Helping marketers focus on the negative side of brand engagement

Polish-born researcher and entrepreneur, Patrycja Slawuta, talks to CMO about how brands deal with the negative side of customer relationships

Marketers talk incessantly about their desire to forge stronger relationships with customers – to build engagement and intimacy that will enable them to provide brilliant experiences that boost loyalty and advocacy.

But relationships are not all wine and roses. Relationships come with their fair share of negative emotions – frustration, anger, jealousy and, in some cases, betrayal.

Doesn’t it seem naive then that in the quest to build brand relationships, the negative side is often ignored altogether?

Throughout her life, Polish-born researcher and entrepreneur, Patrycja Slawuta, has been drawn to the darker side of human nature. From a young age, she held a strong interest in her country’s experiences during and following World War II, with its Holocaust, ghettos, uprisings and communism. Her Master’s thesis examined collective guilt and shame in post-genocidal societies, while her PhD investigated the narratives surrounding around terrorism.

Patrycja Slawuta
Patrycja Slawuta


Now she runs a growing psychology-based consulting business in the US, spending much of her time talking to brands about shame, fear, guilt, humiliation, jealousy and greed.

“It’s all the stuff that people deny that they have, but we miss out on half of the spectrum of human experience by denying that we have those experiences,” Slawuta tells CMO. “Those experiences are the forming experiences that actually allow us to go on to happiness and aspiration.”

It is a space Slawuta will be speaking on at the upcoming Creative Innovation 2016 conference in Melbourne in November.

“A space is opening for the other side of the human experience, which is darker, possibly more dangerous, possibly more complex, but really important, because that is the full spectrum of the human experience,” she says. “We can’t forget about the other side, because that is where humans are.”

According to Slawuta, marketers can learn a great deal by embracing the darker elements of human nature. She says this is exemplified in Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, which sought to portray women as they are, rather than what they might aspire to be, and spoke about body shape and the insecurities that women and men have around their bodies.

“Brands are getting more and more open and having much deeper conversation about the customer, and meeting the customers where they are, so trust gets built,” Slawuta says. “Relating to a person on a deeper human level is more powerful than the aspirational stuff.

“The place where we want to meet people is at the place where they are, which for a lot of people is shame.”

This will become more important as brands seek to draw more personal data from their customers, Slawuta says.

“The brands I am working with try to gather a lot of data from customers in order to customise the product to suit the customers,” she continues. “But in order to give their data, there must be that trust. So how do you build that trust? It is not about saying if you give us all this data you will be fit and slim, but meeting people where they are.

As brands strive to build trust, they must also be cognisant of the responsibility that comes through creating that trust, and the consequences that follow when it is broken.

“If someone pretends to be your friend, then cheats on you or lies to you, that is the one that we go after. So we have evolved this system to detect deception,” Slawuta says. “That is something certain brands are recognising now, is that intimacy goes both ways. The best brands I have been seeing are the brands able to have that two-way conversation.”

Slawuta points to a recent scandal at Wells Fargo Bank in the US, where employees were directed to behave fraudulently but management chose not to shoulder any blame. The result has been a fierce customer backlash.

“Moral outrage is the feeling that the social order is violated to a point where you have to take extreme actions,” Slawuta says. “The anger takes over and you need to take action, and the action can be extreme.

“When betrayal happens, you have to acknowledge the betrayal, because human beings by nature are very forgiving creatures. It is much easier to forgive then to hold a grudge. We tend to forgive, and everyone wants to carry on with their lives.”

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