In the not-too-distant past, people bought their vehicles from the same manufacturer and their groceries from the same store during the course of their whole lifetime. That was then. Today, loyalty is a rare thing among customers. Yet, it’s still a holy grail for CMOs. So why aren’t they being smarter about keeping us faithful?
There’s no great secret as to why customers are brand-fickle—we know that, in the age of ubiquitous information, there is a far greater choice when it comes to businesses, products, and services. People do not blindly buy into brands but make savvier, more informed decisions. For many marketers, the default option has been to introduce loyalty schemes.
But, more often than not, these schemes are nothing more than points-based transactions. And there’s the rub. Although these can be a great asset, there’s little doubt that the resulting transactional relationship offers, at best, a fleeting and superficial moment of connection based on short-term, practical benefits.
Genuine Loyalty Is Rooted In Authenticity
Loyalty isn’t functional. Above price, convenience, and even quality, loyalty is about likeability and trust. There is often a focus on rewards, and the apps, cards, and emails delivering these. However, as in true human relationships, loyalty is anchored in emotion.
The emotional range that brands need to engage with is ever-widening, as people increasingly look for rawness, candidness, and authenticity.
This is where they get their “sixth sense” for spotting when a brand is being fake or conceited. Much like we can feel it in our gut when someone is being dishonest with us, we can smell self-interest in a brand’s communications from a mile away.
Today’s consumers care the most about ethics and genuinely shared values. A recent Unilever global study showed that a third of consumers are now choosing to buy from brands that support the causes they care about, and we have previously seen that 73% of global millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings, up from previous years.
There’s no easy way around it. For brands today, you have to be ethical, you have to share the values of your customers, and you have to actually mean it.
Having Values And Delivering Value
But it’s not just the intention that matters. Delivering real, tangible benefits to your customers and to the world at large is crucial to proving you mean what you say.
Customer experience is a fundamental part of this. If the overall customer experience isn’t delivering what it should be, your loyalty efforts will go to waste. Every point of interaction between your customer and your brand has to be delivering value on both sides.
Part of this is purely practical—no one is going to download your app just because you told them to, but they might if there’s a practical benefit to doing so.
But it’s also about generating positive feelings towards your brand, from which loyalty can develop. Customers need to feel comfortable in your physical store, or confident using your online product, as if it is a part of their lives. It should feel like an extension of their home or a part of their daily routine, if you want them to stay loyal.
Why Bad Research Makes Brands Get It Wrong
Much of this sounds intuitive. Yet brands still consistently get it wrong, with poorly planned research and unintelligible insights usually being the cause.
As a brand, understanding your customers traditionally involves a series of surveys and the creation of segmentations, splitting out subsections of your audience by demographic data or their levels of engagement with your brand.
Yet research has come a long way since then. It’s no longer enough to rely on age, the old NRS social grades (ABC1C2DE), and their more complex successors. The NRS social grades were designed for the 1960s, and, in general, segmenting by big demographics is too simplistic.
Deeper and more sophisticated insight into segmentations is needed, and to understand these in any sort of useful, actionable way, we have to embrace complexity and the latest psychological research.
We need nuances in our segmentations, and, for this, we can greatly benefit from looking more deeply into how people think and feel—to look at their attitudes directly, instead of seeking to infer it from the demographics they belong to.
One model for analysing these is character archetypes—the unconscious, recurring patterns and images that appear in mythology and storytelling. These can help us understand and tap into deeper inner drivers of motivations and needs, which shape people’s loyalties. And these archetypes can be applied to brand communications, to see if there’s an alignment or misalignment between what the brand is expressing and what the audience really feels.
From these more complex segmentations, marketers are better placed to nurture shared values and brand loyalty. And because it is rooted in an attitude and a set of emotions, they give us a stronger foundation from which to build shared values with consumers, develop a tailored and comfortable customer experience, and generate genuine loyalty that lasts.