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Creating Core Memories: How to Build Emotional Connections with Customers

July 10, 2024

christina garnett core memories

It isn’t called the attention economy for nothing. Today’s brands don’t just compete with their products or services – they’re vying for a spot in the lives of their customers. One of the most powerful ways to achieve comes down to crafting core memories, those deeply emotional moments that stick with customers long after they’ve interacted with a brand.

The recent Pixar movies Inside Out and Inside Out 2, popularized the concept of core memories. Core memories carry significant emotional weight, embedding themselves into our long-term memory. These memories often arise from exceptionally joyful, poignant, or impactful experiences, and brands that can create moments like these are more likely to build lasting emotional connections with their customers.

It’s not enough to make an ad anymore. To create a connection with your customers you need to craft emotional resonance and make them feel seen and heard. How can brands do this?

I’m Christina Garnett, a fractional Chief Customer Officer specializing in elevating customer experience strategies for startups and agencies. With a proven track record working with Fortune 500 brands during my tenure at HubSpot and ICUC, I have honed my expertise in applying social listening, community engagement, and customer advocacy to forge meaningful connections between brands and their audiences. 

I firmly believe that exceptional customer experience (CX) is a crucial differentiator for brands in today's competitive landscape. I’m excited to share actionable insights and strategies about how to shape enduring bonds through the concept of core memories. Let's explore this transformative approach together.

Emotional marketing tactics to build core memories

Creating core memories involves more than just great products; it requires genuine emotional engagement that resonates deeply with customers. 

Personalization at scale

It all starts with customized experiences because no one wants to feel like just another number. When brands personalize experiences, customers feel valued and understood. According to Deloitte, nearly 3 out of 4 customers are more likely to make a purchase when brands offer personalized experiences.

How to do it:

  • Use data smartly. Draw upon customer data to understand preferences, buying history, and behavior. Tools like customer relationship management  (CRM) systems can help collect and analyze this data.
  • Targeted communication. Use customer preferences to send personalized emails, product recommendations, and special offers. Automated marketing platforms like HubSpot or Mailchimp can help expedite this.
  • Unique rewards. Design loyalty programs that cater to individual preferences and shopping habits. Consider customer segmentation to tailor rewards more effectively.

One brand that is nailing this? TikTok

The algorithm is algorithming, as they say. Consumers and creators on TikTok realize that with each button they press and video they engage with, it’s crafting a personalized For You Page (FYP) experience that tailors itself to what viewers want to see. Adding TikTok shop (e-commerce) has driven even more opportunities for data as it taps into consumerism trends and the need to see what the latest deals are. 

This, with the inherent need to connect and learn from others, with the chance to stitch and duet, or share the content makes the site a place for people to connect with creators, fostering opportunities for anyone to manifest that main character energy. 


Another important concept is narrative techniques, stories that trigger emotions like joy, nostalgia, or empathy in order to create a memorable impact. It’s not just about selling a product; it’s about sharing a piece of your brand's soul.

How to do it: 

  • Share real stories. Feature customer testimonials and case studies that show how your products have bettered their lives.
  • Communicate values. Publicly share your brand’s mission, values, and team. Consider behind-the-scenes content that highlights your company culture.
  • Emotional content. Produce videos, blogs, or social media posts that tell compelling, authentic stories. Visual content tends to engage audiences more effectively than just text.

Nostalgia alone is an incredibly powerful catalyst that makes consumers think about your brand in context with something they loved in the past. Audiences tend to look at the past with the rose-colored glasses nostalgia gives them. This, coupled with the idea that the consumer is the protagonist of the story, makes the desire to connect with the brand that much deeper. 

Consumers want to feel seen by brands through their assets and messaging. This makes consumers naturally trust the brand more, believing that the brand “gets them.”

One brand that is nailing this? Dove

Dove’s Real Beauty campaign not only speaks and highlights “real women,” but also the fears and challenges of being a real woman today. While struggling to live up to beauty standards has felt difficult in a multi-filtered world, artificial intelligence (AI) has made it even more of an obstacle to self-acceptance. 

By addressing this head-on and the concerns consumers have about AI, Dove has proven that they understand the anxiety facing their audience and want to celebrate what real beauty looks like. This makes consumers feel seen, heard, and connected since they feel appreciated for what they are. 

Acts of kindness

Learn to charm customers in unexpected ways. Small acts of kindness, whether it's a thank-you note, a surprise upgrade, or a thoughtful gift, can significantly enhance emotional connections.

How to do it:

  • Surprise gifts. Send unexpected gifts or rewards to loyal customers. Consider incorporating no-strings-attached surprises to make the gesture feel even more genuine.
  • Personal thank-yous. Write personal thank-you notes to show your appreciation. This old-school tactic can have a modern impact.
  • Go the extra mile. Resolve customer issues in extraordinary ways. Personalize problem-solving to make every customer feel like they’re your most important client.

One brand nailing this? Chewy

Customers who have recently lost pets have been surprised when Chewy sends condolence notes, flowers, and paintings of the customers’ beloved pets. This goes beyond saying sorry and stepping in with a level of empathy that many people only see from close friends and family. 

Those paintings and cards become a sacred memento of a brand’s commitment to empathetic connection and customer care. You can’t buy that level of emotional attachment.  

Engaging AI for personalization

While personal touches are irreplaceable, AI can help create personalized experiences at a larger scale, making each customer feel uniquely valued.

How to do it:

  • Predictive analytics. Use AI to analyze customer behavior and predict future preferences. Tools like IBM Watson or Google Analytics can help crunch the numbers for predictive insights.
  • Smart chatbots. Incorporate AI chatbots that use natural language processing to offer personalized advice and recommendations. Companies like Drift and Tidio offer sophisticated chatbot solutions.
  • Tailored content. Use AI algorithms to tailor website content, email marketing, and product suggestions based on customer data. Personalization engines like Dynamic Yield deliver customized experiences in real-time.

One brand nailing this? Sephora

Sephora uses AI to offer tailored beauty recommendations while maintaining a personal touch through their in-store advisors. This mix of tech and human interaction creates memorable experiences for their customers while allowing them to get their needs taken care of in an efficient and personable way. 

Measuring emotional engagement

It’s essential to ensure these strategies are effective by measuring emotional engagement.

Net emotional value (NEV)

How does the customer really feel about your product or service and their customer experience? It’s easy to fall into the trap of just seeing customers as negative, neutral, or positive, but the nuance that lives within those segments offers multiple ways to interact, engage, and foster brand affinity. 

Consider using sentiment analysis, which uses tools to gauge customer emotions in feedback and social media interactions. Calculate NEV by subtracting negative comments from positive ones to get a clear measure of emotional engagement.

sentiment analysis pyramid

Source: eTouchPoint

Customer journey mapping

Map emotional highs and lows by identifying key moments in the customer journey that elicit strong emotions.

This will help you determine the key moments when you can drive connection. Keep your maps updated to refine your strategies. Not sure how to get started? Check out Qualtrics' guide to customer journey maps

Emotional pulse surveys and social listening

Once you do all of this, the work keeps going. Crafting regular surveys and doing social listening, keep you close to the consumer as you continue to learn about them and their needs. 

If you want to be customer-centric, they need to truly be at the center of what you do, with clear initiatives to keep others within the brand updated on what matters to the customer, especially as their requirements shift. The behavior a consumer did a couple of years ago may be completely different today, even if you haven’t changed anything about how they interact with you. 

Humans evolve and so do their needs so you have to be obsessed with understanding what’s important to them and what drives their behaviors. If you don’t understand them, you can’t effectively connect with them and craft moments that stay with them. 

As AI continues to be utilized in more and more of our work, consumers will crave human connection even more. Brands should strive to be the conduit for that connection. 

Wrapping up

Creating core memories isn’t just about top-notch products or services; it’s about crafting experiences that emotionally resonate with customers. While AI can help immensely with personalization, it’s crucial to combine these insights with genuine, human touches. 

By focusing on personalization, storytelling, acts of kindness, and AI, brands can form lasting emotional connections that drive loyalty and advocacy. 

Disclaimer: The concept of core memories, popularized by Inside Out, is a relatively new term, still without a basis in current psychological research. To learn more about what this concept gets right and not-so-right, you can  start with these resources:

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Creating Core Memories: How to Build Emotional Connections with Customers Brands looking to build lasting emotional connections with their customers should consider how they can create core memories. Learn how to do so here.
Christina Garnett Christina Garnett, a fractional chief customer officer and advisor, has a talent for boosting customer satisfaction and fostering brand loyalty. Her expertise spans from Fortune 500 companies to startups, touching every sector from agencies to small businesses. Christina excels in problem-solving, program optimization, and enhancing social media and community engagement, all with a focus on creating authentic connections between brands and their audiences. Christina believes in real, authentic connections. That's her secret sauce for leaving a lasting impression on how brands and customers interact online. Her expertise in social listening and community building has landed her spots in HubSpot Academy (Social Media, Social Listening), Semrush Academy (Social Listening), and On Deck's Community Builder Program (Advocacy as a Growth Lever).

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