September 27th, 2023 – London, UK

European consumers embrace a new era of brand engagement: The rise of the “open relationship”

  • New Twilio report reveals how brands can meet changing customer expectations and thrive in the relationship economy

  • Consumers want to “play the field” and are seeking out variety from multiple brands

  • Yet one fundamental principle remains unchanged: the expectation to be treated with respect

  • When exploring their brand options, consumers are placing practicality above all else

European consumers are in “open relationships” with brands, akin to the concept in personal interactions, according to the latest research from Twilio, the customer engagement platform that drives real-time, personalised experiences for today’s leading brands.

Twilio’s Relationship Economy Report 2023 – which surveyed over 6,000 consumers and 1,800 marketers across Europe – revealed that consumers have an emotional affinity towards an average of 4.75 brands. This points to a readiness among modern consumers to seek out variety and challenge the traditional notion of long-lasting brand loyalty. 

Despite this non-monogamous behaviour, consumers universally value trustworthiness and consistency from brands. They prioritise brand honesty (44%) and reliability (41%) above all else, mirroring the qualities they most value in their personal romantic relationships.

Sam Richardson, CX consultancy at Twilio, comments: “Brands need to be thoughtful about the way consumers approach relationships. Nowadays, a relationship doesn’t have to be lifelong or exclusive to be considered meaningful. A short-term engagement can still be genuine and courteous. It’s about being real and respectful in every interaction. This behaviour shift is important for brands - while it might be harder to gain customer loyalty than a decade ago, the reward is much greater when they get it right.” 

Practicality over emotional connection

In this new landscape, expertise and efficiency are taking precedence over emotional connection, reinforcing that loyalty stems from company action and is no longer a given based on the product or service alone. 

The study revealed that 31% of consumers prioritise expertise when contacting brands, while 24% place a premium on efficiency - far surpassing the 15% of people who prioritise emotional connections. This represents a notable shift in priorities: just last year, the ‘E3 formula’ of efficiency, expertise and emotion were considered equal building blocks of customer engagement. 

However, it appears that brands may have “overcorrected” in their efforts to meet consumer demand for functional efficiency, as only 27% of European consumers reported that they are regularly made to feel special by brands.

Richardson continues: “There has been a noticeable shift towards pragmatism among European consumers, in many ways down to the economic reality we live in. But unfortunately, it appears that the pursuit of functional efficiency may be leading to more lacklustre engagements. Organisations have been adapting their strategies to deliver dependable solutions that effectively cater to consumer needs – but they must continue to deliver standout experiences that drive strong customer engagement and make people feel special.

Consumers swiping left

The research revealed that some brands are struggling to keep pace with this dynamic consumer environment. Keeping up with evolving customer needs and behaviours emerged as the top challenge faced by marketing leaders (44%), ahead of knowing enough about their customers (42%), understanding their boundaries (42%), keeping things exciting (40%) and maintaining consistent experiences across channels (35%).

Consumers appear to agree that marketers are not always getting it right, with over four in five (81%) respondents reporting that they have “dumped” a brand. Following a lack of reliability (44%), the biggest brand turn-offs include a lack of communication or difficulty in getting a response (30%) and constant calling or messaging (28%).

“There is a fine line between too little and too much communication, emphasising the need to strike the right balance in their interactions with customers, and the need to always be readily available,” comments Richardson. “Real-time personalisation will allow brands to deliver the right kind of communication, at the right time. By delivering tailored messaging, offers and products to each individual consumer, they will be able to build more genuine, two-way relationships.”

First party data as the key to success 

The study found that marketers are pinning their hopes on first-party data to build more respectful relationships in this new consumer environment. 

Over half (56%) of marketers believe that use of this data will enable more accurate personalisation, and 53% believe it will also create better customer experiences, helping to improve customer engagement. Other advantages cited include more transparent data use as a vehicle to build trust (50%), and the ability to put the customer back in the driving seat (37%). 

The emergence of AI will also make it easier for brands to build these unique interactions with every single customer and create longer lasting relationships, making it more likely they’ll be in the inner circle of their customers. 

Richardson concludes: “In this new non-monogamous world, achieving recurring revenue and staying top of mind hinges on resonating with today’s consumers. Brands that stand out will be the ones that demonstrate honesty, liability and genuine respect - a journey that starts with first-party data. They will build the strongest relationships, realise huge potential gains for customer engagement, and build a new kind of loyalty.”

Read The Relationship Economy 2023 Report here: full report

About Twilio

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