Emotional Attachment and Profitable Customer Relationships

Getting Sticky - Brand managers want emotionally attached customers!

The author(s)
  • Roger Sant Ipsos Loyalty, UK
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They know intuitively that an emotional connection is a ‘higher level’ of relationship; it equates to more valuable customers – customers who stay longer, spend more and recommend the brand to others.

An individual’s emotional connection to a brand undeniably plays an important role in their engagement and loyalty. But is it possible to measure ‘pure’ emotions using rational questions? By their nature, emotions are not things that one can rationalise (thus the need for pulse/heart-rate, sweat, caps to measure brain activity etc). Perhaps a more pertinent question is: Can we construct an emotional framework (via quantitative questions) that adds valuable insight to our clients? And the answer is YES!
Ipsos Loyalty has proved that there is value in trying to ‘rationally’ measure the level of emotional connection. Associating brands with emotional words such as pride, care and forgiveness clearly identifies a relationship state above and beyond ‘merely satisfied’.

Validating an emotional framework

Ipsos Loyalty conducted a study to validate the effectiveness of such an emotional framework. We conducted 8,000 interviews in the UK, Germany, France and USA across three sectors (banking, automotive and smartphones).

A functional dimension was created from attributes such as Meets My Needs, Is Reliable, and Satisfaction. Meanwhile a similar emotional dimension was created from attributes such as Trust, Forgiveness and Pride. We also asked a number of business metrics such as likelihood to continue, recommend and buy other products & services.
Our research showed that:

  • We can quantify a level of emotional attachment
  • Emotional and functional work together – but emotional attachment can only be built from a functional base
  • The rewards for creating an emotional attachment are significant

A very important finding is that the functional and emotional dimensions are very inter-dependent.

It is possible to be satisfied without being attached, but it is not possible to be emotionally attached without being functionally satisfied.

Our study demonstrated that there are only three groups, and they form a continuum:

  • Dissatisfied; those for which neither functional nor emotional needs are met
  • Functionally satisfied only
  • Satisfied and emotionally attached

The research finds that, while the percentages fitting into each of the three groups varies by brand and sector, the framework applies consistently across service industries.

The value of Emotional Attachment

Now that we know more about the functional and emotional structure of customer relationships, we need to establish whether striving to achieve that emotional connection is a worthwhile goal. To do this we look at how our measures of profitable relationships – retention, recommendation and cross-sell/use more – change as we move up the relationship hierarchy.

Our research showed that there are substantial rewards to be had from creating an emotional attachment. When a customer is both functionally satisfied and emotionally attached:

  • They are significantly more likely to stay with the brand in the future
  • They are almost twice as likely to recommend the brand (than if they were just satisfied)
  • They are much more likely to consider the brand for other products and services

Creating an Emotional Attachment

We have demonstrated that on an individual basis, functional satisfaction is a prerequisite for emotional attachment, and that creating this attachment is a worthy goal – the rewards are significant. Discussions on the subject quickly move on to how to create that emotional bond.

Clearly one of the biggest opportunities to create an emotional attachment is via exceptional customer-staff interactions – but nobody enters into a service interaction without having a functional need to fulfil: “I don’t want anything – I just want to see if you’re nice”. – It simply doesn’t happen. So it’s the way in which we fulfil a functional need that gives us the opportunity to create an emotional connection.

Just as you can’t get an emotional connection without providing functional satisfaction… you only get the opportunity to create an emotional connection through fulfilling a functional need.


Getting customers emotionally attached to brands is important – everyone knows that intuitively. We have shown:

  • That functional and emotional form a hierarchy – functional satisfaction is a pre-requisite for emotional attachment
  • There are returns to be had – creating that emotional connection is at least as rewarding as eliminating dissatisfaction
  • The drivers of attachment are not necessarily the same as the drivers of satisfaction – one of the biggest opportunities to create an emotional attachment is via exceptional customer-staff interactions

Emotional connections with customers can be created in a number of different ways, and one of them is effective customer-staff interactions. In these instances, it’s not just what you do that matters, but how you do it! This in turn is a function of the people skills of your frontline employees and their ability to handle each customer as an individual and not just as another transaction.

Further reading: Building Stronger Brands

The author(s)
  • Roger Sant Ipsos Loyalty, UK

Customer Experience