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Brands have to make emotional consumer connections—how empathetic language can rebuild loyalty

by | Apr 14, 2023 | Public Relations

Brands and businesses were blindsided with new customer loyalty challenges after the pandemic drove consumers into unprecedented purchasing habits, and communicators are still scratching their heads when it comes to solving the redefined puzzle of loyalty in an informed and opinionated age. But new research from global PR and marketing firm Method Communications asserts that the solution may lie in an age-old PR fundamental: using the right language.

The agency’s new study, Watch Your Language: Think Like a Brand, Speak Like a Person, points to empathy as the solution. Their survey of more than 2,000 Americans aims to better understand the state of empathy in consumer-brand relationships, and found that nearly 2 in 3 Americans say empathy has decreased in the last year—from 54 percent in 2021 to a mere 27 percent in 2022—despite shared societal challenges.

Brands have to make emotional consumer connections—how empathetic language can rebuild loyalty

The researchers found that 47 percent of Americans want to hear more human-centric stories in the news—and yes, from brands as well. Indeed, 37 percent of consumers say that they enjoy reading content from brands, that it makes them feel more connected to the companies, and impacts their decision-making behavior.

“Emotional connection is a must for brands to really make a difference with their customers,” said David Parkinson, Method CEO and co-founder, in a news release. “Making your voice heard is key to empowering both the consumer and brand—it’s why we put in the work to really understand each other.”

The report also reveals how Americans think about social issues, word choice and self-censoring speech, providing key insights that can help brands understand the role of empathy in their business models and connect with their audiences on a deeper level.

Brands have to make emotional consumer connections—how empathetic language can rebuild loyalty

Two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans say a brand’s stance on social issues impacts their purchase behavior

Americans want to see the brands they purchase from taking a stance on social issues—but if the brand comes down on the “wrong side” of a hot-button issue, consumers are primed and ready to boycott. This obviously presents risks:

  • 42 percent of Americans have stopped shopping with a brand because of a company’s stance
  • A third (32 percent) have purchased something because of a brand’s stance
  • A third (34 percent) pay attention to brands’ stances on social issues so that their spending aligns with their personal values
  • Although 1 in 4 (26 percent) Americans admit to still shopping with brands they disagree with, they say they feel guilty about it

Brands have to make emotional consumer connections—how empathetic language can rebuild loyalty

Nearly half (47 percent) of Americans worry about the words they use every day

With competing social winds—a shift away from derogatory or exclusionary language vs. free-speech activism—Americans feel a potential storm from each word choice.

  • Three quarters (74 percent) of Americans worry about their word choice at least once a month. Only 10 percent never worry about their word choice.
  • More than half (58 percent) of Americans worry about their word choice among strangers. Half (51 percent) worry about it among acquaintances in social situations. And 43 percent worry about it at work.
  • 42 percent of Americans often self-censor so that they don’t accidentally say something controversial

“Embracing the value of empathy and connecting with customers gives brands a sense of authenticity and can help them rise above the noise,” Parkinson added. “When consumers feel emotionally invested in a brand, they are more likely to stay loyal over the long term.”

Brands have to make emotional consumer connections—how empathetic language can rebuild loyalty

Download the full report here.

Method Research conducted this study using an online survey distributed among Dynata’s panel. n=2,000 American consumers ages 16 to 77 responded. Respondents were evenly split between men and women with equally sized generational age groups, and a mix of ethnicities represented. Data was collected from November 4 to November 14, 2022.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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