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Most of us can detect phony people when we meet them, so we aren’t able to truly connect with them. It’s true with brands as well.

Research conducted by The Drum in collaboration with Opinium shows that 78 percent of consumers feel brands never emotionally connect with them, and that figure is higher—87 percent—among those over 45.

This failure to connect on a deeper level could be costing brands. Almost 90 percent of people 18-24 and 78 percent of people 25-34 either much more or a little more likely to buy from brands that align themselves to an issue or cause that they are passionate about. Those over 45 are more resistant to anything affecting their perception of brands, The Drum found, with 63 percent claiming nothing any brand has done in the past has made an impact.

Creating an emotional bond with customers makes business sense, but it's not easy to do. Some smart brands have had success improving their connection with customers by embracing authenticity. Here are three notable examples.

Run new products by customers first

Customer testimonials are always valuable, but Canadian Tire is going a step further by getting customers to vet their products and appear in their TV commercials, rather than using actors.

The Canadian retailer has a testing program that sends products for review to roughly 15,000 consumers across the country. Using real people to vet products enables Canadian Tire to leverage the authentic voice of their customers. At the same time, products are likely to sell well because the target market has already tried it out in their everyday lives.

Canadian Tire’s approach comes at a time when regulators have specified “influencers” such as bloggers and Instagrammers must disclose any compensation, and consumer trust in these influencers is waning in part due to “influencer fraud.”

Engage fans, not just existing customers

Some people are a fan of your product even before they’ve bought it, and smart brands see the value of engaging those fans who have yet to become customers.

At the Automotive CX Summit, Cadillac shared how it is engaging with car enthusiasts. A key initiative for the stalwart brands is the Cadillac Collective, an insight community that lets customers and others share their experiences and opinions about the automaker. Among the things Cadillac gathers feedback about is advertising and marketing that’s in the works.

“We see this community as an extension of the brand,” Eric Angeloro, launch and lifestyle marketing manager from Cadillac, said. “It’s outwitting traditional marketing.”

What’s particularly notable about the Cadillac Collective is that 70 percent of members have no relationship with Cadillac or parent GM. But while these members are not exclusively Cadillac vehicle owners, the automaker is confident by engaging them directly and authentically is this fashion, many of them will soon become customers.

Angeloro explained, "The community lets us not only listen, but to share information with others within our organization. It allows for surveys and quantification of data, then presents that graphically for our use and understanding.”

The name of the game

A consistent challenge facing brands is shaking the perception as a cold, monolithic entity, which certainly doesn’t make it easier for them to connect with individual consumers. To make themselves more personable, approachable and trustworthy, many companies are humanizing their brand with a first name as a way of resonating with customers.

People connect more deeply with those they are on a first name basis with, and traditional industries such as healthcare, insurance and financial services include examples of products using a first name to gain affinity with customers.

Eyeglass purveyor Warby Parker has taken the name game further by not just using one, but multiple first names for its line for frames. Like the Jack Kerouac-inspired company name, Warby Parker frame names are inspired by literary characters. It’s taking authenticity to the next level by recognizing the individuality of each customer. And just like Canadian Tire, it wants customers to vet its products, so it lets them wear their eyeglasses in their daily lives before buying, whether they’re named Eliot or Harper.

Authenticity sparks useful feedback

Authenticity is essential if brands want to build trust and deeper, emotional connections with consumers. Letting customers vet their products, engaging with fans even if they aren’t yet customers, and humanizing their brands are ways of showing consumers their input and patronage is valuable. Authenticity ultimately draws out customer feedback that improves products and services, as well as the bottom line.

The 10 Smartest Brands: How They Use Customer Intelligence

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Kelvin Claveria

Kelvin Claveria was the former Content Marketing Manager and was responsible for Vision Critical's blog and social media marketing program. Before joining Vision Critical's global marketing team, Kelvin worked at Dunn PR, a Vancouver-based public relations firm. His experience includes working with lifestyle, real estate, and non-profit clients to develop social media marketing and PR strategies. Kelvin has a Bachelor of Business Administration from SFU's Beedie School of Business.
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