How Brands Are Winning the Hearts of Customers

By: Melissa Canellis


You know that warm, fuzzy feeling when you step into your favorite restaurant? The one where everybody greets you by name. The sight of your favorite meal or treat instantly makes your mouth water. And the staff treats you like their family, well, maybe better than family. For spots like this, it’s not about a deal from a flyer or a stamp on a punch card. These restaurants earn your loyalty by building an emotional connection over time.   

The secret sauce to cultivating devoted customers who will stay, spend, and rave about you can be summed up in two words: Emotional Loyalty.  

It’s the difference between the restaurants that are easily forgotten and the ones that customers love and remember forever. Let’s look at how restaurants of all sizes build devoted followings by focusing on emotional connections.  

The Recipe for Loyalty Success  

It’s no longer about deals and discounts — true loyalty forms when restaurants connect with their customers in an emotional way.  

If done right, loyalty programs can lay the groundwork for lifelong customer relationships.   

The key is differentiating your program from the 18 others the average U.S. consumer is enrolled in, but only half engage with actively. Don’t create another forgettable punch card or meaningless rewards apps. Craft tailored experiences and offers that foster emotional attachment with your biggest fans. That’s the recipe for loyalty success.  

Curious Brands Listen to Customers  

Brands cultivating emotional loyalty start by listening intently to what customers have to say through ongoing surveys and feedback.  

Keep curiosity alive by asking questions. Think pleasant and persistent like your 5-year-old niece, who is curious about the world. Brands can use their loyalty app to send a quick survey after a visit. On the off chance the brand receives a negative review, they then have the ability to win back that customer by apologizing and providing an incentive to come back. Over time, the answers you get can reveal increases or decreases in emotional attachment.   

With this foundation, you can craft a loyalty strategy that converts satisfied diners into devoted brand advocates.   

Lean into Restaurant and Cstore Customer Data  

Brands that foster emotional connections will drive the behavior that takes unknown guests from transaction-based visits to long-term brand advocates. A well-defined loyalty strategy executed through a branded digital loyalty program incorporates personal and transactional information like name, gender, and purchase history, yet also goes one step further and utilizes behavioral and real-time data to create highly contextual communication that is relevant to the customer. 

Data helps brands deliver effective personalization, which is a true measure of emotional loyalty. It means the brand understands individual shoppers’ current contexts and delivers precisely what they’re looking for, in the moment of need. Whether you are trying to drive a specific outcome like an incremental visit or letting user data drive your actions in automated ways like a personalized push notification, data should steer your campaigns to make the experience feel more 1:1, more powerful. 

Punchh Loyalty Arc

Ways Successful Brands Achieve Emotional Loyalty  

Quite often the loyalty journey starts with short-term transactional loyalty like discounts, rewards points and free food. The brands that are intentional about creating emotional connections are kicking it up a notch and continuing on the loyalty arc, making customers feel valued, understood, and heard.   

Gamification: Gamifying loyalty with creative campaigns like “King of Queso” title deepens emotional connections. Panchero’s promotion delights regulars by crowning one top queso fan. This builds lasting love by making loyalty fun versus forced.  

Lifestyle: They make customers feel appreciated and recognized with access to events. It’s what Papa John’s did when they gave one of their loyal members an unforgettable experience to meet Shaq at a live event.  This also includes partnerships that deliver added value for customers by providing incentives to other businesses’ members.  According to Bond’s 2023 The Loyalty Report, 76% of U.S. members say partnerships improved their program experience. While 73% report purchasing from brands with aligned partnerships.  

Identity: When consumers see your brand as defining part of who they are, they become deeply invested advocates.  Savvy brands create VIP access and special perks to make customers feel appreciated and valued. Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, shows guests love by tracking wait times in their app. They delight customers who wait over a certain period with rewards points.   

Purpose: When customers wholeheartedly embrace and advocate for your company’s greater mission, the devotion stems from an authentic connection to the purpose and values at your brand’s core.  Casey’s Cash for Classrooms program powerfully integrates charitable giving into transactions letting patrons feel good knowing their purchases are benefiting nearly 40,000 local schools in Casey’s service areas.   

Putting Customers First Pays Off with Punchh  

Putting customers first in your loyalty program pays off with lifelong brand devotees. But achieving genuine emotional bonds takes expertise.  

That’s where Punchh comes in. We accelerate digital transformation through hyper-personalized platforms, robust data, and cutting-edge tech. Our loyalty experts provide the strategy and insights to help refine your program with personalized 1:1 offers and memorable experiences that increase customer engagement and foster an emotional connection to your brand.  

Don’t leave emotional loyalty to chance — partner with Punchh to turn customers into advocates. Schedule a demo!

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