Understanding Peak-End Theory: How You Can Increase Brand Loyalty

Peak-End Theory customer experience customer journey mountain peak visual

Picture this: you went on a five day Caribbean cruise vacation with your friends over winter break. There were plenty of activities to do on the boat, food to eat, shows to attend and islands to explore. You fondly recall the initial rush of excitement you felt the moment you stepped on the boat. The possibilities seemed endless! You recall the joy on your friends’ faces and the sense of freedom everyone felt as you left the real world behind and escaped into a tropical paradise.

Now imagine your trip has come to an end and you’re discussing how it went with family or friends. You talk about the initial excitement, but also mention the chaos you experienced disembarking the ship that caused you to miss your flight home. You were left feeling distressed and disappointed. Was the trip worth it in the end?

Caribbean cruise joy excitement emotions customer journey

The journey you just went on is a representation of the Peak-End Theory – the idea that emotions felt throughout a customer experience can turn into memories, and in turn, determine brand loyalty.

How Peak-End Theory Applies to Brands

Recall the last time you had a memorable experience somewhere; perhaps a restaurant. Do you remember the entire duration of your time spent there? Or do you just remember the food, the conversation, or the service? When we look back on experiences, we naturally look at them in snapshots. Consider it a slideshow of memories that stand out based on the intensity of emotions in correlation with those experiences.

Now, let’s apply this theory to a brand. The “Peak” in a brand experience is the most memorable snapshot in a customer’s memory, representing a moment when his or her emotions were at their highest level of intensity.

In fact, there could actually be multiple peaks throughout a customer’s journey:

  • The moment a customer walks through the door or opens a website
  • The moment a customer tests out a product they are considering to purchase
  • Or even the moment they walk away with a new purchase.

The “End,” in this case, is that very last impression the customer has of a brand:

  • The last interaction a customer has during the checkout process.
  • The moment they submit their order online.
  • Their email interaction with your customer service team.

The “Peaks” of a customer’s experience can be either positive or negative emotions, as they represent the height of emotions felt during the experience, in addition to what has resonated in his or her memory. It’s important for anyone who has customers to understand what makes someone loyal to a specific brand, which all comes down to how they feel. So, where do you start?

Pinpoint the Trigger Point

When reviewing your brand through the lens of the Peak-End Theory, consider trigger points. Trigger points are the reasons that lead customers to want to engage with you – your differentiators. It’s the reason why they choose YOU over your competitors.

Does a customer prefer your brand because of convenience or location?
Do they have a consistent, positive experience that makes them want to come back?
Do they get loyalty points or rewards for continuing to come back to you?
Do they have coupons they can use at your store?

Understanding why a customer chooses to interact with your brand is the first step you can take to gain more control over the journey.

The Peak-End Theory in Practice

You may now be wondering, “How can I use the Peak-End Theory to better understand every person that engages with my brand?”

Being that every person is different and feels different emotions, it can be difficult to pinpoint every single customer’s exact emotions throughout specific points in his or her journey. However, analyzing the emotions behind a group of customers will give you a more general insight into the universal feelings embedded within your brand experience.

Let’s circle back to our Caribbean cruise example for this – you could say people generally and consistently feel joy, happiness, and serenity (relaxation) when taking a cruise vacation. The cruise lines even play off of these emotions in their messaging, their advertising and the overall cruise ship experience because they have an awareness of how this resonates with the majority of their customer base.

Once you have a general understanding of how your customer feels throughout their journey with you…

  1. You can build on the positives
  2. You can modify the negatives and turn them into positives
  3. Or both!

If your brand discovers your customer is generally underwhelmed and feels negative emotions during the peaks in their journey – let’s say during their interaction with customer service or their in-store experience – you can now strategize ways to turn those negative emotions into positive, pleasurable moments for them.

One way to leave a pleasurable impression is known as the “Surprise and Delight” approach. Examples of this might be free samples, giveaways and sweepstakes, or a “please don’t go” coupon pop-up on your site. Simple things can make a substantial difference in a customer experience, and therefore increase brand loyalty.

How Do You Measure Those Emotions?

The first thing you need to do is capture your customers’ voices. Hear from them – in their words – how they feel at different points in their journey. You could do this through surveys or one-on-one chats, for example.

Next, you’ll want to quantify those emotions in a way that makes sense to your brand. One example of this would be through the Martec Emotion Score. The MES gives emotions numerical values in order to differentiate between positive and negative emotions, in addition to understanding their intensity as it relates to brand interaction. By using this data, we enable brands to measure the emotions of their customers, compare themselves to other brands in their industry, and analyze how their customers’ emotions change over time.

If you’d like more information on the Peak-End Theory and how we implement it here at The Martec Group, please contact us.

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