GRAB ‘EM BY THE HEARTSTRINGS; The Thinking Leader and EEI

The key to boosting brand equity is to increase affection - the feelings that drive behavior, rather than just the behavior itself.

When you’re a lifestyle brand, known worldwide, how do you stay ahead of the pack, grow your customer base and build the brand, while creating even stronger emotional ties with current customers? When your customers range from working-class bikers to wealthy weekend enthusiasts to young women making a fashion statement, how can you communicate with the right group at the right time? What it takes is Executive Emotional Intelligence; a leader who understands and connects with his customers’ hearts, and can spearhead a top-down marketing program that makes that connection even stronger.

When Richard Teerlink joined Harley Davidson in 1981 as chief financial officer, the company had a U.S. market share of 15% and had reported a loss of $15 million. The U.S. icon was facing steep competition from Japanese motorcycle manufacturers such as Honda, and it was struggling. By the end of Teerlink's tenure, Harley Davidson had recovered its U.S. market share to 50 percent and posted annual sales of more than $1.7 billion. How’d he do it? By making an emotional connection with his buyers.

Teerlink nailed executive emotional engagement when he said, "Our customers want the sense of adventure that they get on our bikes. Harley-Davidson doesn't sell transportation, we sell transformation. We sell excitement, a way of life." He made sure that the lifestyle message was consistent from top to bottom. Managers were encouraged to ride their Harleys to work, and to interact with customers at rallies. The company further built on brand loyalty by creating the Harley Owners’ Group (with the acronym H.O.G., a familiar affectionate nickname for the oversized bikes). Members received a bimonthly magazine, Harley rental programs for vacations, and listings of rallies where they could meet and ride with other Harley owners – even emergency road service, which certainly underlined Harley’s faith in its own products. Beyond all that, customers got the thrill of belonging to the Cool Kids’ Club, a place to make new friends and share common interests – and most of all the sense that they and the company were powerfully connected. I haven’t looked at the data on this, but my bet is that there was a concurrent spike in Harley tattoos.

And this need for emotional engagement isn’t just true with consumer product; surveys have shown us that in in B2B buying too, emotions matter measurably more than logic and reason. Would you think the B2B buyer would be more likely to choose business value over personal value when buying? Nope; personal value has two times as much impact on choice as business value does. 68% of buyers who see a personal value will pay a higher price, whereas only 8.5% of buyers who see NO personal value will pay a higher price. 71% of buyers who see personal value will purchase a product.

Here’s an exercise for you: When you consider your product’s potential emotional appeal to your buyer, what are the two or three emotional drivers (feelings) that you want to evoke through your product?  Once you’ve identified clear key words around those feelings, how could you change your product’s development, communication, or packaging to evoke those feelings?  

Emotional engagement depends on knowing your customer’s dreams and desires, and tapping into them when you’re reaching out to them in the marketplace. What do you know about your buyer? And what would you love to know? It’s worth investing your resources into mining those precious nuggets of data, because the closer you get to your customer, the easier it is to make that emotional connection with buyers that will lift your product above your competition’s in their hearts and minds.