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10 Ideas to Form Emotional Connections with Stakeholders

Posted on  27 July 10  by 

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Among the past month’s most prominent images have been thousands of “fan boys” lining up for the iPhone 4; Lebron James jerseys burning in effigy; fanatics obsessively watching soccer worldwide; and politicians escalating their attempts at anger toward BP.  Given how intense passions drove all those activities, few members were shocked when CEC found that emotional connections (over experiences or trust) drives the active support an organization needs to penetrate today’s networked environment.  While agreeing with the theory, many have argued that their categories are too rational, regulated, or conservative to build such bonds.

While we’re not all Apple, I don’t buy that this finding doesn’t have immediate applicability for every communicator worldwide, and to try to prove it, I’m listing below 10 highly accessible steps to develop more emotionally resonant content.

Before beginning the list, two quick clarifying points:

1)     Our finding was not that customers buy from you because of emotional connections.  Rather, what differentiates the customer or other stakeholder who buys from you/supports you from the one that supports you AND ALSO tells everyone else is the degree of emotional connection.

2)     CEC’s definition of emotional connection is not particularly maudlin but involves:

a)     shared values with the company

b)    a sense of ownership of the company

c)     a feeling of investment in the company

10 Ideas to Form Emotional Connections w/Stakeholders

Identifying Shared Values:

1. Spend more time with your sales force or contact center – Frontline employees can tell you what stakeholders value in a way that goes beyond the traditional boundaries of our categories.
2. Stop listening just for you – Using social media or surveys to learn what stakeholders think only of you will often miss capturing what they really think.
3. Visit our sister blog “Wide Angle– Fueled by CEB’s latest acquisition, trend consultancy Iconoculture, our marketing counterparts will post significant consumer insights in the coming weeks.

Creating a Sense of Ownership:

4. Empower ambassador or advisory panels – Exclusive groups with real input on key initiatives work to support your message, especially when you help them by providing tools.
5. Leverage “badges” or competitions
– Location-based social media sites like Foursquare use reward “badges” to create a sense of ownership in ways that could also generate comments on your blog, traffic to your Web site, attendance at company-sponsored tradeshows, or participation in community relations activities.  Who would not want to be the “mayor” of the CEC Insider?!
6. Tell stakeholders how they contribute
– Most organizations miss a huge opportunity to foster ownership when they merely thank employees, customers, etc.  when they participate in surveys and other feedback channels.  The bigger opportunity lies in painting a more elaborate picture of specifically how those stakeholders contributed and co-opting those who took the most time to provide detail.

Creating a Feeling of Investment:

7. Launch prediction markets or Groupon-like offers for stakeholders – People love gambling; therefore, invest in sources that provide opportunities to, say, predict the outcome of industry issues.  Another idea: rally peers to go in on a deal together — the currency can be anything from goods or services, to ideas or contacts.
8. Find stakeholders when they are “emotionally available”
– Any loyal Cosmo reader (which I am not, I promise) knows that you need to find the moment when and where someone is ready to invest in an emotional relationship; in our case, these could be meeting them on their favorite blog as opposed to your tradeshow booth (or when the Eagles are in a playoff game!).
9. Give people something to talk about
– The entire history of literature and rhetoric suggest that people invest in stories, not dry explanations and therefore will invest in an organization that tells such narratives.
10. JUST TRY SOMETHING – Many tactics we have as communicators are geared toward risk-aversion and reason, but if we never experiment with tools like emotion, we’ll never add value to what we’ve always done.

How have you been successful in developing emotional connections?  What’s holding you back?

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