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Surprise marketing discovery! Most successful brands don’t actually keep customers happy

Surprise marketing discovery! Most successful brands don’t actually keep customers happy
[Photo: Taco Fleur/Pexels]

The world’s stickiest brands take consumers not on a delightful, smooth experience, but on an emotionally volatile roller coaster. This is the finding of a new study in the Journal of Marketing from a triad of researchers in England, Portugal, and the United States.

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Researchers set out to determine what makes brands “sticky,” and it turns out that emotional ups and downs make customers stick. Examples:

  • Crossfit members go through pain and exhilaration, failure, and success.
  • Tinder addicts find love and then suckage, over and over, on an endless hunt.
  • Pokémon Go users play for hours on end, winning and losing, frustrated and thrilled.
  • Netflix watchers laugh and cry through compelling, sometimes-enraging shows.

The common through line? Addicted consumers on an emotional journey of ups and downs. “It’s not at all about creating consistently good customer experiences, but about creating intentionally chaotic, maddening, and unpredictable ones,” says coauthor Andrew Lindridge, a professor of marketing at Newcastle University London. “It’s also not about making services convenient, easy, or satisfying, but instead about making them challenging, suspenseful, and thrilling.” Do it well, and customers can’t pull away.

This may sound very familiar if you’ve ever been in a turbulent romantic relationship, hooked by the so-good-then-so-bad-then-so-good loop.

This is quite different than the dominant model of brand building, which dictates creating a smooth, seamless experience that makes customers’ lives easier. Not surprisingly, the researchers emphasize that the upheaval model works best for recreational and entertainment companies, not services—no one wants an emotionally volatile experience at the dry cleaner’s.

The researchers also found a few commonalities in sticky brands’ customer journeys:

  1. Immediate, no-strings entry. Customers can initially start without long questionnaires or subscriptions.
  2. Endless variation. Unpredictable experience options that never end.
  3. New generations. The customer journey begins anew with new events, high-level competitions, new programs, etc.

There you have it: the secret to building a successful brand. Good luck.

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