Sales & Marketing

Brand loyalty never died, there’s just a premium on it

6 min read

20 August 2018

We regularly hear that people aren’t loyal to businesses anymore. Not to airlines, bank accounts and least of all to supermarkets. The facts, however, point to a very different story.

It turns out that 77% of Brits are already subscribed to at least one loyalty programme – and 59% say that all brands should offer one. So why are loyalty schemes shrouded in mediocrity despite the clear demand?

Simply put, only businesses that deserve loyalty get it. This rule applies to any business regardless of size.

However, the criteria for being “deserving” has changed. Today, you need to prove yourself to customers, not the other way around. More importantly, loyalty is no longer about discounts and giveaways. It’s deep-seated in the customer experience.

How much do you want their loyalty?

Loyalty used to be based on discounting products when you spent more. Take the supermarkets. Shoppers collected card “points”, saved them up and exchanged them for something later.

The key loyalty principle – reward people for spending with you – remains intact, but customer expectation is now in rapid incline. Brands must do more than just sell. Bosses have to prove they are worthy of their business.

So how can you do this?

According to our proprietary Wantedness research, an overwhelming 79% of consumers now expect business leaders to show how much they want them as customers. It also found that people expect every customer experience journey to be as good as the best: the Ubers, the Amazons and the Googles.

This judgement isn’t industry exclusive either. If Uber can show me where my car is at every step of its journey, then I expect an emerging clothes label to do the same when delivering my shoes.

The Ubers of this world have set the standard for how a loyalty-deserving brand should behave. People don’t return to Uber because of its product, they return because of its experience. Therefore, the way to show customers that you’re serious about getting their loyalty is to invest in their experience.

Head for the new Best In Class

“How are businesses supposed to incite loyalty? There are only so many points cards you can fit into your wallet”, is the old way of looking at the world. So what is a Best In Class, loyalty-deserving, customer-wanting experience today?

Take Shell. Not your stereotypical loyalty-led brand, but it drove a compelling loyalty programme by investing in the experience of potential repeat customers. It used data to unearth a deep insight about its customers when refueling at the pump: that many like to fill-up to an exact amount, but most missed by a penny.

This inspired a successful campaign that gamified the filling-up experience, awarding bonus points to people who were on the money. It’s no surprise then that people returned to use Shell repeatedly, purely for the thrill.

Today, businesses need to play amongst these rising expectations and think of new ways to best spend customers’ time. Brands must therefore iterate experience journeys with loyalty in mind. Digitally transform them. Create something new.

The complexity of loyalty is like any relationship

Like in everyday human relationships, both positive and negative emotions reside in a customer experience journey. Any effective relationship manager will look to smooth out the parts that cause a negative emotion.

A brand’s loyalty relationship therefore needs to be smooth in two key areas: in your customer relationship management and in your customer experience journey.

Loyalty can never exist in a user journey that’s bumpy, clunky and time-inefficient. So, investigate the pain-points. Then exchange those for experiences that offer convenience, excitement, simplicity – moments of emotional satisfaction.

By treating the customer experience journey as a fruitful and lucrative relationship that you’re trying to build, you can better predict success. People are more likely to stay loyal because you’ve taken the time to consider their needs and wants.

Transform a business through loyalty

We’ve established that consumer loyalty says three things about your business:

1. That people feel you’re relevant to them,

2. That your business is deemed deserving of their precious time, and

3. That you have proven that you really want them on the journey with you.

After doing all of the above, you’ll certainly know who your true customer is; you’ll use your data to inspire great rewards and you’ll ensure that customers stay deeply invested in your business – simply because you have proven to be deeply invested in your business.

Pip Hulbert is CEO of Wunderman UK.