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Historically, tech-driven revolutions shifted the boundaries separating business, economics and society. But what we’re seeing today is much different. This time, technology is actually erasing these boundaries, helping human beings switch instantly from work, to social circles, to shopping, learning, eating, exercising, even parenting—sometimes in one sitting and often on a single device.

Is it any wonder that consumer expectations have changed? In a world without boundaries, where choice is infinite and switching brand preference is a click away, consumer decisions are now made in micro-moments—micro-moments that can make or break a brand.

All of which raises the question: How can marketers understand what’s happening in these moments, then best capitalize on them? How can we gain or maintain customer loyalty to keep consumers connected and devoted to our brands?

In today’s age of digital transformation and interconnectedness, the answer lies in shifting our approach to our consumers and engaging with them as human beings.

Let’s start with a step back and a reframe: The digital era isn’t really about technology—it’s about relationships. It’s about connection. Consumers aren’t satisfied with being treated like customers anymore. They expect direct connections to brands through social media platforms and outlets where content is targeted and personalized. Savvy brands already know this. But like any relationship, this can cut both ways. While consumers are quick to praise, they’re also quick to shame using the very platforms employed to connect directly with them.

Connecting authentically in a boundaryless world doesn’t just mean switching up a channel strategy or transforming martech. It means transforming how we think of consumers, switching from customers and transactions to real humans with individual wants and needs. Brands today can elevate the human experience.

So how can we connect on a human level within a micro-moment? Through something we all share: emotions.

Psychologists suggest that emotions are the basis for 80 percent of the decisions a person makes in a day; neuromarketers point out that consumers are more inclined to buy based on their emotions than on logic. We also know that we relate to brands in ways very similar to friends with whom we have trusted relationships; in fact, 60 percent of loyal customers use words such as love, happy and adore when talking about their favorite brands. That’s the same language they’d use for family, friends and pets. That’s the language of emotion.

It’s also the language of loyalty. A recent Deloitte Digital survey showed that emotional connection is vital to customer loyalty and lifetime value, and that 70 percent of consumers expect to be treated by brands as they’re treated by friends. It also found that these connections make for good business: Companies focusing on human experience are twice as likely to outperform their peers in revenue growth over a three-year period and have 17-times faster growth than those that don’t.

So how can brands connect with consumers emotionally? A good first step is to gather and work with emotional and contextual data at scale. Consistency is also important; in brand relationships (as in others), the foundation of emotional connection is trust, and trust grows from consistency. Achieve trust among consumers, and you deepen connections, gain forgiveness for missteps and build stronger loyalty.

What about attracting new consumers? Deloitte’s 2020 Global Marketing Trends survey found that brands and people—like friends—first connect (and stay connected) through shared values. A new generation of consumers is demanding that brands demonstrate greater authenticity, and those that do—that lead with values and purpose—are changing the nature of business. Unilever recently announced that its “purpose-led Sustainable Living Brands” are growing 69 percent faster than the rest of the business, delivering 75 percent of the company’s growth. When a brand aligns with like-minded consumers and builds solutions that meet their needs and values, that’s the human experience elevated.

So where to start? How can you elevate the human experience in your business? Here are five steps to consider:

  1. Be obsessed with all things human. Ask yourself: What will enable a connection with another individual in this moment? What experiences can we create? What senses can we engage to evoke a feeling?
  2. Proactively deliver on human needs. How can you use technology to gain insights into how to be more human and relevant in the micro-moments that matter?
  3. Execute with humanity. Can you be fast and agile enough to meet a person at the point of need—even if that need is to slow down and build connection?
  4. Be authentic. You can’t fake a human experience, and consumers are more than able to spot and call out pretenders.
  5. Change the world. Lead with values, and you connect on a human level. That’s the beginning of transformational change.

These aren’t easy shifts to make, but I think they’re worth striving to achieve. Done thoughtfully, investments in micro-moments can pay dividends for years.