Marketing leaders have to understand the subtleties between customer behaviors — clicks, purchases, and other interactions — and how customers actually feel before, during, and after those behaviors.

While tangible accomplishments, like increasing email click-through rates, are a boon to marketing efforts, the more ambiguous, emotional side of marketing can sometimes fall by the wayside. It’s a huge challenge for marketers, who are working with limited datasets and on the hook for showing quantitative results, to focus their efforts on factors that are inherently qualitative.

“We would like to believe we're logical creatures. But it turns out we're not. It turns out like 95% of our decision-making is actually emotional,” said Alicia Hatch, CMO, Deloitte Digital, touching on the nuances of consumer behavior. “And yet we can't really capture much emotional data right now.”

Customers, though, still demand personalized connections that go beyond the transaction, to meet the intent of the interaction. If they aren’t satisfied, 52% of them will find another company that can meet their expectations.

So, how do marketing leaders cut through the clutter to spark consumer emotions and, in doing so, create meaningful customer experiences?

Here are some of their tips.


Be more human by listening


Emotions are a human trait — or at least characteristic of living things. Being human, then, might mean having and showing emotions and empathizing with others. For marketers specifically, this could entail listening to consumer behaviors through analytics, or actually sitting down with customers face-to-face (think about a great customer service interaction you’ve had in the past — what made it so seamless?).

Listening to customers is a huge part of being human, said Adrianne Shapira, Finance Executive. “The brands and the retailers that have survived decades of change have listened to the customer consistently. And those who are winning today are also listening to the customer.”

Listening to the customer could mean “listening” to data and using AI to analyze it (for example, by evaluating qualitative social media conversations to uncover measurable sentiment), but may also imply marketers need to use their own empathy and judgement to evaluate data alongside AI.

Listening to customers is essential to marketers, especially when mapping out content strategy. said David Parker, Global Content Marketing & Digital Technology, Kimberly-Clark. “Content strategy has to be derived from listening to what's going on around you, then understanding how that applies to the value of the brand, how that involves the trust proposition, and then you layer that into the content strategy.”

Marketers who listen and create content based on what they hear leads to fulfilling, memorable customer experiences.


Tell stories to evoke emotion and forge connections.


As you’ve probably heard before, storytelling is one of the oldest human art forms, and a way to connect with other people and build meaningful relationships. For marketers, a good story can lead to great customer experiences.

“I think storytelling is really the one constant that cuts through everything,” says Jay Altschuler, VP, Media & Partnerships at Samsung Electronics America. “A great story always finds its way to people,”said Jay Altschuler, VP, Media and Partnerships at Samsung Electronics America. He also said focusing on stories is still a “new muscle” for marketers, but “amazing storytelling wins the day.”

However, marketers struggle every day to tell stories that evoke emotion. Why? Maybe, like Altschuler said, it’s because storytelling is new to them. Maybe it’s just difficult. Or maybe it’s because customers continue to raise their expectations for brands as they interact with more and more content across channels and devices.

Customers have “a great sniff test, and they can really see through who is being real and who is not,” said Adrianne Shapira. “And I think kids want to hear it, partners want to hear it, friends, customers, analysts, investors — they want to hear an authentic, value-based story that's genuine and they connect with.”

If standing out among the crowd and truly capturing a customer’s attention relies on a marketer’s ability to tell an authentic, value-based story, that comes in part from listening.Hatch kept her audience in mind during her tenure working on Halo for Xbox. She explains that her team came to a realization through listening to the people who truly loved the Halo story. It wasn’t just a game; it was a storytelling experience.

“People love this story,” Hatch said. With that knowledge, she and her team re-evaluated the story Xbox told through marketing — and the customer experiences they created — through content about Halo. “That was the tipping point. We said, ‘What if we actually developed this story and started delivering it in downloadable content? What if that content could be then translated into anime that connected with our Japanese audience in whole new ways? What if we had bands who really loved this game create their own tracks that could win Grammys?’ We did all of this. We ended up changing the entire business model of Xbox by saying, ‘What if?’”

By learning from customers and translating those findings into authentic stories, marketers can forge emotional connections with their audiences.


Create opportunities for communities and user-generated content.


Alicia Hatch’s anecdote about Halo speaks to user-generated as well. Her team built the foundation for content, but Halo’s avid community constructed their own world on top of that.

“We saw that the community around Halo was a different animal than any other of our gaming communities,” Hatch said. “And we started to look at [the Halo community] closely and to understand the meaning that the gaming world had in their lives, and how it connected them, and how they interacted with it and with each other.” This scenario can be a dream for marketers: a community of like-minded, fervent followers who spread a brand’s story on their own. User-generated content can play a huge role in enhancing marketing strategies, but marketers must create the opportunity for audiences to do this.

When considering new marketing possibilities, Shapira asked herself, “Am I adding value? Am I having an impact? And how?”

To add an element to Shapira’s idea, marketers may not only need to ask what they can do, and instead should ask what their audiences can do. This will get marketers to think in a whole new way, placing the customer at the very center of their marketing ideas from the get-go.

As Andy Kaufman, Vice President of Digital Direct and, said, “There's a mindset shift for marketers. And this is a hard, hard thing for us to do, which is [to] accept that maybe what we have to say isn't what the customer wants to hear.”

Maybe, then, marketers can shift their attention toward the customer more often by not focusing on both the quantitative signals customers create, and the emotional value they bring to a brand’s story.

This blog is part 6 of our Trailblazer CMO series. Check out the other blogs in the series for more insights from today’s top marketing leaders.

Watch the Fourth Annual State of Marketing video to learn more about how marketers are leading the charge to transform the customer experience.