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Thought Leadership – Where Feels Meets Facts in the Pursuit of Influence

Companies are increasingly seeking an emotional connection with customers. And that’s because it pays. But does emotional connection have a role in thought leadership, which is typically research and data-led?

Research by Motista estimated that customers who are more emotionally connected are anywhere between 30% to 100% more valuable than those who are highly satisfied and those who perceive the brand is differentiated in some way. And a study published in the Harvard Business Review by Magids et al. found that fully connected customers are 52% more valuable than those who are just satisfied.

Personalised connection

Magids et al. argue that companies should research their target audience to find their ‘emotional motivators’. One example the researchers describe is a credit card designed to create an emotional connection with Millennials. They discovered emotional motivators of this group were about protecting the environment and ‘being the person I want to be’.

The bank created credit card features and messaging around these emotional drivers.
Millennials use of the card increased by 70%, and new accounts among this group grew by 40%.

Emotions are becoming increasingly important in marketing.

Why? Most agree that social media has had an impact, with influencers popularising that personal, intimate connection with audiences. And many argue that EQ (emotional quotient or ‘emotional intelligence’) is overtaking IQ as a measure of worth and impact.

And finally, behavioural psychology has continued to evolve insights into how people work. Harvard Business School professor, Gerald Zaltman, said that 95% of cognition – how we make decisions – takes place in the subconscious mind. That leaves 5% for rationality. Appealing to emotions to persuade is a ‘must-have’.

And while these new trends are cross-generational, they are particularly noticeable in younger generations like Millennials and Gen Z.

The EQ of thought leadership

But what about thought leadership, primarily B2B and most often substantiated by data?

Google and CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council collaborated with Motista to survey 3000 consumers of B2B brands. Compared to B2C brands, which had emotional connections (ECs) with 10 to 40% of customers, the B2B brands they studied had ECs of over 50% with their customers.

They argue that B2B purchases are a high-stakes risk, so ECs are needed to make that leap. Moreover, 86% of respondents said they didn’t perceive enough difference between suppliers to pay a higher price; an emotional connection can fill that value gap.

But what does that EC look like when it comes to thought leadership? Where do facts and feels connect? One way is through purpose.

The power and promise of purpose

Being purpose-driven increasingly matters to companies. And that’s because their customers believe that companies should be driven by a broader mission and do good, and deliver for shareholders and customers.

Deloitte’s research on purpose has found that purpose-driven companies have higher productivity, 30% more innovation, and 40% more employee retention than competitors. 55% of respondents in one survey said businesses have a responsibility to act on issues related to their purpose.

And leaders are taking up the cues. A report by Brandpie showed that purpose is increasingly driving business strategy. 73% of those surveyed said purpose is used as a strategic compass, and 83% said there is an established market for purpose.

Underpinning this growth in purpose-driven strategy is a de-centring of the shareholder. Only 37% of CEOs in the Brandpie study thought shareholders were important to creating long-term value. 61% who said it was customers, and 51% said it was employees, who drove long-term value.

Being purpose-driven brings rewards. Various studies by London Business School Professor Alex Edmans showed that business investment in purpose is more profitable long-term than businesses prioritising stakeholder value.

Communicating emotion

To communicate purpose effectively, a company and its leaders need to show they believe in what they say and that they are in it for the long haul. They can communicate this by:

  • Showing what motivated them to be purpose-driven – was it personal or something they witnessed? Communicating these backstories can engage and activate your audience.
  • Telling stories about the purpose-led projects you founded. One example is Vodaphone’s Inclusion for All strategy, which aims to tackle digital exclusion in Africa (and beyond). 60% of the population in Africa is unconnected. They connected 20 million women in Africa and Turkey, which helps the women access services like healthcare. It is purpose-driven action, but it is also profitable – the project centres Vodaphone at the heart of connectivity in emerging nations.
  • Engage their employees. McKinsey found that 70% of people define their purpose in work, so “people are looking for opportunities in the work they do day-to-day to be actually contributing to what they believe their purpose is.”

The business and finance world have typically been evidence and fact-orientated. And that’s important. One of the most critical functions of thought leadership – and why it is so trusted – is because it grounds its ideas in evidence. In an age of misinformation, argues our superhero The Defender, facts matter.

But with EQ and purpose becoming the new currency and with business stakeholders increasingly activated by emotions with huge pay-offs for companies, is it time to engage with your feels?

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