 times in the copy then it's hard to get buy in immediately… people don't see the long-term effects they have on the relationship.

Whilst these result in short-term gains, they perhaps mask a developing longer-term problem around brand loyalty. Those that invest in establishing a connection with their audience based on empathy, consideration of customer needs and shared/desirable values can secure a loyal and engaged customer base for years to come. And building that relationship starts with the messaging. Let's examine how companies in the same industry can take different approaches to this.

Fast marketing leaves no room to build a connection

Vogue Business released an article at the back end of 2019 saying that 'fast fashion companies had grown up', in relation to their overall business operations and image. Whilst this may be true of their backend operations (supply chain and delivery options), it can be argued that their marketing has not, as their messaging and strategy continues to focus on fast, aggressive promotion of product offers and low prices. And when they have dipped their toes into 'relatable' marketing, it has been through influencers. Which is more of a 'bet you wish you had these' style of message rather than building that relationship.

A snippet of a fast fashion brand email.

If we look at the above, there is very little messaging at all - let alone any to help establish a relationship with the audience. And what wording there is pushes for quick purchases and leans on FOMO; 'Want this' and 'New week - new fave'. Also note the discounts are highlighted in a bright red colour - almost as an alert that pressures the reader into looking and buying. Highlighting discounts in noticeable colours is nothing new, but this is usually done on websites after an email has gained your interest rather than the first thing you see. This adds to that buying pressure..

If one of these fast fashion brands falls on hard times, or the industry itself become unfashionable (pun definitely intended), has it endeared a loyal enough audience for itself to fight for its survival? Answer: probably not, as Forever 21 can tell you. With stiff competition and no meaningful relationship with a customer base, they could be as disposable as the clothes they make. 

With speed and affordability combined with a solely digital approach, they appeal to a younger audience who want cheap clothes delivered at speed. And their marketing messaging reflects these priorities. This strategy may reach their desired customer base, though it may also mask a future issue around longevity and brand loyalty, especially when challenges arise. But is a long-term outlook for them hampered by their target demographic, who have no interest in building brand relationships? Perhaps, but other brands have successfully built marketing-led connections with their audiences, of all ages groups (including younger ones).

The same industry can take different approaches

Back at the dinner party , once you had moved out of earshot of the person giving their version of the Sermon on the Mount, who did you move to talk to? Anyone, yes, but who did you enjoy talking to the most? The quieter, more thoughtful person who was as happy to listen to you as they were to engage in conversation, offering an opinion and interesting thoughts only when appropriate.  

In the marketing sphere, this type of engagement with customer bases yields those long term gains previously mentioned. Messaging is used that builds relationships through shared values, thought leadership and a gentle equilibrium born from product offers that don't look pushy and seem personal to you. 

Take Ralph Lauren for example. Another fashion brand that uses its marketing to establish a connection with its audiences, highlighting its heritage, values and personal approach in the copy and visuals. 

A selection of Ralph Lauren emails

As we can see above, these emails contain messaging that encourages rather than demands. 'We invite you to step inside', 'new arrivals, special promotions... waiting for you'; these sentiments are not invasive or pushy, but seem personal and considerate. It employs emotional intelligence that knows customers like to be asked rather than dictated to.

The copy and visuals also draw attention to their history and signature style, something that helps connect them to their audience who relate these to their values of quality products, durability and a particular lifestyle. And when they do offer a discount, it is explained that it is a special offer from them, adding a personal touch and making the reader feel valued.

Clearly there are differences between Ralph Lauren and fast fashion, even without considering their price points. Ralph Lauren's audience is different to that typically of fast fashion; they are older, more affluent and view high-quality clothing as more of an investment.  So could this be an unfair comparison? 

Using emotional intelligence in marketing is not confined to higher-priced brands

Let's look at a closer cousin to fast fashion brands - Topshop. An affordable, high street brand with similar styles that appeals to the same demographic. 

Two sections of the same Topshop email

We see that the marketing and messaging here strives to connect their brand with their customers, as with Ralph Lauren. The novel picture board shows influencers on social media wearing their products, which is a similar approach to fast fashion, but these influencers are not 'celebrity' influencers (i.e. from TV shows like Love Island - which is what fast fashion employs). This makes them a lot more relatable to customers, and including them in Topshop's own marketing content is a great way to solidify that connection. 

The messaging leans on inviting the reader to participate rather than obvious discounts and sales-led text. 'Have a scroll through' suggests that customers can do so at their leisure. No large CTA's more product/industry awareness also creates an inviting and engaging piece of content. And assuring the reader that they have been busy creating things to keep them entertained gives the audience the notion that the company operates with them in mind, and works to please them. All things that endear a loyalty to their brand. 

Relationship-building marketing is used in many industries

Emotional intelligence is not limited to the fashion industry. One company that excels in this area is Waitrose. They know that their connection to customers, and making each person feel valued by them, is key to retaining their place in the ultra-competitive supermarket world. 

Waitrose's email suggests new ideas and recipes, with links to informative content.

The email above contains no offers and no outright promotions of products. It instead concentrates on a particular theme (in this case - grow your own) by providing different types of content that dispense advice, interesting recipe ideas and activities to do. By listening to the wants and needs of their customers, Waitrose is able to tailor its messaging  and content to appeal directly to them and showcase their brand value of customer consideration. This has helped ensure that they have a loyal audience.

Emotional intelligence in marketing requires investment but breeds success

Using emotional intelligence in marketing to establish a relationship with your audience isn't easy. It requires commitment, agility and the openness to listen to, and accept, customer needs. It's easy to brag about discounts and lean on product offers and low prices as a draw, but they don't build that long-term connection that yields sustained success over many years. And especially in uncertain times, knowing that a company has your needs at heart keeps that customer going back to them. 

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